Country firecracker Miranda Lambert keeps the sizzle but embraces her softer side on her latest

A decade ago, Miranda Lambert burst onto the country scene, branded as a volatile, gun-totin’ spitfire. But these days the sassy singer-songwriter has mellowed a bit. “All the fiery stuff is what set me apart in the beginning,” Lambert says, “because no one else was doing it. With success, I’ve been able to calm down and acknowledge that I don’t have to be guns a-blazin’ all the time. People are listening, so I can open up my softer side and show them who the whole Miranda is.”

Growing up in the tiny town of Lindale, Texas—where her parents operated a private investigation company—Lambert was a shy teen who witnessed firsthand some of life’s darker elements. When she was in high school her parents opened up the family home to battered women. Meanwhile, her father taught her a few chords on the guitar. Music coupled with the women’s stories of abuse proved a potent combination. In no time Lambert was off and running.

“I was always slow to learn things, but playing guitar came naturally,” Lambert recalls. “I started writing music right then, but at 17 what could I write about? Cheating, drinking, heartbreak, love and love gone bad—that’s what I saw, and that’s what’s universal.”

Foregoing college, Lambert formed a band and toured Texas for a while. A turning point came in 2003 when the 19-year-old placed third in the Nashville Star reality TV show competition. Awarded a major label contract, she released her debut album, Kerosene, in 2005. A sizzling, pyrotechnics-enhanced performance at that year’s Country Music Association awards show solidified her renegade status. “Every article, every interview, every review was all about that,” she says. “Sure, that’s me—but just part of me.”

Lambert has since proved far more than a one-woman wrecking ball. Five albums into her career, she’s won prestigious honors—including a Grammy and five straight ACM wins as Female Vocalist of the Year. Tabloid fodder notwithstanding, her marriage to fellow country star Blake Shelton—now in its fourth year—remains a storybook success. Two albums by the Pistol Annies—a rollicking side project she formed with writing partners Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley—have met with critical acclaim.

“I’ve always said I want to build an empire,” says Lambert. “You don’t build an empire by settling once you’ve won something, or after you’ve sold a certain number of records. Awards mean everything—and nothing. You can’t say, ‘Well, I’ve made it now.’ You have to go to the next step.”

Lambert’s latest, Platinum, pushes forward even as it presents a snapshot of just how her artistry has evolved. Recently turned 30, Lambert says she wanted the album—her fifth—to stand as a formidable career marker. “It was probably the most intense, emotional record I’ve ever made,” she reveals. “I’m the most attached to it. I think that comes with age. You care so much about what you’ve worked so hard for.”

Helping bring Lambert’s vision to life was a team of gifted co-writers, including Nicolle Galyon, Jimmy Robbins and longtime friend Natalie Hemby. Guests include country stars Vince Gill, Little Big Town and Carrie Underwood—who duets on the hard-driving “Somethin’ Bad.” “Even the demo for that song was pretty rock ’n’ roll,” says Lambert. “Carrie’s such an amazing singer—I thought, ‘Let’s just really blow it out.’”

Other stirring moments include the whirling, carnival-like “Two Rings Shy,” the honky-tonk romp “Gravity Is a Bitch,” and a sassy “Priscilla” that takes aim at the tabloids. “That was a fun way to say it’s all a bunch of BS,” says Lambert with a laugh. “All that stuff makes Blake and me stronger. It does the opposite of what they probably want to do—split us up.”

Much of Platinum’s power lies in its seamless blend of humor and introspection. The title refers not to album sales but rather some of her favorite things: her wedding ring, hair color, and preferred beer. A decade into her career, Miranda Lambert is ready for the next phase.

“In my 20s I worked hard and played hard,” she says. “I have all that under my belt to reflect on. But I feel like when you hit 30, you have to hold yourself accountable. I don’t have anything to hide. Whatever I’m going through, I want to sing about it—because somebody else is going through it, too.” Lambert spoke with us about the new record, dealing with celebrity, and hitting the big 3-0.

What was your goal for the album?

More than anything else, I wanted to be 100 percent honest. I felt the need to “come home.” I referenced Kerosene—my first album—a lot. Although musically it’s not like Kerosene, I feel I’m speaking about my true self, and that’s what I did on Kerosene. Other than that, I didn’t have a specific vision going in, in the sense of wanting a certain sound or a certain set of songs. As we worked in the studio I listened to my gut feelings—my heart—and went with the moment.

Did one song set the tone?

Not really. Each of the 16 songs is different. I wanted every one to have a part of my personality in it—that was the common denominator.

Were you involved in production?

No question. I wanted to make sure every sound and every lyric was just right—all T’s crossed and I’s dotted. “Two Rings Shy” is a good example. I was very specific about that song. I wanted it to sound like a real carnival. I actually wanted to go to a carnival to capture those sounds. This record was exceptionally important to me. Something about this being my fifth album—I wanted everyone to understand that I cared about it as much as my very first record. I was definitely pickier than I’ve been in the past—but I wanted my thumbprint on it.

Did you have fun?

Oh, I had a blast. Of course it was nerve-wracking—I was anxious much of the time. But there’s a lot of fun and a lot of humor. I’ve sometimes taken myself too seriously—hopefully I’m loosening up. Blake has a great sense of humor and he’s brought that same sense of play into my life. Music should be fun. It’s not brain surgery. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that. You can get too wrapped up in making things perfect.

You take on the tabloids in “Priscilla.” 

That’s something Blake and I are going through right now—being a tabloid target. Recording “Priscilla” was a great way to address that but in a really fun way. All the tabloid stuff makes us stronger, makes us laugh together about it. Of course we definitely are not Elvis and Priscilla. (laughs) But the things that song had to say really caught my ear. It was perfect for where we are in our lives right now.

Is the notoriety distracting?

Everything starts and ends with music. The celebrity and tabloid stuff strays away from that and turns you into a caricature sometimes. It becomes about everything but the music. Blake and I both have to bring it back around to what’s important. Without the music, we don’t have anything.

Did songwriting come easy to you?

I was 17 when I started writing, and it was the first thing that came naturally to me. It was something I didn’t have to work hard at, whereas I had to work hard at everything else. My dad is a singer-songwriter and he plays guitar, so maybe I got it from him. I just loved it from the start. You can hone your skill, but I also think you’re either born with it or you’re not. I’m always working to be a better songwriter and musician and singer, but it’s truly something that was in my blood.

Did your parents’ efforts to provide a safe haven for abused women impact your songwriting? 

It did, especially the early stuff. At 17, there’s not a whole lot of your own life to write about. I was very sheltered in some ways, but on the other hand my parents didn’t hide things from me. We had a good life—my parents have been married for more than 30 years—but they also showed my brother and me the outside world. They took in abused women and children, plus they were private investigators. There were things I saw that really soaked in—and when I started writing it all came out.

Prefer writing alone or with others?

I enjoy both. Co-writing is actually more fun. Working with great writers is inspiring and pushes me to be better. I definitely gravitate toward writing with friends. I feel I can be more vulnerable and do a better job when I know the person I’m working with. It’s hard to walk into a room with someone you’ve never met and start spilling your guts. But writing alone remains very important, too. You get a certain type of honesty writing from your own perspective. Every song happens in a different way. It might be a word I love that kicks off the whole process, or it might be an idea for a melody. I don’t have a formula.

Which songs are you especially proud of?

“Dead Flowers,” from Revolution, is a definite favorite. “Love Is Looking for You,” from Kerosene, is another. Neither of those songs was a huge hit but from the writing perspective I’m proud of both. It took me a while to understand what I was saying with “Love Is Looking for You.” I was only 18 when I wrote it. You sometimes go back and hear a song from a different angle than when you wrote it. A song you wrote when you were really young can surprise you when you’re older.


Has being married affected your writing?

It’s made it easier—though I don’t write the cheatin’, burn-your-house-down songs as much as I once did. It’s great being married to another artist. We bounce ideas off each other and give each other advice. Each of us knows what the other is going through.

Were you prepared for fame?

I had enough time under my belt to be ready for it. I had been in a band traveling around Texas for more than two years, and then I was on Nashville Star. Those things prepared me to keep my head on straight. It’s really been a slow and steady build, and I’m grateful for that. Having time to get used to things has kept me grounded.

How go the Pistol Annies?

We’ll be doing more. Ashley and Angaleena are each making their own records right now. We can’t abandon our solo careers, obviously. The Pistol Annies was always meant to be fun. What I love about the Annies is that it’s an outlet—like a slumber party on wheels. We make great music together, but keeping it fun is always the priority. Making it too businesslike or too planned would take away the creative aspect of what we do. We just fly by the seat of our pants.

Who are your role models?

There have been many I’ve looked to for that. You take little parts from what you see and try to apply them to your own life. One artist I especially admire is Beyoncé. She handles herself well and is always classy. As far as building an empire goes—and reinventing and being true to yourself—I’ve always looked up to Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. Dolly always manages to reinvent herself, but at the same time she stays true to herself—with the big hair, makeup, the great players and great writing. Plus she’s a smart businesswoman.

You turned 30—how’s it feel?

In your 20s, you’re running around trying to figure out who you are, screaming, “Listen, I have something to say!” I’m excited to be 30—looking forward to getting smarter. (laughs) Earlier in the year I had plans to do big things for my birthday—really blow it out. But by the time the day arrived, I was just too tired from all the things I had done during the year. I thought, “You know, I really don’t want to do anything. I just want to stay at home.” I literally sat home with Blake—doing nothing. It was awesome.  M

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