Country firestarter Miranda Lambert’s excellent third album, Revolution, comes out next Tuesday — she made our Must List, and yours truly gave her a straight-up A in the pages of this week’s EW. Fresh off a sold-out show at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium Thursday night — she played the new record start to finish, then threw in some covers and a couple of hits — Lambert checked in to chat with the Music Mix from Lexington, Ken., where she’s performing with Jason Aldean.
Entertainment Weekly: Tell me about the Ryman last night.
Lambert: It was awesome. I had a huge week anyway, cause Tuesday I did a thing for the ACM Honors, and I sang a Merle Haggard song, and hung out backstage with Kenny Rogers and Vince Gill and Steve Wariner and Merle. I was like a kid in a candy store. And then last night was huge.
What were some of your highlights from the performance?
Well, the fact that I got through the whole record without messing up any of the lyrics. It’s 15 new songs, and I’m like, “Aaah!” But I remembered everything. The reaction from the crowd on every song was just amazing. I had some artist friends that came, like Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift—I can’t believe these people took their Thursday to come see me. And then later on Jamey Johnson showed up and hung out. It was just really cool.
And that was the point at which you got blind screaming drunk with Jamey Johnson?
Uh, yes, I did do that. [laughs]
After the jump, more on the Ryman show, the new album, and why she doesn’t mind boyfriend Blake Shelton’s Twitter addiction.
Reports from the show say you sang Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” without using a microphone.
You know what? I wanted to do that, and we tried it at sound check, and my sound guys were like, “I think the people are going to soak up the sound too much and they won’t be able to hear you.” But I kind of did it for myself. The Ryman was built for that, for the acoustic sound, because they didn’t have P.A.s and stuff back then, and so I started it with the microphone, and then I just wanted to finish it without. I wanted to see what it felt like to be there 100 years ago.
Are you wanting to prove your vocal ability outside of the studio?
I feel like I am one of those artists that, thank god, can sing live. I have a pretty good ear. I don’t have one of those Martina McBride or Carrie Underwood voices, but Blake [Shelton, her boyfriend] really encouraged me to sing. He’s like, “Miranda, you’re underestimating your ability.” So I’ve really just started opening up and trying to sing more, and sing better. So I guess I’m kind of proving it in a way.
How much more confidence do you have now than when you started?
Feeling like my peers respect and love what I do, and my fans have continued to come to my shows and buy my records—I think that just gives you so much more confidence, obviously. I feel like I’ve got my feet on the ground, and people know I’m here to stay.
You just rattled off the list of the men you hung out with at the ACM Honors. You seem to actually fit in pretty well with the Nashville boys’ club. How did that happen?
It is harder being a woman. This is a man’s business—it really is. Even just being the only girl on the bus. But I feel like it’s changing. We’re starting to show our colors, the girls are. I think a lot of the music I love is real music. It’s about real life. It’s about drinkin’ and cheatin’ and church—things that people really do. For a little while, I don’t know that a lot of women were singing about that. But that’s what I sing about—real life. Maybe that’s why I fit in. I think just being yourself is back in style, finally. I think Jamey Johnson’s a classic example of someone else who’s just saying, “Here I am. Like it or not, I don’t care. This is what I do.” I think it’s working because people are ready for it.
How much of that individualism comes from your dad, who’s been such an influence on your musical upbringing?
I think it comes from my roots, period. My mom and dad. Growing up in Texas, just knowing who you are and sticking with it. I’ve always been like that, since I was little. I’m sure it’s because my parents are the same way.
Let’s talk about the new record, which is such a maturation for you. Did you want to take a step out of your bang-bang-shoot-shoot reputation?
Yeah, I did. I don’t want to get pigeonholed. I had other songs besides those kinds of songs on my other two records, but they weren’t ever talked about much, and they weren’t hits. So I felt like people were starting to put me in that corner, and I’m like, “Wait a minute. I have so much more to say!” So on this record, I didn’t really go into it planning to step out, but just naturally, the stuff that I started writing about was different stuff. I’m not killing people every day.
Just every other day now.
I still have some killin’ songs on there. [laughs]
This record features a lot of collaborations—do you prefer to write with other people?
I always want to keep writing by myself as a priority, because I feel like you might lose it if you don’t. But I wrote with some different people on this record—I wrote three songs with Blake, and four songs with my friend Natalie Hemby. I think that also helped me branch out. I needed to be pushed.
What was the song that came out that surprised you the most?
“Love Song,” really. I would never think I’d have a song on a record called “Love Song.” It’s just a song about real love. It’s not bubblegum, or a happily-ever-after fairy tale. It’s about having sucky days, and you still love each other. It’s my version of a love song.
You and Blake wrote that with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum—did that happen while you guys were out on the Kenny Chesney tour together?
Charles and Dave came to Oklahoma. Hillary [Scott, the third member of Lady Antebellum] didn’t get to come, which was horrible. We’ve actually written a song, just her and I, since then. But the two guys came to Oklahoma and spent two days with Blake and I at his farm, and we wrote four or five songs in two days. We had great chemistry. I got to be really great friends with them on Chesney.
What on earth is everyone going to do without Chesney next summer?
I guess they’ll probably all go see Jimmy Buffett? [laughs] Kenny’s Mr. Summer, but I think it’s great that he’s taking a break, and I think he’ll come back bigger and better than ever once he recharges. You have to step away at some point. And if anyone deserves a break, he does. I also think Brad Paisley and Keith Urban are gonna shine. They have great shows, too, but people are probably torn, with the economy. Who do you go see? It’ll leave room for people to buy other tickets. There’s tons of great artists out right now. So we’ll miss Chesney, definitely. But I think there will still be great shows to go see.
What are your touring plans for this record, now that you’re off stadiums?
Yeah, well. What do you do after Chesney? You’re like, “Oh, crap. We’re done? Where’s the 45,000 people?” We’re just gonna do casinos and our own shows until December. Some clubs. It’s so awesome to be on the biggest tour ever, and then go back and play a bar. [laughs] Not sure what next year holds yet. Sure we’ll be on the road.
You broke through after finishing third on the first season of Nashville Star. Do you have any lingering thoughts about the show, or is that a time of your life you’d prefer to just be done with now?
I’ll never be done with it. It’s certainly why I’m talking to you right now—Nashville Star saved me about 10 more years of honky tonks, I think. It got me in front of the people I needed to be in front of. I was playing clubs in Texas and touring every weekend in a motor home—I think I would still be doing that. I could have made it, but it would have taken a whole lot longer. So I’ll never detach myself from Nashville Star, but I think, like Kelly Clarkson, I’ve established myself outside of the TV show.
Is that common background part of why you and Kelly are tight?
We’re a lot alike. I met her in Atlanta when I went to see Reba and her show. She’s just from the same part of the country as me, like an hour away from where I’m from in Texas. Just really down to earth. She doesn’t let any of this get to her, and I haven’t, either. I think that’s why we’re friends. We don’t get wrapped up in the scene of being famous, or any of that crap. We just love music.
I know that success in Nashville is often about fitting in and playing the game. Does it ever concern you that you’re standing too far outside it?
There are thoughts like that, but I can’t lose my integrity, and I can’t let the music lose its integrity. I’d rather do what I do and have whatever success that brings than change what I do and be a huge star, because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. If what I’m doing gets me great success, then that’s even better. I’m one of the fortunate few who can do what I want to do, do music my way, and not have to conform. But that’s rare. I think it’s coming around. I really think that being yourself, being original, being outside the box is starting to be appealing to people.
Were you at all discouraged by the radio performance of 2007’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”? People were perhaps shocked by its lyrics — but there wasn’t much content difference between that and the equally violent “Gunpowder and Lead.”
I don’t understand it at all. “Gunpowder and Lead” is the most controversial song I’ve ever done, and it was my biggest hit so far. First Top 10 ever. It’s really weird, and I wish there was a book where you could open to page 128 and it would tell you exactly why it is the way it is. But you know what? I feel like the radio thing—I haven’t had as much success as I would like to have, but I have made some great relationships over the last few years, being on the road and meeting radio people. Having a relationship is important. People might not like your song, but if they know you and they like you, they might put it on the radio. So I feel like it’s gonna change. I know radio is on board with this record, and I’m really thankful for it.
You cover John Prine, Julie Miller, and Fred Eaglesmith on Revolution. You’ve covered Patty Griffin in the past, and you do a Joan Jett song live. Who are some of the artists out there you’d still like to tackle on a record?
There are so many. But it’s so scary to do covers! It’s so scary. I keep doing this to myself. I guess it’s a challenge to myself, when I love an artist and love a song so much that I dare to cut it, like an idiot. I’d love to do a Merle Haggard song someday. I’d love to do a Steve Earle song, the right way—“Kerosene” is actually a co-write with Steve Earle, because I accidentally wrote pretty much the same song as him. Didn’t mean to, obviously, but I’d listened to so much Steve Earle, it just kind of came out. I’d love to really cover a Steve Earle song and do a good job with it. One of my favorite records is Alan Jackson’s Under the Influence. It’s a whole record of songs that he loves by classic country artists. I’d love to do a record like that.
Is there anything you can do about Blake and his Twitter problem? I am offended almost daily by his tweets.
It’s very offensive, I agree.
I know. I think it’s funny. People don’t really get his sense of humor. He’s all about shock value. I actually have started looking at his Twitter problem as a positive, because it really keeps him occupied, like a kid. You just give him Legos, and he’s good. I’m like, “All right, just give him his iPhone, and he’ll stay out of my hair for an hour. Perfect.”
What I appreciate about both of y’all’s tweets is that you just put it all out there. Everybody else is very carefully using it as a platform for marketing purposes, and you guys are like, “Woo, we’re drunk in a casino!”
[laughs] I know! It’s supposed to be a window for people to get to know you. I’m not gonna be like, “Okay, getting dressed now! Everything’s perfect! Buy my record!” That’s not what Twitter’s for. That’s what websites and marketing are for. Twitter’s for us to just be crazy idiots, and say whatever we want.
Photo Credit: Randee St. Nicholas