Miranda Lambert Doesn’t Mean to Offend. She’s ‘a Little Too Honest.’
The country singer and songwriter on her new album, “Wildcard,” scooping the tabloids and her life as a teenage goody-goody.
One night not long ago, Miranda Lambert was drinking wine on her porch in Nashville with a friend who’d planned to drive home. Lambert discouraged her from getting behind the wheel: “You’re way too pretty for prison,” she said. The next day, Lambert and three other songwriters turned that phrase into a song.
Over the last 14 years, Lambert, 35, has excelled at exposing her fears, foibles and frolics, and won both commercial success and critical acclaim. She’s released three albums with the Pistol Annies, a singer-songwriter trio she founded with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, and six bold and often hilarious solo albums. Her latest, “Wildcard,” is due Nov. 1.
From her early days in country music, Lambert made a strong impression with the singles “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder & Lead,” in which she defied the genre’s current gender stereotypes and sang about taking violent revenge on men who deserved it. She was propelled from a smart upstart to a tabloid regular in 2011, when she married the country star Blake Shelton, and addressed their divorce five years later on a downcast double album, “The Weight of These Wings.” In February, she scooped the gossips by announcing that, a month earlier, she’d married Brendan McLoughlin, who grew up on Staten Island and is an officer in the New York Police Department.
Recently, at her label’s offices in Manhattan, Lambert breezily reflected on her new husband, her sense of humor and how she stopped being a teenage goody-goody. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
After releasing a double album, “Wildcard” must have seemed like a breeze. But it does have 14 songs, which is more than most country singers include on their records.
It breaks my heart that you say that. I’m so romantic about albums and the journey. Even since I put out “The Weight of These Wings,” everything is so different in the industry. I’ll joke around and say, if I’m wearing a short dress, “I’m trying to sell some records!” But what are we saying? Am I trying to sell records, or am I trying to be streamed?
Do you worry about offending people with your sense of humor?
I don’t mean to upset people. I’m maybe a little too honest.
Was sarcasm always a part of your writing, or was it something you had to develop?
I think it came gradually. I’ve evolved into being O.K. making fun of myself, with “White Trash” or “Way Too Pretty for Prison.” Back in the day, I would’ve went ahead and killed the guy. Now I’m like, “That’s too much work.” [Laughs] I took myself really seriously in my 20s, because I was so driven. This is all I’ve ever chased, country music. And a few men.
When you were a kid, did your family think you were funny?
No. I’ve been told millions of times I have a terrible sense of humor. But I think it’s just dark or different. Obvious jokes and funny movies, I don’t find funny.
What do you find funny?
Sarcasm and dirty jokes.
You talked about how your songs evolved. Is there a moment when you became the writer you are now?
I remember writing a song when I was 17 on my bathroom floor, and my mom came in and listened. It was called “Leave Me Lying Here.” I didn’t really know what the song meant, but it was pretty deep. I lived a little, and then I was like, “Oh, now I know what that song means.” That was one of the moments — I realized I could write bigger than me. Because at 17, what have you really lived?
I was a sheltered girl who went to church every Sunday. I had a pretty normal life, except that my parents were private investigators and took in women that were victims of domestic violence. I lived for my whole high school with random women and their kids coming in and out. Some were my friends. Some, I knew their dads.
Did having parents who are P.I.s give you a sense, early on, that life and love are dangerous?
My parents, their conversations while we were eating spaghetti, were about who they caught having an affair. It was normal to me and my brothers.
It leaked into your songs, especially early on. Does it still?
I think so. And so did the music I listened to. The first song that ever made me cry was “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” by Guy Clark. I was 10. My dad was singing it, and at the time, I didn’t understand why I was crying. I knew it brought out something in me. So all of that, combined with seeing what my parents did for a job, definitely — I was pulling from that early on.
What were you like at 16?
I’d started my plan of “How do I not go to college?” I struggled in school. I didn’t fail, but I barely passed. I was really, really a goody-two-shoes, and super boring. [Laughs] I was a good kid.
That’s hard to believe now.
I know! Even my parents were like, “You’re not much fun.” Then I made up for it. I started working in a bar at 17, and discovered a world outside of my Bible Belt town.
Why were you working in a bar at 17?
I’d entered a contest called the True Value Country Showdown, and finished third. We got to be friends with the house band at this bar because I was rehearsing with them for the contest. They called my mom and said, “Does your daughter need a gig? We just lost our singer.” So I’d get home at 4 a.m. on Thursdays and go to school the next day. My mom had to come with me for the first two weeks, until I turned 18 — which she loved, because she could drink beer and listen to music, and I’d drive her home. I graduated high school early. Got in this program called Op Grad, for pregnant girls and people on drugs — and me. And I felt more at home in a honky-tonk than I realized I would.
You were 19 when you signed to Sony Nashville. Did you understand what you were signing on for?
I didn’t know it would be this much business. That was the shocking part: This is 80 percent business, and I thought it was 80 percent art. And then the second part of that was the fame. All of a sudden, there was a tabloid world, because of my first marriage.
Are you still in the tabloids?
Here and there, I see myself at Kroger. I sell magazines — I guess I’m still interesting.
There are two songs on “Wildcard” that mention New York City. How much time have you been spending here?
Quite a bit of time. I’m not great at navigating the city, but I’m great at calling an Uber. [Laughs] I got lost one day, walked to the West Side Highway, and my Apple Watch said I’d walked 13 miles. When people recognize you here, they don’t make a big deal. “Oh. Hey. You’re Miranda Lambert. Like your music. Bye.”
How did you meet your new husband?
I met my husband doing press for the Pistol Annies record, this time last year. Our record came out the day after Halloween, and we did “Good Morning America.” My husband was doing security there for the show. My girlfriends, the Annies, saw him and knew I might be ready to hang out with someone. They invited him to our show behind my back. They plucked him for me. My security guy Tom, he was in on it too. He said to me, “He’s here. And he’s pretty.” [Laughs] Now the Pistol Annies have three husbands, two ex-husbands, three children, a stepson and 23 animals. We’ve done a lot in nine years!
I imagine you’re tired of discussing the plight of women in country music.
I’m very tired of it.
But here’s a different approach to the topic. Female singers can’t get their songs on the radio, so they’ve stopped trying to be commercial, and that’s freed them to sing what they want. For the past few years, the women in country have made much better records than the men.
You do have a different approach, because that is it. I made “The Weight of These Wings” and couldn’t get a single on the charts to save my life, but I won song of the year [for “Tin Man,” at the 2018 ACM Awards]. I already had that mentality, because my relationship with radio has been tumultuous. I didn’t even have a Top 5 song until my third record. I had platinum albums and I was winning awards. I just couldn’t get played on the radio. It sucks.
Once you had your first hit, quite a few more followed quickly, didn’t they?
My first No. 1 was “White Liar,” which I had to work my ass off to get. We were on tour with Brad Paisley, and set up a conference room at the show. I had my whole band, crew, family, the opening acts and their bands, all dialing radio stations to request my song. On this record, the label said, “What do you want the single to be?” I’m like, “Y’all tell me. That way, if it doesn’t work, it’s your idea.”
Is “Wildcard” a less somber album than “The Weight of These Wings?”
I bought it back to straight down the middle Miranda Lambert. People want the humor, the sarcasm, something not too musically out there. And I get that. But would I love to just go off and make a stone cold country record? Hell, yes. Maybe I will. You have to grow as an artist. I can’t sing “Mama’s Broken Heart” when I’m 80 years old. That’d be weird.
Can you write happy songs when you’re sad, and sad songs when you’re happy?
I can. I’m transparent to a fault, sometimes — I write from my experience and the people around me. But I want to be one of those songwriters who can write amazing stories, like “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” Or John Prine.
My goal is to get better at writing amazing stories that aren’t my own. But I’ve got to live more life and I’ve got to try way harder. Until then, I’m just writing about my own [expletive]. Sorry, y’all!