Miranda Lambert’s Texas Truth
Whether back home in East Texas or headlining in Vegas, Miranda Lambert shoots straight
Patsy. Loretta. Dolly. Miranda. She probably wouldn’t put herself on that country music Mount Rushmore, but hear me out: Since blazing onto the scene with her hell-raising albums Kerosene and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Miranda Lambert has proved she has the old-school chops of Patsy Cline, the fire and grit of Loretta Lynn, and the buoyant effervescence of Dolly Parton. In 2015, the flames lowered into a slow burn—Lambert and fellow country star Blake Shelton divorced, and she retreated to a small Nashville studio where she wrote and recorded The Weight of These Wings, a double album on which Lambert was at her most vulnerable and anguished. She never publicly addressed the drama with Shelton, telling me in 2016: “If you wanna hear my side of the story, it’s all on there, very honestly.”
That honesty has been Lambert’s calling card since her formative years in Lindale, Texas, where her parents were private investigators. She and her father drove to Nashville when she was sixteen to record demos after the judges at the local True Value Country Showdown praised her. But she left in tears because the only songs offered to her were schmaltzy pop tracks. She returned to Texas, learned how to play guitar, and began to write her own songs.
Since then, she has become one of the most decorated artists in country music history, with thirty-eight Academy of Country Music Awards, including for Entertainer of the Year; fourteen Country Music Awards; and three Grammys. Last year, she released her ninth studio album, Palomino, and launched Velvet Rodeo, a Las Vegas concert residency that will continue through 2023. In April, she’ll release a cookbook, Y’all Eat Yet?, featuring Texas-tinged recipes such as her favorite, Mom’s Meatloaf. And while Lambert resides on a farm outside of Nashville, she still often makes it back to Lindale, where her family runs the Pink Pistol boutique and a winery. Texas, she says, will always be in her blood.
What’s the most Texas thing about you?
All of it. [Laughs.] I guess my accent. It’s a pretty thick East Texas drawl. Our whole family going way back on both sides is Texas born and bred.
How has the state inspired your music?
I write a lot about where I am from. Lindale is your typical small Texas town. It’s a Friday night football (the Lindale Eagles!), church on Sunday morning, climb the water tower kind of a town. Country music has always been songs about rural life, and I grew up that way. The music scene in Texas was such a blessing because I was always going to shows in Dallas and Austin—like Willie and Jack Ingram and Wade Bowen shows—to absorb everything I could.
Your dad played the Texas circuit as a musician. What did you learn from him?
He is a singer and a very good songwriter too, so I give him a lot of credit for my songwriting skills. My dad taught me three guitar chords when I was seventeen years old, and I ran with it.
You got your start at Reo Palm Isle dance hall in Lindale. What was that like?
It was hard at first, because there were a lot of songs to learn and late nights. Four hourlong sets a night, three nights a week, and I was still in high school. I really learned how to win over a crowd there and about what to play and when, especially when it comes to the dance floor. I was the lead singer of the house band for about six months, so I had to figure all that out right there on the stage. I was only seventeen, but it was the best schooling in honky-tonk etiquette I could have asked for.
And then you began to play all over the state and beyond.
I just went for it. I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to chase music with everything I had, and I was willing to work as hard as I needed to get my name out there. I look back and think about all those miles my mom and I did in her Ford Expedition, running all over the country, playing anywhere and everywhere that would let me on the stage or on the air. But I guess it was worth it, ’cause it worked out!
What’s your top place to play in Texas?
Gruene Hall [in New Braunfels]. It’s the oldest dance hall in Texas, and it’s such a part of our history. You’ve gotta go see a show there and then float the Guadalupe River. I’ve been floating that river my whole life. I just went on a girls’ trip float last August, in fact. While you are down there, you’ve gotta get chicken-fried steak at the Gristmill.
The songs on your 2021 album, The Marfa Tapes, were recorded in one take; what does Marfa bring out in you?
I started going out there with fellow Texans Jon Randall and Jack Ingram in 2015, and something there just gave us songs. I think it’s because it’s so desolate and peaceful and quiet, you have time to really open your mind. We had written about twenty songs there, and I thought it would be cool to put them out in their rawest, realest form. It was a little scary, because there is nowhere to hide during that process—just one take of each song with no fixes or anything. It’s one of my favorite projects I have ever been part of. There’s nothing better than a fall day in Marfa with guitars and tequila.
What appealed to you about the Vegas residency?
After twenty years of touring, it gets exhausting sometimes. That is one reason I’m so thankful for the Velvet Rodeo shows. It is a break from the road, but I still get to do what I love and connect with the fans. This show was so fun to put together because we can bring in some production elements [like pyrotechnics] we haven’t ever had on the road. I won’t be touring much while I’m doing the residency except for a few festivals here and there, so y’all gotta come to Sin City!
Palomino has some of your most evocative writing to date, with songs filled with characters you encountered while traveling. Did your songwriting approach differ at all?
We just started writing about people and places we know or want to know. I love that we based this whole record on travel. The characters were so fun to come up with, and I love how it all came together like one big map of adventure. One of my current favorites is “Carousel.” It’s a big moment in the Velvet Rodeo show.
With the career-spanning Velvet Rodeo and all the accolades you’ve received, do you think about your legacy?
I think about it all the time. It’s very important to me to make my mark on the country music world. I have always tried to stay true to exactly who I am, and to sing and write my truth, so I feel like that is my legacy. I still have so much music and ideas left in me; I can’t wait to see what’s next.