Natalie-Maines-Issue-No27NATALIE MAINES

A Chick stops whistling Dixie to rock Cali with Ben Harper

Dixie Chicks fans might be surprised that Natalie Maines chose a rock direction for her solo album debut, Mother, but for the Texas native it was all about getting back to her roots. “Anything but country music was what I listened to growing up,” says the 13-time Grammy winner. “It was all pop, rock and R&B.” Maines recorded Mother at Ben Harper’s L.A. studio, where she worked at a leisurely pace with the veteran songwriter-producer and his band. In addition to the Roger Waters–penned title track, the album features Jayhawks, Jeff Buckley and Eddie Vedder covers, and new songs written by Harper.


How did you approach the album?

Ben and I had co-written and sung a song together for a documentary. That’s how our friendship began. But I didn’t actually realize we were making an album at first. We went into the studio with no agenda, no schedule, and went at things song by song. I didn’t even tell my manager until we were seven songs in. The guys in the band were excited to be trying things. They just wanted to make music, and I wanted to see where it all might lead.


What was it like working with Ben?

He’s super easygoing. Oftentimes I knew what I didn’t like about something, but he was great at knowing how to fix them—even if it was a small thing like changing the guitar. Plus, Ben’s such a gifted writer, he can write a song a day. I love making and performing music, and the production side,  but writing is like homework—I only do it when forced. Ben is also such a positive presence in the studio. You do a vocal, and he’s throwing himself on the ground with excitement.


Any magical moments in the studio?

It took us a long time to get the Buckley song, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” exactly how we wanted it. But when it finally happened we all felt a certain energy. Later that night I was reading the news, and learned it was the anniversary of Buckley’s death. I immediately texted all the guys—we were all shocked.


How did you choose the songs?

Various ways. After being in the studio for about a week I went to see Roger Waters’ The Wall concert, and when I heard him do “Mother,” it struck me that I had to do that song. I could hear how it would sound with my voice—and how it would take on a different meaning with a woman singing it. As for the Jeff Buckley song, my husband, Adrian, and I used to wake up every morning to that tune the first year we were falling in love. And I’ve always been a huge Jayhawks fan. We recorded a couple of their songs, and “I’d Run Away” seemed to best fit the album. And of course there are the new songs. I had sung “Trained,” the Ben original, months before we started this album. He had written it and was doing a demo, and I sang on his version. We sort of changed it up when I sang the lead for mine.


How did it feel performing solo for the first time?

Weird. I don’t feel like I know who my audience is yet. I’m usually good at reading an audience, tuning in to them, and giving them what they want. Now it’s guesswork—and I’m figuring it all out. There’s also more for me to remember for this music, because I play lots of guitar. But that’s all part of what makes things exciting. I definitely feel like I’m starting over.

–Russell Hall


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