The two most powerful recent interviews with Amanda Shires are from opposite ends of the journalism spectrum. First, Southern Living asked how Shires balanced six careers—mother, singer, songwriter, fiddle-player, wife and student. Second, last December, Shires and husband Jason Isbell sat down with NPR to talk about representation, diversity, privilege and sexism in country music, and examined their own balance of gender and parental roles. In short, Shires is the very definition of a modern Renaissance woman, comfortable discussing her forthcoming album, her evolving relationship with the fiddle and her unabashed love of Florida.
Folio Weekly: Social media tipped us off to the fact that you’ve been working on a new album. How much can you reveal?
Amanda Shires: It’s all finished, and it’s going to be out August 3. I’m playing some of the new jams on the road for the first time in Florida.
Was the writing and recording process different from 2016’s My Piece of Land?
Completely different. I just had the IDGAF mantra–I expressed myself the way I wanted to, instead of considering if it fit a genre. I’ve been playing the fiddle for more than 20 years without using pedals or effects, and I did that on this record. It’s a departure in a lot of ways. It’s made in the spirit of art and freedom. And I don’t have to worry about selling any copies because I sell enough copies now to at least be able to buy diapers.
Did parenthood significantly shape the new material?
I have a husband and a child, and anywhere I play in the house, she wants to come and try to play at the same time. So I had to lock myself in the closet for a month straight, 10 to 12 hours a day. I call it a dance record, although Jason doesn’t say it’s a dance record. He just says it’s all upbeat songs. I guess I’ll wait and let the critics decide.
What’s touring with your daughter like for you and Jason?
Parenthood is a guilt-ridden experience that’s also super-joyful. Jason’s career is a lot further along than mine, so Mercy goes with him on the road. He has a tour bus, so they travel from city to city at night, and he can afford to pay for extra child care. Whereas I’m still in a van, and that’s not a safe place to put a child in the daytime when you have to drive for 12 hours. What am I going to do? Intentionally give her atrophy? No. Also, A) I have a husband who has a clue about how to do other human maintenance, can actually care for a child and can co-parent properly, and B) he encourages me to continue my work, make my records and go on tours in the van. I feel like my bus is coming soon.
You’ve been very outspoken about political issues recently. Have you seen any meaningful change?
It’s small, but it’s happening. The more people talk about and address political issues, the faster we can see change. It takes a lot of energy and focus to engage with others, to explain your side, to educate folks and to be educated by others, without getting into huge arguments. When Hillary wasn’t elected, people got mad enough to be willing to talk about all this bullshit. But at least we’re talking.
After 20 years playing fiddle, do you ever feel the need to put it down for a spell?
Oh shit, no–for me, no way. In 2011, I broke my left ring finger in a rope swing and got three pins in it. Of course, they said I was never going play again because it was so damaged, but I got lucky and that didn’t happen. During that time, I might have experienced a little bit of burnout from playing a lot, but it also reminded me of the love and passion I have for music. I can creatively express myself in a way that I can’t always with words. Jason has the luxury of being able to put his words together quickly and eloquently, but I’ve never been as good at that as he is. Or that a lot of people are. I depended on music to explain the world to me. I see it as my instrument grows with me. When I change, it changes with me. I feel like we’re linked—like it’s another appendage. For a lot of people, that takes time to understand. “Why are you not playing Western swing?” Or “Why are you not playing country?” Or “Now you’re gonna run your fiddle through some effects? That’s crazy, man.” But it’s the same instrument.
You tour in Florida a lot. Tell us something fun.
I love Florida. My old friend Tiger Bill lives near Tampa. I wrote a song about him called “Bulletproof.” I toured Florida with Gregg Allman and spent a lot of time in Tarpon Springs, where he had a house. You know who else has a house down there? John Prine. Chad Gamble, drummer for [Jason Isbell’s band] The 400 Unit, vacations at Disney and even goes on a Disney cruise ship with his wife and child. My daughter Mercy saw the beach for the first time on my birthday in St. Augustine and the whole crowd on the beach sang me “Happy Birthday.” I think she was 9 months old. I’m never gonna forget that.