At 27, the queen of outlaw country has already gone platinum three times, cleaned up at the CMA Awards, and fomented a gal-power revolution. Now what?
The photo shoot is over, the fancy duds have been tucked away, and Miranda Lambert has slipped into down-to-earth attire — black jeggings, blue-green plaid shirt, and tan rubber boots emblazoned with images of wild horses. When asked if she’d be found dressed this way if someone dropped by for a visit at her farm, she laughs and shakes her head.
“At the farm,” she says cheerily with more than a trace of Texas twang, “you’d find me in mud-splattered jeans. And mud all over my boots. ’Cause it’s a real farm.”
Indeed it is. Lambert maintains 700 acres outside the southern Oklahoma town of Tishomingo, near the 1,200-acre spread of her fiancé, fellow country music star Blake Shelton. “But his land is strictly hunting land,” she insists with mock seriousness. “I have a real farm with potbellied pigs and chickens and horses and cows. And we get back there every chance we get. After the CMA Awards last November, people asked us, ‘What did you do when you got home?’ And I said, ‘Well, he burned a brush pile, and I made chocolate chip cookies.’ We just went back to our normal lives in rubber boots.”
For Lambert and Shelton, who started dating in 2006 and are now looking forward to their May 14 wedding, staying on the farm means staying grounded. “It’s cool to have that balance,” Lambert says. “I think you have to. And I think that’s going to be the biggest battle in my life — not only as a wife, but as a person. It’ll be an ongoing challenge to balance a regular life with an entertainer’s life.”
Especially when you’re an entertainer whose career is proceeding as triumphantly as Lambert’s. With a platinum-selling album (2005’s Kerosene), platinum single (“Gunpowder & Lead” from 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and a slew of hit songs already to her credit, the 27-year-old native of Lindale, Texas, took it up a big notch with the September 2009 release of Revolution, the mega-smash she promoted with her first headlining tour (playfully dubbed “Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars”). It too debuted at No. 1 on the country charts — making Lambert one of five country artists whose first three albums all landed in the top spot out of the box — and it too went platinum.
Still on the charts after all these weeks, Revolution hit the sweet spot with Lambert’s ever-growing following of “Ran Fans,” spawned a passel of well-received singles (including the No. 1 “The House That Built Me”), and earned rave reviews from critics greatly impressed by her singing and songwriting. It also enabled her to dominate last fall’s Country Music Association (CMA) Awards, where she picked up the top prizes for Album and Female Vocalist of the Year, and “The House That Built Me” claimed honors for Song and Music Video of the Year. (The other half of the power couple didn’t do so bad either: Blake Shelton picked up the 2010 CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.)
“Revolution is what kicked my career into gear,” Lambert says. “For me, this is the record that pushed me.” Now the big question is, What can she do for an encore? Lambert’s already at work writing songs for her next album, which she expects to record later this year. But she knows she has a tough act to follow.
“I guess I’m just going to have to stop comparing myself to myself,” Lambert says. “I’m just going to have to start over and say, ‘Okay, where am I today? Who am I at 27? What do I want to say now that I haven’t said on previous records?’ That’s kind of what I’m doing right now.”
Which means she’s in a good place to look back at her career and forward to her future. C&I sat down with Lambert after our cover-story photo shoot to talk about her music, her man, and why she’s learning barrel racing.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve recorded several songs, some of them major hits, about tough, tenacious, even gun-toting women. Are people surprised when they meet you and see you’re a sweet little country gal from East Texas?
Miranda Lambert: [Laughs.] Well, not every song I write is about me. I mean, I’m not actually going to shoot my husband because he’s beating me. First of all, my husband’s not beating me. And I’m not going to go to jail. But it’s fun to sing about those things. It’s a time when I get into that character. You see, performing a song, recording a song, is a way for me to get into the character of that song. You become sort of an actress while you’re singing those lyrics.
C&I: Many of those songs have helped you connect with a large female fan base.
Lambert: That’s true. I think I have a really strong female fan base because I sing about empowerment of women. Not in an against-men kind of way, but just about being strong in who you are as a woman. And I think that’s good because my mom taught me confidence growing up. You know: “Be confident — you can do anything you want to do.” And not every girl’s mom tells her that. And so I try to have that message, for young girls especially. And for women who maybe have been abused in some way and didn’t have the guts to leave — maybe they’ll get the message that they can do it, and that they are worth something. I just love singing about that. Because that’s how I feel — I’m a very confident person.
C&I: “Gunpowder & Lead” is about a woman who’s planning to, ahem, unburden herself of an abusive husband. After that song became a hit, did you notice men reacting to you with a bit more deference?
Lambert: I did. But, you know, I’m still the same person I’ve always been. People who’d meet me after hearing that song would tell me, “Wow, I thought you were going to be so mean and scary.” And I would tell them, “Look, it’s a song. Part of it is just playing a character. I’m just a nice girl from East Texas. I promise I’m not going to shoot you — as long as you are nice.”
C&I: And then on your next CD, you did a cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Time to Get a Gun” . ...
Lambert: [Laughs.] Yeah, it seems like there’s a theme here, doesn’t it? But you know, I think that’s what sets me apart. I’m not afraid to say things. I like edgy stuff, and I like to stand up for what I believe in. I mean, I grew up around guns. My dad was a police officer. And I grew up around cheating. Not firsthand, of course. But my parents were private investigators, so I heard a ton about cheating. So that’s what I write about. I think country music is about being real. That’s why I like Merle Haggard.
C&I: There’s definitely a dark undercurrent to some of your songs, like “Down,” your bluegrass tune about a woman who more or less proclaims, “A man hurt me once, so I’m going to spend the rest of my life hurting other men.” You’ve said that while you were growing up, your parents often talked about the bad behavior of the people they investigated. Do you think that may have made you more cynical, or at least more skeptical, about personal relationships?
Lambert: I think I’m more cynical and more skeptical. I think that some people see the good in everyone until proven differently. And I’m one of those who start out saying, “Okay, you’ve got to prove you’re good to me.” Because I did see and hear a lot of bad things about humanity, with my parents being private investigators, doing background checks and things. And with my dad being a cop before he was a private investigator; in Dallas, he was a narc.
So I guess you could say our dinner conversations were not your normal ones. And sometimes, there’d be talk about someone in our town, or even someone that I knew, who’d been abusive to their wife, or cheating on their wife, or abusive to their kids. It’s the sort of thing that makes you doubt people. It makes you keep yourself at arm’s length until you feel comfortable enough with a person. And that’s how I am. I’m not really a warm and fuzzy kind of a person. But when I love you, I love you with all of my heart.
C&I: Were your parents hesitant about your entering show business? They surely knew you’d run into some less-than-upstanding folks while you were trying to get started.
Lambert: They did. But I already kind of knew that myself, because Dad had been warning me my whole life anyway: “Always look over your shoulder. Never let your guard down.” But I’m not really a school person; I made it through high school barely passing, which is just fine by me. And I knew I would waste time in college, because I already knew what I wanted to do — I wanted to be in music, and I wanted to be in a band. And I figured the best way to do that was not waste money and time in a classroom. So my mom and dad were not discouraging to me at all. They told me, “Look, if this is what you want to do, we’re going to put whatever money we’d put into college into this instead.” So I figured, Well, then this has to work. There is no backup plan.
C&I: Did anyone, well meaning or otherwise, try to discourage you from pursuing a musical career?
Lambert: I did have a few people who told me, “Oh, you should go to school.” And when they asked about the places where I was performing, I’d say, “This is my school. I’ve learned who I am by playing in these bars three nights a week, four hours a night. And I play over clanking beer bottles and fighting cowboys and people dancing that request a waltz 20 times a night.”
C&I: Worst. Gig. Ever . ...
Lambert: I once played a train car — an old train car that they’d turned into a bar. That sounds cool, but it wasn’t. It was a place somewhere outside of Dallas. The thing about this place was, the stage was built about three or four steps down from the train car, so all you could see from the bar was, like, my chest up. My dad played guitar, and I had a backup singer with me. There were about five people in the bar, and every one of them wound up bloody in the parking lot by the end of the show. It was the most ghetto-redneck thing I’d ever seen. I think there was one full set of teeth among all the people there. And, you know, I’m redneck, too. But all I could think of was, What the hell have we stepped into?
C&I: When you first started seeing Blake Shelton, did you ever worry that you might not want to get serious about someone who’s also a country music star?
Lambert: I really never thought about him being in the business, to be honest. I mean, I fell in love with the person. But then all the other stuff goes down, and they start to talk about you and you’re in the press. I thought, Well, this sucks. Right away, we were in the public eye because we were a couple, and I didn’t like that part of it. But by the time we get married, we’ll have been together six years. And we’ve learned how to deal with it by going through it.
C&I: It must be nice to have a partner who fully understands all the unique pressures and demands of your work.
Lambert: It’s really cool, because he’s been in the business five years longer than me. And he’s been through everything that I’ve been through, even during the early stages. Our trailer flipped over one time on the highway, and it was really a big deal. When I told him about it, he was like, “Oh, my God. That happened to me, too, two years ago.” So he always has some advice or a solution about whatever happens. He’s somebody I can look up to as a mentor, but he’s also somebody I can vent to, because he’s like my other half.
C&I: Is it true he asked your father for your hand?
Lambert: Yes, he actually did. They sat down together and had a conversation. I don’t know how it went, though I presume it went well. But that was really important to me. That goes back to my roots, I guess. I think every man should ask the girl’s dad for her hand.
C&I: What do you enjoy doing on a typical day off when you’re not writing, recording, or performing?
Lambert: Well, if it’s pretty, I’ll be outside most of the time. I love to fish, I love to hunt, I love to ride my horses, piddle around on my farm, go backroading with Blake. We kind of get depressed some days when we’ve got to be stuck inside. That’s when we actually get productive. It’s like, Well, I guess we’ll clean out the cabinets or something. Because, really, we’re both outdoors people.
And I’ve been learning how to barrel race — it’s kind of my new hobby. I’ve already done one range rodeo where I did barrels, but I didn’t do that great. But that’s kind of what my new dream is. I used to sing at rodeos all the time, and I thought, Yeah, I want to be one of those girls who ride in with their hair flying behind them.
C&I: You’ve said that while you really appreciate your current success, you know it’s not going to last forever. Can you actually see a time down the road when you’re not going to be singing and songwriting?
Lambert: I don’t see that ever. But I know in reality there may be a time when I’ll still want to sing and write and people won’t care. There may be a time when my time passes and I’ll still be doing it, but I won’t be doing it at this level. I’ll always want to do it, because I love it. But I may be back in a motor home traveling around Texas with the trailer again, playing bars at some point. So I just want to keep that reality close to mind.
Right now, I’m thinking I have to add a truck to the tour this summer and I’ve got to add a bus. Everything’s getting bigger, and that’s awesome. I want to shoot for a career like Reba McEntire’s. My ultimate goal is to be Loretta Lynn — I want to be that much of an influence, and I want to make an amazing record at 70 years old with [The White Stripes frontman] Jack White.
So I’m going to work as hard as I can toward that. But I’m also okay with the fact that when all the awards shows go away and I’m not getting to be on the red carpet and not getting all this publicity, I’ll know that I had my moment and I loved it. I’m going to be content wherever I am, because you have to be — there’s nothing you can do at that point. But I’m still going to be writing songs, and I’m still going to be playing shows. Because I love it.
From the April 2011 issue.