Country singer-guitarist Miranda Lambert grew up in a small Texas town about 80 miles east of Dallas. Her father was a musician, and he and her mother both loved country music, so there was always music playing in the house.
Naturally, Lambert became a country music fan as well.
“I found a love for [country music] early in my life,” she says via phone from a Fresno tour stop. Lambert performs with Jon Pardi and the Steel Woods at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, at Wolstein Center. “We lived in the country and in a rural area. I got a love for the rural life from Day One. I had a great childhood. It was a small town — a Friday Night Lights
type of thing. The whole East Texas scene was different from anything else. It’s been going on since Willie Nelson and Waylon [Jennings] developed that whole sound. Texas always had its own thing. It’s a great place to start because you have a different platform.”
Like many Texas troubadours, Lambert went to Nashville in search of a record deal. When a label tried to mold the ambitious blonde into a commercial country/pop star, she balked and went back to East Texas where she asked her dad to teach her how to play guitar, so she could write her own damn songs.
“He taught me three chords,” she says when asked what she learned from her father. “He’s a pretty simple country songwriter. He’s really intelligent. The way he writes is from a story perspective but also from the truth. I learned that from him definitely.”
She went back to Nashville with some self-penned songs and hasn’t looked back. In the words of one critic, her debut album, 2005's Kerosene
, proved “a woman could be as much of a badass as her male peers.”
Lambert wrote or co-wrote 11 of the album’s 12 songs.
“I wasn’t trying to prove anything other than introduce people to who I am,” says Lambert when asked about her approach on the release. “I’m still doing that.”
A huge hit, the album sold over one million copies and produced four Top 40 singles on the Billboard country charts. Tours with superstars such as Keith Urban, George Strait, Dierks Bentley and Toby Keith followed.
“You know, I just kept my head down and haven’t stopped [doing that] since,” Lambert says when asked about how she dealt with the sudden success. “That was 13 years ago. I’ve now made several records and started a band [the Pistol Annies] and made two records with them. I keep evolving, and I don’t want to get too wrapped up in one project. I want to keep growing and learning.”
In 2006, she started dating country singer Blake Shelton. The two would eventually marry, but they'd drift apart and the tabloids began to chronicle their eventual break up. In the wake of their divorce, Lambert would wind up with alt-country singer Anderson East, and Shelton would date pop singer Gwen Stefani.
As Lambert started to write the songs that would become 2016’s The Weight of These Wings
, she says she didn’t have a plan for the album even though she knew the split with Shelton would inform at least some of the songs.
“I just wanted to tell a story,” she says. “I was kind of wrapped up in a tabloid frenzy, and that’s completely the opposite of who I am. I’m a pretty private person. I wanted to tell my side of the story and use the emotions of going through something hard in your life. I think I achieved that.”
She decided to record at the Casino, a place she describes as "a little garage studio" in East Nashville. She had met producer Eric Masse, who runs the place, through producer Frank Liddell. The two share production credits on the album.
“We holed up in this place, and nobody knew where we were,” says Lambert. “We just worked on the album together. I like that. I like to break things up and not record at the same place twice. It’s interesting to me to get a new vibe.”
As she began to write and record the disc, she found the songs falling into one of two categories. As a result, The Weight of These Wings
became a double album, and Lambert called one disc “The Nerve” and the other“The Heart.”
“I started to not be able to weed through the songs, and I was attached to more than just one record full,” she says.
Initially, she says she wrote about 80 songs for the album. She had no intention of using any outside songwriters until her friends Natalie Hemby and Shane McAnally sent her the twangy tune “Highway Vagabond.”
“They told me they really wanted me to hear it and that they wrote it for me,” she says when asked about the track. “I loved it so much. I love the sentiment of describing the road life in a glamorous way.”
She also teamed up with her current boyfriend Anderson East to pen the somber ballad “Getaway Driver.”
“It was great,” she says of working with East. “I think it’s one of the first songs we ever wrote together. We wrote it with Natalie [Hemby]. He had that title. We don’t do a lot of work together, but it was a cool song to write together. I’m really proud of it.”
With its soulful vocals and catchy refrain, Lambert’s cover of the free-wheeling “Covered Wagon” has a Sheryl Crow feel to it. She says that's not intentional, but she considers it an appropriate comparison.
“That was an old song I just loved,” Lambert says. “When we’re on tour, we have an Airstream, and we sit around and listen to music. My steel player always pulls out these random, amazing songs. He pulled that one out, and I fell in love with it. We travel for a living, and we travel when we’re not working. It’s part of our blood, and I love the sentiment of the song.”
The feisty “Six Degrees of Separation,” a song that features a thick bass riff and snotty vocals, has such an edge to it, you’d think punk rocker Joan Jett wrote the tune.
“I wrote that one with Natalie [Hemby] and Nicolle [Galyon],” Lambert says of the track. “I just thought it’s an interesting take on not escaping an ex, you know. It was fun to write. I haven’t done it live yet, but I would like to.”
The album centerpiece, the poppy “Keeper of the Flame,” recounts the way other female musicians have helped pave the way for Lambert. "I'm the keeper of the flame/the teller of the story," Lambert croons.
“Well, that song is special to me,” she says of the track. “It’s really about how I am thankful to have the torch and how all these amazing women have blazed the trail for me. I want to keep that going and kick the door open for other women.”
Reviewers have called The Weight of These Wings
a “divorce album.” Lambert says that’s a mischaracterization.
“I don’t think that’s accurate at all,” she says. “I didn’t make a divorce record. It’s not a divorce album. Divorce isn’t a big enough deal to deserve an entire record. It’s part of the story, but I found happiness and playfulness on this record. It’s a little dramatic to call it a divorce album.”
In addition, she says she’s recovering just fine from whatever trauma she experienced as a result of the break-up.
“Right now, I’m just living life,” she says. “I have to live to find inspiration. Art imitates life and vice versa. I want to exist and have fun. I want to manage my way through every day and gather inspiration.”
The Livin’ Like Hippies Tour started earlier this year, and Lambert says she’s really enjoyed the jaunt so far.
“This has been one of the greatest tours we’ve ever done,” she says. “I’ve been touring since I was 17, but I feel 2018 has a spark for us. This one feels special. The crowds have been amazing. We just played Sacramento, and it was one of those shows where the hairs on your arm stand up. It was electric. I go through my entire catalog and play a song from every album. It’s been interesting and fun. The opening act is different every weekend. I love that because it’s people who I’m friends with and huge fans of. I get to work with incredible artists and I get inspired to go out on stage.”
At a time when things are so divisive, music feels particularly unifying. Does Lambert think that’s part of what had made her tour feel so inspiring?
“Absolutely,” she says. “Country music especially has always been a family, and I think we have that vibe more than ever now.”
Miranda Lambert, Jon Pardi, The Steel Woods, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 3, Wolstein Center, 2000 Prospect Ave., 888-324-5849. Tickets: $42.75-$77.75, wolsteincenter.com