Miranda Lambert: I Have Two Lives Q&A (2009)

photo courtesy Front Page Publicity

In 2003, Miranda Lambert finished third in the first-ever Nashville Star talent competition. Not long after that, the small-town East Texas beauty with a backbone of steel did the unthinkable. Still not yet 21, Miranda sat in a conference room at Sony Records and politely—but firmly—told the label head who’d just offered her a major label recording contract that she’d sign with them on one condition.

“Basically,” recalled Miranda in a CW interview not long afterwards, “I told Sony ‘This is who I am. This is what I have to say. And if you’re gonna try to change that, or push things on me that I don’t enjoy, then I’m just gonna go back home.’ “ Did we tell you she has a backbone of steel?

To his everlasting credit, label head John Grady recognized that Miranda not only had huge musical gifts, but qualities even more important—like character and personal and artistic integrity. He told Miranda, “Go make your record.”

Since then, she’s released two albums, Kerosene—which debuted at No. 1—and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which won ACM Album of the Year in 2008. Along the way, she’s had a string of hits, including “Me and Charlie Talkin’,” “Kerosene,” “Bring Me Down,” “Gunpowder and Lead,” “Famous in a Small Town,” “More Like Her” and her current release, “Dead Flowers,” the debut single from her upcoming third album, due in September. She’s also won the 2007 ACM Best New Female award and been nominated for others, including multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM nods. In 2008, Miranda added a memorable harmony part to boyfriend Blake Shelton’s No. 1 version of “Home.”

As if that weren’t enough, she is without question one of the best live entertainers in any genre of music. Through her lyrics, her melodic grooves and her onstage demeanor, Miranda has the uncanny ability to convey an irresistible don’t-mess-with-me tough chick mentality in one instant and an appealing vulnerability in the next, while never approaching weakness. Must be a Texas thing.

Senior Editor David Scarlett recently had a long chat with Miranda for her first-ever CW cover story. She was thoughtful, engaging, open and funny . . . it’s easy to see why Blake’s crazy about her. Here’s some of what she had to say.

For more from Miranda, check out the June 15 issue of Country Weekly.

CW
How’s your place shaping up since last time I saw you with paint on you when I was at Blake’s place in Oklahoma last year?
ML
It’s good. Any time you buy a bunch of land and a house, there’s always gonna be projects. The house is finished. Now it’s just workin’ on the outside and the yard and all that stuff. Little by little, it’s comin’ together.
CW
Congrats on the ACM performance of “Dead Flowers” . . . you seem to knock it out of the park every time I see you on an award show.
ML
I take a lot of pride in my live performances, especially on TV because you’re really getting to reach millions of people in the 3 minutes you get. So it’s very crucial that you deliver. We’re on the road a lot, so it’s not hard for us to go out there and do what we do, because we do it every weekend. We’re fortunate in that front. Our band is really hot and we kinda know what each other is gonna do. I’ve really, over the last four or five years, tried to make our live show the best that it can be and hope that every night is better than the last night.
CW
Do you turn it on right before you go onstage . . . sort of like flicking a switch . . . or does the crowd reaction kick you into another gear?
ML
I used to let the crowd really dictate my mood, and if the crowed wasn’t really into it, it would sort of bring my energy level down. But now I’m startin’ to turn that around. It all depends on us. We’re the entertainers. That’s what our job is. So when the crowd’s not that into it, I just yell and scream and jump around enough to where they feel like they have to [get into it] or I’m gonna kick their butts! [she laughs] I’ve just learned through the years that if it’s sort of a dead crowd, don’t let up, don’t relent. Because they’ll get into it eventually.
CW
Does part of that come from workin’ in dancehalls so young in life . . . you dealt with unresponsive, sometimes drunk crowds when you were 17 . . . so you have the experience someone who just made a demo and got a record deal with no live performing background might not have?
ML
Yeah. I think just playin’ anywhere you can just helps us hone . . . early on, I started a band when I was 17. I started learnin’ how to work crowds early. And I’m so thankful that I had that time. Because you watch these younger artists who come out and they haven’t played shows before. It’s kind of a mean world in that front. A lot of it is “prove it to us; we don’t know who you are.” I did that for two years in bars, and I think that definitely set me up for all the big stuff I’m doin’ now.
CW
Other females in the past three or four years have exploded right out of the chute . . . but your career has been more of a steady climb . . . can you talk about that a little?
ML
I wouldn’t trade my career for the world. I really love the way that it’s gone. I think when you shoot up to the top like that, then you’re constantly havin’ to keep up with yourself, you know? You’ve seen some people struggle through that and you’ve seen some people succeed. I really want to be doin’ this for a long time, makin’ music. Of course, you want to get to the point where you can dictate how many dates you do, not do 230 like we did our first two years. That was very tough. You get to the point where I want to do this, but I also want to do it on my terms. [she chuckles]. I think building the way my career has built is setting it up for the long term. I’ve heard people who’ve been in the industry for a long time say that. And now I kinda see what they mean. You do get frustrated when people pass you up. I watch people just flyin’ right past me. And it’s like, you’re proud for their success, but you’re also like, “Dang it. I’ve been puttin’ my nose to the grindstone here and nothin’s been goin’ on.” But it was goin’ on. It just wasn’t somethin’ you could see right away. From 17 to 25 I’ve been onstage. And I feel like over that period of time, it’s really been a good slow steady climb. Every year it gets better and we’re more well-known. Every record gets better and more well-known. And I think if that could keep goin’ like that for years to come, then I would be in a great place.
CW
Talk a little about your growth as a songwriter. I thought “Bring Me Down” [from her first album] was a song that sounded so beyond your years . . . very strong lyics and melody . . . great delivery. Are you growing because of your life experience, who you’re writing with?
ML
I think it all ties in . . . I really take a lot of pride in writing by myself. Because it’s sort of a lost art sometimes these days. I love co-writing. It’s so awesome to have a relationship with somebody who’s a friend and then be able to create some music together and then it’s on a record, so it’s there for life. That’s an awesome feelin’. But I really feel like listening to “Dead Flowers” versus “Bring Me Down,” I feel like it’s exactly the same girl writing. I don’t know if I’ve grown or I’ve stayed the same. I just feel like I’ve broadened my horizons a little more in terms of where I’ll go melodically, because I’ve been performing and singing for so long now, my voice has grown. And I feel like I take more risk in my writing, compared to then when I wouldn’t take as much risk melodically. But lyrically, I can still hear the same 17-year-old. And I’m like, “Where was I gettn’ that stuff back then? I don’t even know.” [she chuckles]. I feel like I’ve sort of lived and caught up with myself, if that makes any sense at all. I love songwriting. It’s a passion for sure.
CW
Do songs come quickly . . . or do you ever labor over one for days or weeks?
ML
It’s half and half. “Dead Flowers,” for instance, was like 20 minutes and it was written. Then some songs I’ve had lines for two years that I didn’t do anything with. Then one day it’ll just come to me what it’s supposed to be. I don’t really have songs that I’ve held onto that are half finished, but I have more lines that I’ve written down that I don’t know what I’m gonna do with yet. Then one day, the song that was supposed to be there hits me and I’m like, “Okay, that’s what it’s supposed to be.” But then with “Dead Flowers,” literally I threw some flowers in the yard before I left to go to the studio to cut the record. It was the last song I wrote before I went in the studio, then it ended up bein’ my first single. But it was just one of those, “Wow, that looks sad. Those beautiful flowers just wasted.” It took 20 minutes and it was done.
CW
What would the Miranda who used to follow Jack Ingram all over Texas think of the performer and artist you are today? Would she be surprised? Impressed? Or think . . . ”You know, this is about where I thought I’d be.”
ML
I think she would think, “This is where I thought I would be.” Because I was really determined. This was all I thought about and all I did. But I also think she would be happy that throughout her career so far that, not even for one second, has anyone questioned her integrity. Because I was just as strong in who I was then as I am now. I didn’t have to change or sell out.
CW
Have you had long-term career goals . . . was winning Album of the Year something you’d thought about . . . or Opry membership . . . or the Hall of Fame? Or do you just stay focused strictly on the music . . . and let the rest take care of itself?
ML
I don’t think about it. I always wanted to win Best New Female. I always watched award shows and I thought it’d be awesome, because usually the people who win those awards go on to be really big stars. When I won that, that was definitely something I had kinda set for myself. But you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I won Album of the Year. I am so glad I get to make the music I make, and have no one telling me not to, it’s awesome. But to do that and for it to win album of the year, I feel like it encouraged other young artists. They’ve told me it has. They’ve said, “Wow, you did what you do and you didn’t change. And the industry loved you for it.” So I feel like it opened the door a little bit for people. Jamey Johnson, as well, I feel has opened the door for people to just be who they are. And do what they do and not do the same old crap every time.
CW
And if someone ever does try to tell you what to do with your music, you can tell ‘em, “Hello. Album of the year winner here!”
ML
Already worked! Exactly. But awards are amazing. It’s so awesome to get nominated. I’m still so shocked every time I’m there and goin’, “I’m part of these?” I used to watch these on TV and write down the nominees. I was way into the awards shows and I’d try to guess who was gonna win. I’m part of it now. I’m a peer with these people who have been my heroes. So it definitely means a lot, but I first and foremost want to make the records I make.
CW
What’s the status of the new record?
ML
It’s finished. Basically, my part is finished—the writing and the singing. Now it’s to the point that it’s overdubs and it’s mixing. The slow creative process. The geniuses behind the record, Frank Lidell and Mike Wrucke are hard at work right now, just really tweaking everything and making everything sound exactly how it should. I really am so excited about it comin’ out and I get in a hurry. ‘Cause I cut in February and here we are and I’m like, “It can’t come out until September.” I’m so excited for everybody to hear the new music. It’s the end of September. It’s yet to be titled. (chuckles) Workin’ on that. I want to title it, but I also want everybody at the label to be happy about the title, so we’re just workin’ on it right now.
CW
Did you write everything on it?
ML
I wrote or co-wrote most of it. I cut 18 songs this time, so it’s gonna be a really, really hard decision on what not to put on the record. But some of the songs that I wrote don’t stand up to some of the songs that I didn’t write. So, that doesn’t even factor in for me. May the best song win! [laughs] I’m pretty objective about it. I loved the outside songs I did. They were either by other artists I followed or a couple of writers in town had actually sent some demos over. I actually found a song that was pitched to Blake. But I found it and loved it. That process is always strange to me, because you never know where you’re gonna find a song that you feel like touches you even more than one you wrote.
CW
Did you have to twist his arm to get it from him?
ML
No, the reaction when I heard it was, “Okay, she’s gotta have it.” [she chuckles] I just loved it so much. And he was like, “Yeah, that sounds like you.” So I didn’t have to beat him up too much.
CW
Any surprises on the new one? Is Blake on there? I know you sang on his last one.
ML
We wrote three songs on the record together. They’re all great. We wrote one when both of us got together with the two guys from Lady Antebellum, Charles and Dave . . . Hillary couldn’t be there, unfortunately. And Charles came in and sang on it. And one Blake and I wrote together and it was really interesting seeing him write from a 25 year old girl’s point of view, as a 32 year old man. It was funny because we sat down and were writing and I would give him ideas and he would just really get into my head, I guess he knows me so well that he knew what I was trying to say and who I am as an artist. It’s really neat to hear the songs that we wrote together because they totally are out of the box for him.
CW
Sounds like he’s got a feminine side he’s not shown before that Craig Morgan could have a field day with!
ML
Oh yeah, exactly. Well, you know, it’s funny, too . . . one song in particular that we wrote together is really kind of an in your face type song, just classic Miranda. So it was funny because he always jokes that he doesn’t buy into all my toughness, but I think he does! [she laughs]
CW
What’s goin’ on with the menagerie?
ML
Well, I’ve got some cows now. I’ve got some cattle on my place, which I thought needed to be if I wanted to pretend I was a genuine cowgirl. [laughs] They’re black Angus. I’ve got two donkies, two pigs, chickens, six goats, five dogs, three cats [and one’s pregnant], two horses and three mini horses . . . and I think that’s it. And, hopefully, no more! I think I’m done. [she laughs] The only other thing I really want is an alpaca. I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated with ilovealpacas.com. I’m the one that watches TV at 2 in the morning and buys into all these infomercials. [laughs] Ilovealpacas.com always captures my attention! [she laughs again] I want an alpaca really bad, and everybody thinks I’m crazy. But that’d by my last animal. They’re very rare and they’re really expensive, so I’m just hoping some nice alpaca farm will want to give me one! [big laugh] Or let me borrow one for a while to see if I like it.
CW
Did Blake’s coming on to the sheep in the pure BS promo give you any second thoughts about him spending time with your goats?
ML
[she laughs] He’s a little bit of a weirdo, but hopefully not to that extent. I don’t think he’s attracted to any of my goats. So, we’re good.
CW
How do you deal with failure, when something you really wanted to work out . . . or thought would work out . . . just doesn’t?
ML
I just let it go. I’m one of those people that, even down to the smallest thing like reading reviews . . . I just don’t. I feel like it’s gonna work out and it’s probably a blessing in disguise it didn’t . . . if it wasn’t the right thing for me. There have been some disappointments along the way, like gettin’ a big sponsorship and it fallin’ through or watchin’ somebody else completely pass you. You’re goin’, “Dang, that’s very disappointing.” But then you look at it and go, “Look at the bright side. I’m where I am, and that’s way farther than some people.” So there’s always a bright side and I really don’t get wrapped up in it. Because I feel like I am one of those people that if I dwelled on it too much, it would get me down. If there’s nothin’ I can do, it’s already done and over, then let’s move on.
CW
Do you have a spiritual side . . . do you pray?
ML
My mom always says I cut my teeth on a church pew. I grew up in church, was in the praise band from 7th grade until I was a sophomore. I sang in the youth band and then in the big church band. I don’t go to church anymore. [But] I think I have enough good training and I know the Bible enough to know when I’m not livin’ right. It shows in my life. It shows in my personality. Things just start goin’ wrong. [she chuckles] So I’m definitely somebody that prays. When I’m in trouble, I call my mom because I know she’ll sit there and she’ll pray for me and pray with me. I know when I need to make it right. But I also am one of those people that, if you have the training and you know enough . . . I was raised on the Bible and on teaching. So I don’t feel like I have to go to church every Sunday to be a Christian. I feel like it’s something that I need to keep up with on my own.
CW
What’s a deal breaker in a relationship?
ML
I guess it’d probably just come down to character. I want people to have good character. That was my dad’s big thing my whole life, “You need to surround yourself with people with character.” I never really knew what that meant. But I think you can tell right away if somebody’s in it for them or in it for the greater good of everybody.
CW
Have you thought about having a family of your own at some point . . . want to have kids?
ML
I’m very wishy washy about that stuff because I have two different lives. At home I am very domestic. I have a farm, I cook, I clean, I do laundry, I ride my horse around the yard. I’m very like country girl Miranda. Then I’m back on the road and I’m in this fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll style world. I’m at the age now where all my friends are married and having babies, and some of them are havin’ their second baby. So, on some days I go, “Wow, I sometimes wish I had that normalcy.” Then other days it’s like, “What the heck would I do with a baby?” I feel like I’m still at a great place ‘cause I’m 25, and I have all the time in the world. Or, if I decided to tomorrow, I’m at the place in my life where I could. So I don’t see it happenin’ anytime soon. But it definitely crosses my mind sometimes—the all-American dream. Getting’ married with the white dress, havin’ the kids, livin’ the happy life. But then I also love my freedom right now. The ability to jump in the car and go back-roadin’ with Blake or just jump on the bus and go do a show. That would take away that freedom. So I definitely weigh it out in my mind all the time.
CW
If you got to be 40 and hadn’t done it, think you’d have regrets?
ML
I think we’ll just see how it goes. I feel really happy with the way my life is, and I’m stable in all my relationships, whether it’s business or personal. I feel like by the time I’m 30, I’ll be five years more into my career and hopefully at a really good place where I might could take a break and think about being normal for a little while. I feel like, honestly, back to the spiritual thing, God’s got a plan and I think it’ll happen the way it’s supposed to happen. And, you know Blake’s 32 and he’s been married before. So he comes from a whole different mindset than I do, being 25 and watchin’ all your friends get married off and start havin’ kids.
CW
When did you know you loved him? Was it a moment? Did it grow on you over time?
ML
Really, I just knew that somethin’ was there the first time I really talked to him. We had a real conversation in passing. Just one of those guys that reminds you of your dad. For a while, growin’ up I was purposely datin’ guys who weren’t like my dad. Just because that’s what teenage girls do! [she laughs] But when I got to talkin’ to him, I realized we had so much in common and he was raised the same way I was and had the same beliefs I do. That’s a draw right there to me, because it’s not about who he was or who I was or anything like that. It’s a lasting type relationship. Just talkin’ to him I thought, “Wow, this guy’s really into everything I’m into. The outdoors and singin’ and music. He’s really just a good person to know, and we were really good friends for a long time. He was somebody I could call and go, “Oh my gosh, my trailer just flipped on the side of the road!” He’s say, “That happened to me last year.” He was here for me to call when things were goin’ wrong, because he had been through it.
CW
Has he ever totally embarrassed you in front of anybody by saying something that was really funny . . . but may inappropriate?
ML
I just kind of brush it off, because you never know what he’s gonna say. And he does these poems onstage and they usually involve me. And they’re sometimes inappropriate, but it’s so funny that he forgets that it’s inappropriate. [she laughs] Inappropriate like kids shouldn’t hear it! What in the heck? Who would actually say something like that on stage? But you can count on him to make it awkward every time.
CW
Anything he can do to bring a tear to your eye . . . in a good way? Does he do sweet things?
ML
Oh definitely. That’s what’s so neat. For the most part we have this antagonistic sort of joking kind of relationship, and that’s 90 percent of it. But then there’s also the serious conversations. Or I’ll hear something that he said in an interview that he would never say to me directly, like he’s really proud of me. And one time he said that I was one of the greatest writers that he knows and that I was inspiring to him. We don’t really have that many of those serious conversations. But when I read that or overhear him saying that, it’s definitely one of those “wow” moments.
CW
You’re both having great success at the same time. Would it be a strain on your relationship at all if you were doing a lot better than he was . . . or vise versa?
ML
I don’t know if it would matter at this point. If he never sang another note in his life, I would love him just the same. But it definitely is inspiring to each of us when both of us are doing well, ‘cause the other one wants to kick butt, too, and make it all work. But I think we’ll be together forever . . . ‘cause it’s too late to get out now! [she laughs] It’s gonna be, “Oh that was awesome when we both had great careers. That was awesome when we both got to go to award shows together and perform and have that glamorous part.” But we’re so past that now. That was awesome and it still is awesome to get to enjoy those things together. But also ridin’ around in the truck and sittin’ on the porch havin’ a cocktail at sunset in the woods. That’s something that’s more important to us than any of that. Those late night watchin’ TV havin’ popcorn conversations are always gonna be there. I’m glad we have that, because now we know both sides and it’s been awesome. But definitely the lasting side outshines the other.
CW
He tells me he’s the karaoke king . . . do you do that with him?
ML
We’ve only done karaoke like twice together in our whole relationship. It’s weird. It’s one of those deals where I’m like, “You go out with your band on the weekends. Why can’t you go out with me?” But no karaoke bars are open Monday through Wednesday usually, and that’s our weekend, those are our days off. So we just don’t go out really at all. We sorta stay home. We get to karaoke at home every night. He gets the guitar out and does his ‘90s country medlies. [she laughs]
CW
Earl Thomas Conley’s greatest hits!
ML
Yes, his hero. [big laugh]
CW
Do you enjoy having the two sides . . . the badass on stage . . . and the girly girl at home?
ML
I really do. I feel like it makes me well-rounded. But I also feel like even the girly girl soft sweet side, the tough chick side of me is still in there. I guess it’s just being from Texas! It just kinda is there. But I love the fact that in my relationships, whether it’s with my friends . . . most of my friends are my band and crew . . . but I can have both of those sides and people love me for both. I can be the real me, whatever the real me is at that moment. That’s a good feelin’. You don’t have to feel like you’re actin’ like somebody you’re not.
CW
Are you happy?
ML
Yeah I am. I really, really am. I really feel stable in life right now. My career’s in a really good spot. It’s still that slow steady build. It’s hopefully gonna keep goin’. I’m shootin’ for Kenny level. If I can’t get there I’ll settle for whatever’s below. I just really want this deal. I’m still hungry for it. I’m glad to be sayin’ that here on my third record. I’m glad I’m not already burned out. Because it can happen, and it happens to people all the time. And I’m lucky because I actually want to be here and I want to be doin’ this and I love it with all my heart. So, yes, I am happy.
CW
You dad promised me a gator tail cookout about three years ago, and I haven’t seen the first bite of gator yet. Tell him I’m still waiting!
ML
I’ll definitely tell him, I’ll see him tonight and we’re in Louisiana. Maybe he’ll go catch you one.
CW
Thanks. I’ll see you at CMA Music Fest.

For more from Miranda, check out the June 15, 2009 issue of Country Weekly.

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