It’s the first big game in Nashville, Tenn. — the debut of both Music City’s long-awaited, state-of-the art Adelphia Stadium and the Tennessee Titans professional football team. Flying alongside ESPN’s full-coverage video blimp overhead is another circling aircraft. Trailing behind is a banner that reads: Dixie Chicks – CD Fly – 8/31. A bittersweet thought could easily be that the Dixie Chicks are being gobbled up by a commercial monster that will continue to bite, chew and then finally spit them out when all the flavor is gone. The same hungry beast, however, that often whets its appetite on so many other quick-rising superstars and soon grazes upon a different dish, better get used to this tangy trio, because the aftertaste is even more addictive. The Chicks are here, and they’re here to stay!
Having already sold more than six million albums, racking up countless radio hits and industry awards, plus being CMT’s Showcase Artist during country music’s high profile month of September, Natalie Maines, Martie Sidel and Emily Robison have become one of the most in-demand acts in entertainment. Any booking agency in the business could bask in their glory. There’s not a hip-hop fashion designer in the world who wouldn’t swell over their endorsement, or a hair-and-make-up pro that wouldn’t get split ends or cracked lips from the mere thrill of having these gals flaunt their creation. There’s no show quite as scorching hot as the Chicks’. Just ask anyone who’s had a Chick-fix this past year on tours headlined by George Strait, Tim McGraw or the rock-heavy Lilith Fair.
The girls’ Monument Records debut disc, Wide Open Spaces, wrote unheard of chapters for the world of country, while their new follow-up package, simply called Fly, could change music history. But will even more success change these three sassy-classy darlings? A reality check has become a part of their daily, often hourly, regimen.
“Sometimes it’s like you forget to take care of yourself,” Martie says about being so career busy. “Then I finally look down at my toenails and they’re growing everywhere and chipping off, and your hair’s got split ends. You just forget that you need to maintain your personal happiness. Or I think ‘ga, I haven’t read a good book in a long time,’ or done something that’s a simple pleasure in life. We’re workaholics and we like to have our hand in every single decision, including every picture that goes out. We feel like that’s our way to control our destiny and have longevity. But sometimes you have to just stop.”
“We all three have lives outside the Dixie Chicks,” admits Emily, who recently married fellow artist Charlie Robison. “This isn’t the center of the universe, and you soon realize that you have to tackle life itself before you tackle all this.”
Tackling all “this,” which includes dishing out one show after another all over the world, posing for photo shoots for countless magazines like Rolling Stone, People, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Seventeen, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide, cutting tracks for major movie soundtracks and making endless TV appearances, didn’t come so easily while the Chicks were trying to make the Fly album. The feat often required taking hide-away retreats to collect thoughts, write songs and focus on what’s mattered from the beginning — the music.
“I wasn’t scared before we made Fly,” admits Natalie, “but now I’m starting to get a little bit scared that things have happened so fast. Because we are so much believers in the music that you don’t want to be a flash in the pan, and you want people to take you seriously. We really have to plan out certain events that we want to take place because we don’t want to overexpose ourselves. We don’t want people going ‘Oh, there’s the Dixie Chicks again. I’m sick of them.'”
“Last year was a lot different than this year I think,” Emily explains, “because last year was about just trying to catch up with ourselves and we didn’t have time to reflect like we do now. And I think up until January of this year we were just gigging and playing hard — just trying to get out there and expose our music to as many people as we could. This year I think the success enables you to make choices for yourself that not all artists have the luxury of doing. We just wanted to go on three tours this year and we didn’t want to headline. We really wanted, once again, to get in front of as many people as we could with George Strait, Tim McGraw and the Lilith Fair.”
“We’ve learned to say ‘no’ really well,” confirms Natalie. “And I think it was the hardest thing for us to do, but it helps because there are three of us.”
“I think the hardest thing about everything happening so fast and all these great things, and great opportunities, is quality control,” says Martie, “and trying to have a hand in everything you can because it’s your image. It’s ultimately your image and your music. When things are thrown at you and so many opportunities are thrown our way in such a short period of time, it’s so easy to say ‘Yeah, we want to do this and that and that.’ And then you lose the quality control. So we really, really try to get our heads together and think, OK, what’s the pace that is doable and humanly possible to where we can still have time to make it right and make it something we’re proud of — something that we will be proud of for a long time.”
As with Wide Open Spaces, which unleashed such No. 1, Top 5 and 10 hits as “I Can Love You Better,” “There’s Your Trouble,” “Wide Open Spaces,” “You Were Mine” and “Tonight the Heartache’s On Me,” the new Fly should blow the top off the pride meter. Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, Fly goes for the gut rip — digging deeper into subject matter and taking even more jagged stabs with their vocals and musicianship. While each Chick flaunts serious writing talent on this disc that features such highlight numbers as “Cowboy Take Me Away,” the bone-shattering “Sin Wagon,” the sweet-merciless “Goodbye Earl” or “Cold Day In July,” some of Nashville’s ace tunesmiths were also summoned for the project.
It’s smack-dab-in-the-face obvious that the Chicks shine on stage as well as on disc resulting in their first nomination for the Country Music Association’s coveted Entertainer of the Year crown. It’s no surprise. While Natalie often comes across as an explosive chain-gang escapee with her grinding vocal wails and call-of-the-wild dancing, Martie slices through fiddle moves with the power of an eclectic chain saw and the passion of a sculptor. Emily, often tagged the tamest of the three, who’s really not, picks the Dobro and guitar as if the world depends on every strum for existence. Together, all three conjure music, lyrics and harmony that’s untouched, unbridled and unlike anything in music today. And what’s even sweeter is that it’s pure-grain country that’s reaching the entire world.
“Our moms are proud,” says Natalie with an added giggle regarding their often onstage antics on stage. “I think we’ve always thought we rocked out. But I think if we looked at old tapes of us, I’m sure my head banging was like … (Natalie barely moves her head). But you know, you do get more confident. I mean with Emily — we were just watching a tape of the old Dixie Chicks like in 1990, and she’s standing there in her teacher, prairie skirt and not even tapping her foot. I’m like, ‘How can you not tap your foot?'”
“A total statue,” laughs Emily’s sister Martie.
“So it all comes with confidence,” Natalie says, “and I think that’s what’s helped us move more — is when you hear the fans, you’re more confident in yourself to be how you really want to be. I don’t think now she’s being something she isn’t. I think everything’s helped her open up to become who she is.”
“I think it’s very uncalculated,” adds Emily. “I think what people react to in the shows is that it’s not choreographed. It’s not scripted. It’s about reacting with your instrument and reacting with each other. That’s a luxury for a band situation because the single artists can walk around the stage, but we can engulf the stage.”
With such engulfment comes response from both the audience and media that the Chicks often possess the “Kiss-off/Chicks rule!” persona. In most cases, they hold nothing back — a comfort level that wasn’t initially so comfortable.
“I think that’s a good thing about there being three of us,” responds Natalie. “I think yes, I come off as being who I am. And you can see all the people who relate to me and see the signs who are relating to me. And then at Lilith Fair everyone’s yelling ‘I Love You Martie,'” she says with a joking laugh. “Not everyone in the audience has to like the head-banging loudmouth. They have two other options. We’re a lot more alike off stage than on stage. I think we melt together into one really fat person,” she laughs.
“I remember early on Natalie saying ‘I don’t feel like myself,'” remembers Martie. “‘I just don’t feel like myself.’ Cause I think she was joining a band that already existed. Even though we didn’t have the image we have today, it took some of her coming out of her shell being able to express herself and everything. And now I don’t care if she says whatever she wants to on stage cause it’s her. It’s totally her. And at the beginning she wasn’t getting to say what she wanted to say. And you can’t cage a wild animal,” Martie laughs.
“I think the music is what drives us to be so wild on stage,” says Emily. “But people attribute a lot of things to us offstage that aren’t true just because they assume we’re one way or another. And yeah, we can gross out the best of any crew guy out there, but at the same time we’re very — you know — we like simple things. We don’t drink a lot. We don’t do drugs.”
The Dixie Chicks will admit, however, that they make mistakes; they’re not out to be superwomen role models, and their fans shouldn’t always count on them being “sugar and spice and everything nice.”
“Like some guy stopped Natalie on the street and said ‘I can’t believe what you said about your divorce on stage!'” tells Martie.
Natalie jumps in with “He said, ‘You were great last night.’ And I said ‘Well thanks.’ And he goes, ‘but I think your comment about your divorce scared some of the kids.’ And I go ‘Sorry, I didn’t do it on purpose.’
“I do talk candidly about my divorce on stage,” she continues, “and make jokes and that sort of thing. It’s almost like I think sometimes I say things to be a role model for children because my biggest thing when I was in my marriage was the failing part. I could not say the ‘D’ word, and I would stand in the shower and cry only because of the failure. I don’t like to fail … even in divorce. I mean divorce is never good. But in different aspects of life, failing is something … you can laugh at everything. And I think you should. You should never take yourself too seriously. And I think I used to think I was above divorce. Like even when I wasn’t happy I was a little cocky about, well, I can withstand anything and I’ll never get a divorce. And it’s like the minute you start taking yourself too seriously and saying ‘I’ll never,’ that’s not good for anybody to have that sort of image like you can’t fail and people aren’t gonna accept it. And so I joke about it on stage, I think, to show people that it’s okay. I made a mistake. I did fail at marriage the first time.”
“And you also made the point,” adds Emily to Natalie, “of how you got married when you were 22 — suggesting not to get married at 22. I think that’s a very positive message. Figure out who you are, and then go off and get married.”
Regardless of their admitted mistakes, an enormous audience (including millions of younger girls) are calling the Chicks their idols, a title the Chicks don’t accept too easily.
“We didn’t plan on relating to all those young people,” Natalie admits. “I think we’re relating to them now because we are young and because our music will reflect our age and what’s going on in our lives. Just like Fly. It’s definitely different. We talk about, you know, a few more adult things. And you know the label was scared of ‘Sin Wagon’ and that’s fine and you know they said you’re gonna lose this percentage of your audience or whatever, and you can’t take it too seriously. That’s fine. I’m not making a record for kids. We’re just expressing ourselves and making music and hoping that people like it and relate to our honesty in it. We’re not gonna be 30 singing about ‘my boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble.'”
“We want to be inspirational to kids — to pick up instruments and do things,” adds Emily, “especially for young girls to sit there and go ‘I can do that! Man, I want to play the fiddle like Martie’ and then go off and practice their butt off. I think that’s really what we want to do. I don’t think it’s ‘Hey, we are so perfect that you should live like this!’ We’re strong women, and if that’s what you want to take out of it, that’s great.”
“I feel like a lot of kids just want to look like us or see what we’re wearing or they like that I say what I say or whatever,” explains Natalie. “But I want them to go deeper. If we are a role model for anything, I would say it’s to just be yourself. Don’t try to be vocal and outspoken and wear weird things to find yourself. Be who you are, and don’t try to be somebody else. I mean my whole life I’ve grown up comparing myself to other people. I think everyone has. And I think it’s a lifelong process to get to who you really are. And that’s another thing about my divorce. I was looking around at how happy I should be and how wonderful my life was and how it would appear to be to other people, but I wasn’t happy. If you don’t feel like being loud and outspoken and saying things that’s off the wall, then don’t be that. If you feel like going in a corner and reading a book, or if you feel like you’re the nerd in school, whatever. Who cares — as long as you’re happy being who you are.”
The Chicks will also get to headline their own tours next year — yet another tier of what’s already become a skyrocketing success story. The story, however, of the Dixie Chicks entails much more than a trio country band making big because they’ve found a niche that screams rather than shouts out to the world. The success of the Chicks works because their music is just as real and honest as they themselves are. Sure — they’ll admit to being less than perfect; being a bit forward on stage and even being heavily pampered at times. But they don’t take anything for granted.
“It’s not about girl power and women with attitude and all that stuff,” concludes Natalie. “I mean we love men. And I think we’re very traditional as far as a man being a man and us being in the female roles, even though we look like that ‘strong women thing.’ We’re very much traditionalists, and we’re not women’s libbers ‘per se.’ We just believe that women should have equal rights, and we’re glad that women are kicking butt right now, and we know a lot of women opened the door for us to do that.”