Whilst many people will know Amanda Shires as the wife and apparent saviour of Jason Isbell, it should not be forgotten that Amanda is also a tremendous songwriter and performer in her own right, as evidenced by her splendid new album To The Sunset. I caught a few words with her just ahead of its release on August 3rd…
A lot of people are struggling with the world as it is right now, yet To The Sunset is a very positive sounding album. How come?
Amanda Shires: Really, it’s because of that, I think. I wasn’t sure whether it was positive or not positive when we were making it, but that’s how it turned out. For once I’ve made an album that’s not full of miserable dirges!
Oh, I’d hardly call your previous work “miserable dirges”!
AS: Well thanks… I just wanna say, you can probably say anything in a British accent and make it sound awesome!
I’m not sure about that!
AS: Go on, will you say “There’s a rat in my kitchen” for me?
Um.. .ok… There’s a rat in my kitchen…
AS (giggling quietly): You see! You can make anything sound awesome!
Er…thanks. Now, then, how difficult is it to juggle the careers of two internationally successful musicians with the responsibility of looking after your two-year-old daughter?
AS: Uh… you know, I don’t find it that hard to balance. We’re both doing work that we enjoy doing, I’ll join Jason on his tour and he’ll join me on mine, and Mercy loves it too. Yesterday she went to a baseball game! We all do everything together, so it’s all good. It’s the craziest thing when you think about all the doubts and fears that you have before, and then it’s like “Oh, so this is what life is all about,” and it gives you a chance to relive your childhood over again.
Some of the lyrics are very defiant in places, and also very inspiring. For example, this morning, I found out I was most likely being made redundant from my actual paid job, so the line about “being the waves” in ‘Take On The Dark’ has added significance for me now. It’s almost like a musical self-help manual…
AS: I think, for me, it did turn out a bit like that, because I’m writing about things that I’m going through myself – I always address what’s wrong or what’s bothering me. It is kind of cathartic in a way, because hopefully through that process, I can find something which will suffice – something that will make my problems seem very small. It’s that old saying that if you say something out loud enough times, it becomes less of a problem, and I think that’s true.
I’m an Aquarian. Apparently, we’re everywhere. What were you trying to say with that line on ‘Parking Lot Pirouette‘?
AS: A few different things wrapped up in one. Do you know anything about the stars?
AS: Me neither! But we’ve always loved sitting around looking at the stars. And if you look at them for long enough, there becomes a point where everything becomes a big dipper. You can’t escape it. We all fancy ourselves as people who can just pick stuff out of the stars and work with it but… (NB – At this point, I must confess the line had a lot of interference on it, so I’m not entirely sure that’s what Amanda said to me. If she did say that, I will also confess to not being quite sure what she meant…let’s blame the reception)…’Parking Lot Pirouette‘ is probably my favourite track because it was quite parifying – a real confessional song, which is something I don’t normally do – usually it’s other people’s stories and mash-ups of situations, but this time, when I’d got done with it, it was scary, when we recorded it, it was scary… But if I could be proud of myself for one thing, it’s for not backing down and I think it turned out pretty good.
I love the dirty, scuzzed-up single ‘Eve’s Daughter‘. So… Jason wrote the tender tearjerker ‘If We Were Vampires‘, and this feels like your own declaration of everlasting love in reply – after all, when you met Jason he was living a pretty hard rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and he has said several times that you saved his life. Am I right with my interpretation?
AS: No, not really! I guess, in some ways, it can be taken like that, but it’s more about moving into a situation – just going for it and trusting that it’ll be ok. It’s really about my mom but also about me. She left my dad when I was young and it’s her story. She’s been through so many phases in her life but always done it with a backbone instead of crying away in a corner.
Several of the songs here seem wistful and carefree. You know, I was sitting relaxing in my favourite deli earlier on, enjoying a coffee and cake, looking out at the gloriously sunny day, and I was listening to To The Sunset through my headphones, and I realised I’d just been carried away by the music, and had been staring into space like an idiot for the last five minutes…
AS: That’s the point! You got it!
So my point is that it totally relaxed me, so I wanted to know how much of a role you think music can play in terms of changing the world?
AS: I think it plays a big role in our lives. Not in the present political situation, but it’s just something that most of us turn to. If you’re feeling down, we all turn to artists that we like, who make you feel like there’s a sense of community and make you feel stronger. It’s all about standing up for what you believe in and some artists who feel the same can really empower you in that way. Music is such a magical thing as well, in that it records your life story, and certain songs remind you of certain times…
Yeah, that’s true. Whenever I hear ‘Annie I’m Not Your Daddy‘ by Kid Creole and The Coconuts, I am always transported to when I was on holiday and it was pouring with rain. We were sitting in the car with that song playing on the radio while my stepdad was trying to find out where on earth our holiday apartment was…
AS: I think it’s awesome that music can bring memories like that back to us. It’s so easy for our minds to lose memory so it’s great that music acts in that way.
You worked with Dave Cobb again on this album. What is it about Dave’s production skills that seems to bear such impressive fruits?
AS: The best way to describe Dave is that he is a translator – almost a mindreader! I’ll say something like “On this song, I want the guitars to be phased as though they’re going through a bucket, but also to sound really spacious” and he’ll nail it!
That sounds rather like when Morrissey once allegedly said something along the lines of “I want it to be more Tesco and less Waitrose” to his producer…
AS: I totally get that! And Dave would have got it too! That’s the genius of Dave Cobb – he’ll explore things further and further until you’ve got what you want. You know those photos you see of those producers and engineers sitting around recording machines? Those pictures are a lie. Most producers don’t have a clue how to work those things! But Dave knows how they work in detail. He’ll take anything as far as it will go. He’ll help you navigate what you hear in your head down to its recorded form. Go on, say ‘There’s rats in my kitchen‘ again.
Er… ok… There’s rats in my kitchen.
AS: (giggles quietly)
What am I gonna do?
This seemed to amuse Amanda greatly, so we finished off by briefly talking about her plans for touring the UK later this year (October – don’t miss it) and bid each other good luck and farewell. Right, I’m off just to quickly check my kitchen, just in case…