Miranda Lambert took a break from her Wildcard Tour to serve as a speaker during Country Radio Seminar 2020, a three-day conference in Nashville where thousands of country radio professionals meet each year to discuss the trends within the genre and celebrate new and veteran country artists.
The "Bluebird" singer was on hand for CRS at Music City's Omni Hotel on Wednesday (Feb. 19) for an hourlong discussion with Cindy Watts, manager of corporate communications for Nashville-based artist management company AMG. Titled A Conversation With Miranda Lambert, the pair chatted about the country singer’s rise to fame from singing in bars in Texas as a teenager to her move to Music City following a third-place finish on Nashville Star, as well as her future.
“My legacy now is what I did,” she said to a packed room of radio executives. “It’s how many people I was good to and how many dogs I saved ... that’s how I’m going to chase this next decade -- with more quality, not quantity. I want to balance everything better now and not rush to the next [thing] because, what is the next?”
Following her chat, the country singer-songwriter performed two songs from her latest release, Wildcard, including the poignant “Dark Bars” and “How Dare You Love,” her husband’s favorite song and “one of three love songs I’ve ever written.”
Here are eight takeaways from Lambert’s conversation.
Singing helped Lambert get over her shyness
Lambert was shy as a child, admitting that she was “terrified of crowds” and “wouldn’t even order at McDonald’s by myself.” She remembers performing in public for the first time at the age of 10 at her third-grade talent show but didn’t really pursue music until she was 16.
“I got my first guitar at 14 but it wasn’t my idea, it was my dad’s idea,” she said about pursuing a music career. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with it ... I wrote my first song at 14 about a girl named Mandy Leigh. She was going to Nashville to become a singer. I played it for my little brother who was 10 at the time. He said, ‘It’s not very good, but you’re getting there.’”
By the time she was 17, Lambert performed at a local bar three times a week and got the performance bug. “It’s when I got my chops and realized it was the only thing that came natural. It’s like my personality came alive -- this was what I was supposed to do but I didn’t know it. I’m still terrified [of performing] sometimes, but I think if you’re not, that’s when you’ve gotta quit.”
She bombed her first Nashville Star audition
Lambert first tried out for Nashville Star in Dallas but didn’t make the top 25. She said she performed a cover of Shania Twain’s “Still the One” -- a song she loved but didn’t execute. Her mom saw her lack of enthusiasm for the tryout and called her out.
“[My mom] said, ‘You didn’t give anything. You got in there and didn’t try. That’s not fair to me. You’re doing it again in Houston,’” Lambert recalled. “I went in with a different attitude and realized this could catapult me. I sang ‘Crazy’ a cappella and that changed the game. I think of Nashville Star as college. I thought, ‘I have to give it my all. I’m here, I made it. I’m gonna try' … On the first episode, I was the first contestant to do the first song and I was the youngest by 10 years. When I sang Hank Williams’ ‘Settin’ the Woods on Fire,’ the shy girl left forever. All my grit from the bars, all the moments no one was listening -- everything culminated in that moment.”
Lambert made The Weight of These Wings for herself
Well aware that the songs on her 24-track double album The Weight of These Wings are difficult to put in a set list, Lambert says she needed to release the project for herself.
“I needed to make The Weight of These Wings for my sanity and my songwriting ability,” she said. “It was dramatic. It was 24 songs and most of them were sad. I was a little bit exhausted of always keeping the sassy and headbanging. In my life, I was tired because I was going through something hard. I wanted to be honest. I’ve always been honest.”
She first felt her music connecting with Revolution
Lambert says her third studio album Revolution put her on the map. She garnered her first No. 1 song with “White Liar,” which she calls “real country,” and the success of “The House That Built Me” helped her to break out of being pigeonholed for being sassy.
“Revolution. My one-word titles always come at a really good time in my career and have been the records that pushed me to a different level -- Kerosene and Revolution and Platinum and Wildcard. It was a different feeling,” she said of releasing Revolution. “I think Revolution is when I felt like I was starting [to] connect … ‘The House That Built Me' had been a success and that started to get me where I needed to go and then I had my first No. 1 with 'White Liar.’”
She was glad Tanya Tucker cut “The House That Built Me” on While I’m Livin’
Tucker covered “The House That Built Me” on her Grammy-winning album While I’m Livin’ and Lambert couldn’t be happier. “There’s so many similarities in our careers,” she said of Tucker. “I felt thrilled to have her do it. I was so happy to have her win the Grammys too.”
Lambert’s nine dogs all have pop-culture-related names
“I’ve always been an animal person and I’ve always rescued dogs. No one can be pissed about saving a dog. Everyone’s pissed about everything these days,” she said. “I have nine dogs. They know commands like ‘Cut that sh-- out.’ Their names are] Jessi and Waylon, Thelma, Louise and J.D. [Taken from the film Thelma and Louise]. [In the movie] they pick up Brad Pitt and he’s J.D. This works. And he’s just as handsome. Delta Dawn, Cher, Belamy Brother and Roe, which means running on empty. He has no teeth and he’s 10 years old.”
Lambert admits she doesn’t know how to choose radio singles
“I’ve had a career based on songs, not hits. The crowd doesn’t know that ‘Gunpowder’ went to [No.] 9 or ‘Little Red Wagon’ went to [No.] 11 … I’ve always been one of those artists that you can’t count on me having a top five, but I have a great career. I’m lucky enough that people have [sought] out the records and bought tix anyway,” she said, later admitting that she doesn’t know how to choose radio singles. “[Current single] ‘Bluebird’ is so special, so the fact that people are responding and getting adds, it means the world to me. That song is like a breath -- you’ll be fine.”
She’s most proud of her honesty throughout her career
“I’ve never strayed away from exactly who I am. At times it’s not helpful in business for me to just be who I am. That’s the only advice I’ve gotten from my mom. She said, ‘You just need to know who you are and stick with it.’ Popular or not, I never cut a song that I was iffy about. I’ve never done something image-wise that I was iffy about. If it’s a maybe, it’s a no. We live by that,” she explained. “That’s why we have had success, because we are trustworthy that way. It’s real and it’s true.”