Saturday 22 July 2017

Achy breaky heart - Miranda Lambert talks heartache, pain and vices

In the messy aftermath of her high-profile divorce, Queen of Country Miranda Lambert talks heartache, pain and vices with Barry Egan

Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert

The voice and author of these extraordinary words - extraordinary because the song appears to powerfully confront misogynist stereotypes about women and sex -Miranda Lambert is in candid form at her home in Nashville.

This is not an uncharacteristic trait for her.

At a concert last year in Chicago, Miranda said at one point in a video recorded by a fan: "I got divorced so I started drinking a little extra. I found myself in Midtown, Nashville, three nights in a row at last call, lights are coming on, and I'm still sitting there. So I wrote a song about it," she says, referring to Ugly Lights.

Talking to Miranda at length, she reveals herself in time as an earthy woman who believes that it takes a lot of "strength to be willing to be vulnerable. I am not hiding anything".

Nothing is hidden on her new album, The Weight Of These Wings. Although, as she says herself, every record, "I've ever made has been a reflection of where I am right then in my life - I never hold back", this one has been picked apart by the world's media, primarily because it comes less than two years since her high-profile divorce from husband Blake Shelton in July, 2015.

The Queen and King of Country, the power couple of Texas, splitting made front-page news from Nashville to New York to London. Not long after breaking-up from the country chanteuse, Shelton started seeing No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani.

They met on the set of US TV show The Voice and no doubt got close over heart-to-hearts about their separate divorces: Stefani had split from Bush singer Gavin Rossdale after 13 years of marriage, while Miranda's marriage to Blake lasted four.

Intriguingly, Miranda's parents Rick and Bev divorced after four years of marriage as well. When Bev, only 24 at the time, found out she was pregnant with Miranda on the weekend their divorce was made final, she and Rick got remarried on their anniversary.

(Even more intriguing, maybe, is that Miranda is the daughter of two one-time private investigators. Her parents were part of a lawsuit, once upon a time, against then-US President Bill Clinton in 1994, when they worked with Paula Jones and her legal team as she accused Bungalow Bill of stuff he shouldn't have been doing, and which Clinton allegedly settled out of court.)

Throughout her marriage to Blake, Miranda was quoted as saying things like, "divorce is not an option! I will fight to the death. I am a ninja", and that they were the best-loved "rednecks" to arrive in Hollywood since The Beverly Hillbillies. Then things went all - to borrow from Tammy Wynette - D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Miranda (who is now dating Alabama musician Anderson East) recorded the pain of a so-called failed marriage and put it all in the writing of The Weight Of These Wings.

"I think it is pretty much my story over the last couple of years," she says of the record's autobiographical depth. "I just kind of wrote about everything that happened in my life. All the ups and downs," says the superstar who has been on the cover of everything from People to Rolling Stone to Elle and has received two Grammys, 19 Academy of Country Music Awards and 11 Country Music Association Awards.

"I think the only word I can use to describe it is honesty," she says. "I guess that's what I'm trying to reach - those people who are wanting to hear the ugly truth."

How ugly was the truth?

"Well, I think everything and every emotion I felt is on the record. I mean, honestly. All the good and all the bad is on this album," says the star who will headline the much-anticipated Harvest Country Music Festival in Westport and then Enniskillen later this summer.

Does she enjoy living her life in a goldfish bowl, being so famous?

"I don't care about the fame part of it. But I love music and I love writing songs and I love being able to go out and perform the songs for people who want to hear them. That's a whole reward in itself, being able to do that."

Sitting on her porch in the sunshine, Miranda says she has just read Suzanne Collins's bleak piece de resistance Hunger Games and "loved it'' because the lead character Katniss Everdeen is "a strong woman".

The lead character in The Weight Of These Wings, I say to her, is a strong woman - albeit a strong woman who has been through a lot of pain but has come out, or is coming out, the other side of it all now.

"Oh, absolutely," she replies. "That's all you can do. You have to go through things and you will be stronger. And help other people through things that they go through."

I ask her was there ever a point in it all when she thought she wasn't going to make it?

"Well, no. I know I'm stronger than that," she answers.

"But there was definitely bad days and good days," she laughs.

Was it healing to get those difficult emotions of her psyche and into the songs?

"Absolutely. It was really great to be able to do that. Just to say as a songwriter that you can use your pain and all your stories for, like, a therapy session - to basically put it down on paper."

Is it difficult to be open about her emotions, her pain, when the American public know so much about her and her life?

"It is. But I just actually appreciate people who hear me and go: 'Hey - your music made me feel like I wasn't alone in my situation'. That's all I can ask for."

"Earthy, accessible and honest," wrote Marie Claire magazine in a cover profile in 2015, "Lambert has been called the new Loretta Lynn. Also, the new Dolly Parton, the new Beyonce, and so on. It is an odd, reductive curiosity that when a woman reaches enviable heights of success, she is inevitably compared and categorised, as if there are only so many available slots and thus she must be the new version of one already filled. In truth, Lambert is her own brand of awesome, a woman with backyard swagger and a marshmallow heart; a former high school cheerleader who knows her way around a firearm."

And a biting line, too."One of my favourite lines in there is 'The thought of loving you just makes me sick'," she says referring to the song Use My Heart.

Asked if she a religious person, Miranda says: "I grew up in church, and my Mom had us there pretty much every time the doors were open." Miranda continues that her mother loves her new album. "My Mom is very supportive, she always has been of my music. She always tells me the honest truth about how she thinks about it. So I'm lucky to have her. But she's solid. When you go through something in your life that is heavy or hard, your whole family goes through it with you."

She recalls that the first concert that made an emotional impact on her was Garth Brooks in Dallas, Texas. "I just remember thinking how cool that was. Garth flew around on cables, with the stage on fire and I thought, 'Wow, that is really, really amazing'. So probably at that point I was about a teenager," says the star who was born Miranda Leigh Lambert on November 10, 1983 in Longview, Texas.

Miranda, as Billboard magazine put it, came to prominence not as the winner ''but as a runner-up on the 2003 American Idol knock-off Nashville Star, a dubious stepping stone to stardom if ever there was one, but Lambert's 2005 Kerosene obliterated any notion that she was a reality TV refugee''.

Miranda's 2007 album Crazy Ex-Girlfriend put her on the map (it went in at No.1 on the Billboard Country chart.) With The Weight Of These Wings, Miranda is not acting like the crazy ex-wife on the new album. Through trial and error in life, as much as the studio, Miranda has found her own individual voice on this record, and her story is testament to the power of women to endure through tough times.

I ask her what Runnin' Just In Case is about? She hesitates.

"Exactly what it says," Miranda laughs.

I quote her back the lyrics: 'There's trouble where I'm going/But I'm gonna go there anyway.' Is that Miranda at her lowest?

"I wouldn't say my lowest. I don't want people to read too much into it. I believe in leaving some mystery. I think songs should be open to interpretation. I mean, people ask me a lot what does Vice mean? It means whatever you think it means."

So, what is Vice (written around the time of her divorce) about?

Miranda bursts out laughing. "Exactly what it says! I mean, honestly, it is literally about, you know, talking openly about having a vice - whether it's love, or whether it's alcohol or something in between," Miranda says.

She believes that sometimes, when you're going through something in your life, you may run to some things you shouldn't and run from some things you shouldn't.Asked to describe herself, she says she is "pretty down-to-earth, pretty straightforward. I'm an east Texas girl who hasn't forgotten my roots."

And your Mom wouldn't let you if you did, I say to Miranda.

"Yeah! Exactly!" the platinum blonde laughs. "I feel like I'm pretty straight and open. I don't have a lot to hide. I talk about everything in my music." Growing up on a farm in Texas with younger brother Luke, Miranda had, as she says, "a really great childhood, to be honest. Really solid parents. I grew up on a farm. I always had music in my family. I mean, we always had music in the house. So I feel like I've grown up around music."

What was it like growing up on a farm? "It was awesome. I learned a lot about life and life lessons - and about raising animals and growing your garden. My Mom definitely taught me a lot of valuable lessons about appreciating where you come from and appreciating what you have and staying humble.

"My father is great. He is the one who encouraged the whole farm to begin with. He made our family live off the land for a few years," she says, "which was amazing. We learned a lot. We grew our own garden and ate outside and my Dad hunted for food. He would get a deer. We grew up off the land."

Does she live on a farm of her own now? "I do," she says matter-of-factly.

Does she go hunting and eat what she catches? "Not any more," she laughs. She has been to Ireland once before. She thought it was amazing but she didn't get to spend enough time there.

"I am going to make sure I get to spend more there this time," she says.

What does she know about Ireland? "I know that it is beautiful. I know that there are people with really cool accents. And that there are castles."

And farms, I say.

"And good beer," she laughs.

"I don't drink a lot of beer but I plan on drinking some in Ireland!"

Miranda Lambert will headline the 2017 Harvest Country Music Festival, which runs August 26/27 in Westport House, Co Mayo and Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. Two festivals - one weekend, four stages, 40 artists including fellow headliner Nathan Carter and a very special guest appearance from Charley Pride. Tickets from Ticketmaster Outlets Nationwide/www.ticketmaster.ie

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