I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing Miranda Lambert once, years ago while living in New York City. We chatted a few days before her album Platinum was released in 2014 and although our interview was barely 10 minutes long, she revealed a lot about herself, her songwriting, aging gracefully and the importance of female artists to uplift each other. You can view the interview above and read my article on Radio.com.
Watching the interview back nearly four years later, the part that struck me most was when she mentioned her duet “Somethin’ Bad” with Carrie Underwood and how it’s important for females in country to collaborate.
“When I heard ‘Somethin’ Bad’ the song just popped,” she told me. “It really struck a chord. I wanted to collaborate with Carrie because we need to and there’s not that many females in country that do collaborate. We’ve known each other for a really long time but I needed it to be the right song. I thought that one could be cool. It was a female-male duet so we asked the writers to re-write it for two girls and make it sort of Thelma & Louise themed and they did and it’s so perfect for us.”
Lambert went on to rave about Underwood, saying that she pushes her to be a better vocalist.
“It’s really cool to collaborate with her. She’s such a great vocalist and artist and really pushes me as a singer to be better,” she added.
Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Natalie Hemby shares what she has learned as a songwriter.
Natalie Hemby had a long journey to releasing her debut album, Puxico, in January. The Nashville native and established songwriter is well known in Music City for penning hits for Miranda Lambert (“White Liar,” “Automatic”) and Little Big Town (“Pontoon,” “Tornado”), among others, but for years she was trying to make it as an artist. Hemby found herself close to a record deal several times throughout her first decade as a songwriter but due to the shifting musical landscape and regime changes at labels, she never signed on the dotted line.
“When I hit 30 I just gave it up,” Hemby tells me over the phone two days after her debut album dropped. “I was just like, ‘I want to write music. I don’t really care what that looks like. I don’t care if anybody every hears it. I just want to write music because I love to write songs.’ I even worked a job at Comcast for a while, which I actually really loved because I learned so much and I got a lot of great song ideas out of it.”
Hemby says her day job at Comcast grounded her and made her love songwriting even more. At the time her husband, Mike Wrucke, began producing Miranda Lambert and the two women became fast friends. Hemby soon found herself singing on Lambert’s first three albums and the Texas native kept urging her to set up a co-write.
“I thought she was hilarious and I really loved her music,” Hemby recalls. “She kept telling me, ‘Hey, we should get together and write.’ She said that a few times and the third time she was like, ‘No, I’m serious. Let’s write!’”
The two songwriters finally got together and the first time they met they wrote “White Liar,” which would become both Hemby and Lambert’s first No. 1. They continued their partnership and co-wrote four songs featured on Lambert’s third album, Revolution. Meanwhile, Hemby likens Lambert to a younger sister and says she respects her songwriting.
“I’m really lucky that I get to connect with somebody like her because she is a deep well of lyrics, and talent, and she’s hilarious. We had our first No. 1 together and it all sprung from that. The great thing is, she was also very respectful of me. She knew that I loved to write and that’s why we have such a great relationship, we just love music. We love good music.”
Another song Hemby co-wrote with Lambert was their CMA Single of the Year and ACM Song of the Year, “Automatic.” Hemby remembers Nicolle Galyon bringing the idea to their writing session.
“I probably contributed the least lyrically to the song,” she admits. “Melodically, those were my melodies. Each person has their role each different day. Like for ‘Only Prettier,’ I came in with that chorus and the first verse. I wanted to map this out pretty straightaway. I had the chorus, the first verse, and then melodies. With this one I took a backseat because I’m not the only one who loves nostalgia. Miranda loves that kind of stuff. Nicolle had this idea, ‘whatever happened to waiting your turn.’ Those two really carved out a lot.”
Interviewing Miranda Lambert was truly an incredible experience. While I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as she has this “don’t mess with me persona” onstage when performing hits like “Kerosene,” “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Somethin’ Bad,” she was such an inspiring interview and incredibly down to earth.
Miranda released her latest album, Platinum, this year when she was 30-years-old and since I was about to turn 30 myself, I had to ask her advice.
“There’s Spanx and Botox, you’re fine,” she joked, before getting serious. “When I say aging, I’m only 30. I’m just not 20 anymore. In the last 10 years, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’m so excited to head into my 30s. It’s like an adventure. It’s something to look forward to and hopefully get smarter and learn lessons from the mistakes you’ve made and hopefully not make as many mistakes as you did in your 20s.”
She added: “It’s not a scary thing. It’s exciting. With age you gain knowledge and knowledge is beautiful in my opinion. I just am really glad to be where I am. I’ve worked really hard and I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
The more we chatted, the more I could see how humble Miranda is and how being in the spotlight hasn’t changed her one bit. She chose 16 songs that spoke to her and where she is at in her life for her album Platinum. The 30-year-old Texas native said everything on the record is “a picture of who I am right now.”
“I know just being a girl, I’m just like everybody else and I know some of the things I’m going through, good or bad, surely there are other people out there that can relate to something on this record because it covers the gamut,” she said. “There’s all kinds of different songs on this record and there’s some humor too, more than I’ve ever had before on any other album.”
“I’ve been so blessed in my career to be able to sing the songs and write the songs that I really believe in,” she added. “A lot of people have struggled to keep going. I feel so lucky to always write songs like ‘Bathroom Sink’ and for people to come up and go, ‘Hey, I really relate to that.’ It’s not an easy thing to do, to lay your heart out there.”
Read more of my interview with Miranda Lambert at Radio.com.
When I interviewed Kacey Musgraves last year, she raved about Brandy Clark. Brandy was Kacey’s tour opener and songwriting partner and she told me that her album 21 Stories needed to be heard. And she was right.
Earlier this year, I finally sat down with Brandy and having had success on writing singles for Miranda Lambert and Kacey in the past, I was fascinated with the stories behind her songs and how she goes about writing a song. Brandy filled me in on everything (read an excerpt below) and I have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot more from this country singer-songwriter. Today, she was nominated for two Grammy Awards, one for Best Country Album and the second for Best New Artist. I’m keeping my fingers crossed she wins both.
Long before Brandy Clark released her excellent debut country album 12 Stories, she had a publicist in Kacey Musgraves. The two songwriters penned several hits together, including Miranda Lambert‘s 2014 ACM Award-winning “Mama’s Broken Heart” and Musgraves’ recent single “Follow Your Arrow.” Naturally they formed a tight bond.
“Kacey Musgraves was a publicist for this record before we had a publicist,” Brandy told me. “So much of what she’s doing artistically is really opening major doors for a record like mine. Had Kacey’s record not come out when it did, I don’t know if my record would have been received the way it was. I feel like she’s really opened the door for a different kind of song and for some of those topics that are a little bit more taboo.”
Lead single “Stripes” is an example of Clark’s unique storytelling. What started as an idea to write a song called “Orange,” about a woman who wants to kill her cheating husband, transformed into a tell-all tale of what would happen if she didn’t hate stripes and looked good in the color orange.
“For me, to really sink my teeth into a song, I do have the characters in my mind, and they grow,” she said. “When I’m writing a song, I can picture the kitchen they’re sitting in and what their TV set looks like. Those are the things I have to do, just getting into that spot in your mind where the story is taking place.”
I had the opportunity to tour with my first band back in 2008 when I was an intern at Rolling Stone. It was not as glamorous as I had previously thought, but an experience nonetheless. The band was Army of Me and I was in a tiny van with four guys as they toured with The Used. While it was a rite of passage I’ll never forget, I’ve always wondered what life on a tour bus is really like and I finally got to find out this year when I spent 24 hours on the road with Hunter Hayes as he broke a Guinness World Record for the most shows in 24 hours in multiple cities.
I spent 24 hours en route on a media bus where I tested out the bunks, realized the awkwardness of using the bathroom and had a newfound appreciation for the road life that so many artists deal with every day. You can read my full recap on Radio.com.
While I may not jump at the chance to travel the country on a tour bus myself, I wouldn’t say no to the next band opportunity. What was even more exciting was that that experience presented me with my first ever music plaque. I have a few softball trophies under my belt, but a music plaque is definitely a first.
That Hunter Hayes experience was just one of several that exhilarated me so far this summer and made me stop and cherish this crazy journey of being a music journalist. Last month, I interviewed Jason Mraz who I had grown up listening to. He was pretty much my college roommate’s life soundtrack and whenever I hear “I’m Yours” I’m always reminded of her ringtone.
I have not been that nervous for an interview in a very long time. I usually still get butterflies, but this time it was a huge knot in my stomach. He turned out to be more than cool and just a super chill person. Basically, exactly what you’d think he’d be like in real life. Watch our chat below.
Another highlight was interviewing Miranda Lambert. She just released her new album Platinum and while I only got 15 minutes with her, I was taken aback by how down to earth she was. While she’s married to perhaps the most popular man in country, Blake Shelton, she was so incredibly nice and even gave me some hilarious, yet questionable advice about turning 30 in November. “There’s always Spanx and Botox, you’ll be fine.” Watch my interview with her below.
Texas born and bred singer-songwriter Leyla Fences is tired of today’s country music so she decided to do something about it. Since the songs she heard on the radio didn’t relate, she wrote some that would.
“I found myself listening to today’s mainstream country and feeling two things,” Leyla said. “One, that it didn’t sound like country music anymore and two, that even though songs today might still portray everyday life, it’s mostly only the happy, picture-perfect parts. I sure wasn’t hearing songs that I could relate to based on what I was living at the time so I decided to write about those experiences – even though they didn’t all have fairytale endings.”
All 14 of the tracks on her sophomore release Itty Bitty Twang Twang were written or co-written by Fences and portray the heartache and pain felt after a breakup, being cheated on and trying to move on. Embodying traditional country music, Fences blends her sassy style with a comedic touch.
Itty Bitty Twang Twang kicks off things right away on the tongue in cheek “Get the Truck Outta Here.” The song tells the tale of an ex trying to come back into one’s life despite having a new wife. With a distinct country twang that recalls Loretta Lynn, Fences is well on her way.
“You took me for a ride/Drove me half out my mind/Now you’re cruising back this way/Honey, I ain’t got the time,” Fences sings with catchy fiddle and steel guitar accompaniment.
Next track, “Something Right” switches gears as Fences finds herself lucky in love. In awe that her lover has decided to stay, her quirky lyrics tell a unique story. “I guess I must have done something pretty darn right in another life…Yes, I must have done some amazing Mother Teresa-like deeds/I must have done something right,” she sings. Not your typical honey-coated pop-country lyrics, Fences’ memorable writing style leave a mark on the listener.
“Pretty Lies” brings to mind another singer with a distinctive approach: Gretchen Wilson. Telling the heart-wrenching tale of catching her love red-handed with another, Fences won’t stand for it. Alongside a steady percussion beat, wavering steel guitar and compelling piano and fiddle features, Fences’ laments and moves on.
“What I Do” continues to mourn the end of a relationship with slowed instrumentals and Fences’ emotional singing style while “Too Far Gone” livens things up with fast-paced electric guitar and soulful background vocals. On “The Next Time” Fences gets out of her own situation and offers advice to a friend who has lost the passion in her love life. She should heed her own advice in her next track, the rollicking “How Things Have Changed.”
Eight tracks in and it’s evident Fences has quite the amount of heartache to get over. “Just a few more tears in my beer and I’m gonna be all right,” she sings on the twangy “One More Honky Tonk.” Meanwhile, “I Wonder” follows suit and is a relatable song in which Fences can’t help but think of what went wrong in a past relationship and whether her ex ever wonders about her.
While the soulful, piano driven “Pain Relief” quickens the pace alongside Fences’ sultry singing, “The Cards” slows things right back down. As “Trophy Wife” and “We’ll Just Figure It Out” close the album Fences’ talent continues to shine. Not shy to reveal her true emotions while exemplifying true country music icons like Loretta Lynn and Gretchen Wilson, Leyla Fences is one country artist to watch.
The Grammy Awards air tonight on CBS at 8PM ET/PT and will feature live performances by Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Bob Dylan, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, Miranda Lambert, Katy Perry, Arcade Fire, B.o.B, Bruno Mars, Drake, Rihanna and many more.
For complete coverage, be sure to follow me on Twitter as I’ll be live tweeting the show. Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to interview numerous Grammy winners, so be sure to click on my Q&As with past winners below and stay tuned for new interviews in the upcoming weeks!
New York City’s Terminal 5 was packed to capacity Wednesday night for the start of CMT’s ninth annual CMT on Tour, this year featuring Miranda Lambert, Eric Church and Josh Kelley. New Yorkers put on their cowboy boots and hats for the three-hour show and proved that the city that never sleeps has some very ardent country fans. Hats, beer cups and even one girl’s cowboy boot were raised in the air multiple times throughout the evening.
David Nail and Lady Antebellum were spotted in the crowd, as was Josh’s wife, actress Katherine Heigl, who danced along to most of Miranda’s set. On the heels of their Beacon Theater performance, Lady A and David opted to spend an extra night in New York to catch the show before flying to St. Louis to continue their current headlining tour.
The first day of the tour, Miranda confessed she missed sound check and instead spent the night in Nashville to celebrate fiancé Blake Shelton’s induction into the Grand Ole Opry.