Miranda Lambert is discussing her latest album, Revolution, when the conversation turns to her guiding principle in the studio.
"Hire great musicians and then let them do what they do," she says. "I don't really like going in there with demos and have them copy the demo or tell them what to play."
Clearly it's working. Her previous project, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, won an ACM award for best country album in 2008. While she established herself as a regular gal on "Famous in a Small Town" (that would be Lindale, Texas), she's maintained her tough-girl personality.
"You really have to go into this business knowing exactly what you want to do and what you have to say and surround yourself with people that uplift that," she says. "Otherwise, you'll get lost. I think it's hard to stay true when somebody else may be more successful than you because they compromise a little bit, but you just have to decide if it's worth it."
In this interview, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter talks about setting the mood, making music with boyfriend Blake Shelton and discovering the new song that made her cry.
CMT: "White Liar" has 30 seconds of buildup before your voice comes in. When you were in the studio listening to that intro, what was going through your mind?
Lambert: Long intros are cool because there's a little bit of anticipation, you know? And this song really has a story to tell, so I wanted to make sure people are listening good before I actually start telling the story. I was standing there the whole time when they started, and the way it happened was, they were just kind of noodling around for a while and I started singing and that's how we left it, just naturally where I came in.
When I heard "Only Prettier," I tried to imagine you as the cute all-American girl.
Yeah, I don't think that would really work for me. I'm all-American in some ways, and in some ways, I definitely like to push the limits a little bit because it keeps it interesting. I'd rather have people who love me and hate me than just be vanilla and everybody being like, "Ehh, she's OK."
You rarely hear songs as poetic as "The House That Built Me." How did you find it?
"The House That Built Me" is a life-changing song for me. I love it. I found it on a CD for Blake. We were listening to songs for him to cut. That song came on, and my reaction to it was, I just cried. I don't really cry when I listen to music, but that song definitely hit me really hard. I asked Blake if I could have it, and he was like, "Yeah." So we called the producers that night at midnight, and we were like, "Can we switch this? It's on hold for Blake. Can we put it on hold for Miranda?"
I feel so blessed I got to have that song and got to cut it because I know if other artists would have gotten it first, it would have been snatched up. It's the first time I've ever found a song like the way you're "supposed to," on a pitch CD from a songwriter in Nashville. Usually, I cut songs by other people that are artists that I already love. That song is definitely, definitely special.
Do your parents still live in the same house you grew up in?
My parents live right down the street from the house I grew up in. I grew up in one house until I was 14, and they live in the house where I lived from 14 on. Our friends live in the old house, actually. My mom went and took pictures of it for me and e-mailed them to me when I was cutting the song. I didn't tell her why. I just told her I needed pictures of the old house. I had them on the music stand in front of me when I was recording that song.
What does your mom think of the song?
Oh, gosh, she still cries every time she hears it, and she's already heard it like 30 times. (laughs)
Which of the songs is Blake singing on?
He sang on "Maintain the Pain." He's screaming in the background in the very end. ... He did the work tape for me. He was playing guitar for me on my computer. He started singing in the background, humming, and I thought it sounded really cool, so I was like, "Will you do that on the record?" ... We like to collaborate in an unconventional way because we're so different and we really want to keep our careers separate, but since we worked together on this record, I thought it'd be cool to have him somewhere.
Do you schedule time in advance to write?
No, we've tried that before, and it didn't work. If we schedule it, we normally don't end up doing it. But if it happens organically, it usually ends up good. ... He'll just be sitting there playing the guitar, or I will, and it will lead into a songwriting session. He has a bunch of guitars and I have one at my house, so there's always one leaning in a corner somewhere.
Does every song you write end up on a record?
There are some songs that other people wrote that took the place of mine on this record. There were a few songs that I wrote by myself but just weren't as good as "The House That Built Me" or "Time to Get a Gun." I'd love to write for other people. I have a lot of songs that I don't necessarily want to cut myself that just aren't for my records but that I really want other artists to cut.
How does that happen?
I don't know. It hasn't happened for me yet. (laughs) When it does, I'll let you know.