The Court Yard Hounds don’t like being off the road. Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, not only sisters but two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, both insist that touring is their favorite part of the musician’s life. They lay it all out on “Rock All Night,” a jittery standout on their sophomore record, Amelita: “I got music to get me high/We go crazy when they turn out the lights, and we fly/We’re gonna rock all night.”
That experience of rocking all night was largely missing when the duo formed in the late 2000s, and they had barely headlined a venue before they released their self-titled debut in 2010. For their follow-up, however, Maguire and Robison were able to road-test most of their new tunes in front of a live audience. That made for an easier recording session and a breezier sound that emphasizes their instrumental and songwriting chops equally.
The irony, of course, is that promoting a new record can be such a demanding process, it keeps them off the road for weeks, even months at a time.
“We’re doing as many dates as we can,” says Maguire. “It’s hard to fit in touring at this point in the cycle, but come fall, we’re doing some more dates and then next year we’ll be hitting the road hard.”
CMT Edge: How was making your second album different than making your first?
Robison: On the first album, I think people were trying to put us in the vanity project category, but we never felt like that. But we were still trying to figure it all out. Is this something? Is this anything? So there’s a bit more confidence that comes from having one album under your belt already. I think we know who we are at this point. Definitely, the sophomore album has its pitfalls because you’re trying to one-up yourself while maintaining whatever sound you created on the first album. You have to balance those two things.
Some of these songs — like “Phoebe,” “Sunshine” and the title track — seem to be about very specific people. Were they inspired by real incidents?
Maguire: “Phoebe” was written about a girl who was one of the victims of the bullying when the news was inundated with bullying suicide stories. That was a story that really resonated with me. As for “Amelita,” Emily, do you want to talk about that one?
Robison: Most of the time, the music comes first for us. It’s about feeling. What does this song feel like it would be about? “Amelita” was originally “Agarita,” but we changed it because “Amelita” rolls off the tongue better. I kept hearing this Spanish name, and it reminded me of a time when we were in this border town filming the Chicks video, “Long Time Gone.” Over to the side, about 100 feet away from the set, was this motel where all these teenage girls were working. They were taking johns. It was a really eye-opening experience to be in the middle of such a glamorous video shoot and have all that going on around us. The song is loosely based on what I thought these girls’ lives would be like. It’s a made-up story, but it’s based on a real experience.
Do you relate to those older songs differently now that so much time has passed and so much has changed in your lives?
Robison: Those songs are from a particular moment in time, and I still feel the same things when I sing them. I go back to that place in time. That’s the mark of a good song, because the lyrics do mean something to you. It’s interesting which songs don’t even make the set list and just live on those albums by themselves. Some don’t even make it into our everyday consciousness, but then I’ll hear something and realize I’d forgotten about that song. I enjoyed it in the life of the album, but it didn’t jump to the live show. That’s interesting to me. Why this song but not that song?
Some of these definitely sound like they were written and recorded to be played live, especially something like “Phoebe” and its jamming coda.
Maguire: We were playing shows still when we wrote “Phoebe” and “Rock All Night.” We got to test those songs in a live setting, so it was nice recording them and knowing which ones really resonated with the crowd.
Robison: We didn’t get to do that with the first record. We were trying to keep it quiet that we were even recording.
Maguire: I never thought of it, but that might be why it was so hard, confidence-wise. It wasn’t just that we were doing something new. It was all going to come out without having that test market. We were used to doing that, even with the Chicks. We played songs early and then would make albums after.
You held long songwriting sessions in Fort Worth, Texas, and Florida for this project. Is there any significance to those two locales?
Maguire: The first one, outside Fort Worth, was the idea of our A&R person at Sony. She offered us her bed-and-breakfast, and since it was pretty much in our backyard, we said, “Let’s go for it” and came up with a short list of people we wanted to write with. I remember driving up there, and Emily and I going, “OK, we can turn around now.” … We were so nervous about the forced writing atmosphere, but by the end, it felt like we had spent a week at camp. I can’t say that session produced that many songs for this record. We were just getting our feet wet. The Florida session was a little more homed in. We were finishing up some songs we had gotten stuck on. So I’d say that one was a little more successful.
That’s not surprising to hear, as these songs sound sunnier and more pop-oriented than the ones on your debut.
Maguire: We definitely felt like tempo was important on this album. We were thinking about making a good set list. What kind of live show do we want to play? What kind of set list do we want to have? It was hard to tour with just one album, especially when it’s based around a theme of divorce. Having come through all that, our view of the world was a little more open. Innately, I think we’re very positive, happy people, so we wanted to put a little more of that on this album.