Stories Behind 5 Of Her Best Songs

“They’ve Closed Down The Honky Tonks” (The Marfa Tapes B Side, 2021)

LAMBERT: I didn’t write for like the first four months of shutdown. I gave myself a break. There was a forced break anyway. I thought, I’m not gonna panic about not creating. This might have been the first real one that I wrote after not writing for a bit. I spent my 2020 in my farm outside of Nashville, listening to a bunch of Texas country stuff, and it made me miss home, and Gruene-Hall and Billy Bob’s. My favorite place is a honky tonk. It’s one of the places that I feel most at home. And my first show after being off the road for 380 days was Billy Bob’s. I was thinking to myself, where would I go if I could go anywhere? When you can’t go anywhere, that’s what you think! And I thought, Gruene Hall.

And I went in my cabin, where I’ve got a little fireplace and a chair, a one-bed one-bath little cabin where my husband and I spent pretty much a year and a half. And I came out and he was cooking dinner and I said, “I wrote a song.” And he was like, “Oh, good, sing it for me.” And I did, and he said — “That’s really sad.” And I’m like — “I know, it’s supposed to be!” And I felt it to Wade [Bowen] and he said, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

At that stage, do you usually just send a phone voice note?

LAMBERT: It’s all on my freaking phone. All my voice notes. I’m a hoarder. Somebody texted me the other day and asked for a song that we wrote in 2013 and I found it. This is why I don’t delete anything!

I actually got locked out of my Dropbox a couple of months ago. When you lock your own self out, there’s too much security. [Pretends to guess a safety question:] What’s your favorite kind of music? Country! We had to get a hold of [Dropbox] headquarters or whatever because that’s where I keep my whole life. Being a musician, my voice notes, my Dropbox, that’s my daily filing cabinet.

I love this song. It reminds me of that early era of the pandemic, where all I mostly remember my friends saying is “I miss bars.”

LAMBERT: That time, it united me with people, because it showed me the people that I really missed every single day. And it showed me that I miss music. I’ve never had an opportunity to miss it before. Having that break — there were so many blessings hidden in there. I thought, “Will I ever be here again, on my bus, headed to my shows?” It’s good to love it and to miss it.

We were one of the lucky ones: we toured right up until March [2020]. And I was one of the first people to go back. When we went to Billy Bob’s [in 2021, playing a residency marking the venue’s 40th anniversary]it was a year and a month to the day [of the last pre-pandemic show]. It was really cool. The nerves were there more than never. My whole family was there, and when I sang “The House That Built Me,” I cried.

This is an aside, but you sing really well about drinking. When you’re writing drinking songs, do you —

LAMBERT: [Cuts me off] I’m way better at all of it when I’m drinking. Or so I think! I mean people in the room [laughs] I might disagree.

“Actin’ Up” (palomino2022)

LAMBERT: We wrote this right after I played Billy Bob’s. We were on the path for writing for palomino, and we had a specific thing that we were doing for that record. It’s not a theme record or a concept record, but there’s a road trip [element]. This record is definitely a map. Natalie, Luke Dick and I had been on this path of writing during shutdown. They were like, “We’re being safe, you’ve got a farm, let’s get together.” We just used that as our outlet. Then Jon Randall came out and he had this real cool track going. This song is so much fun, and I was probably going off of that energy that I had gotten to experience at Billy Bob’s. Jumping around and getting sweaty in a honky tonk.

I feel like the “Call me Ricky, call me Bobby” line is going to be stuck in my head for a while.

LAMBERT: When Luke said, “Tiger Woods couldn’t swing it this good,” me and Jon both about passed out, we were laughing so much.

“Carousel” (palomino2022)

LAMBERT: Natalie and Luke and I were sitting on our balcony. I got this loft apartment at my farm, and that’s where Luke sets up his rig from him. That’s our base camp. He just had a guitar in his hand, and he started playing that really pretty riff. Maybe it’s because I’m redneck, but I leave the Christmas lights hanging on the porch all year round. And there was this light breeze, and the crickets were out, and you could hear the frogs, and we started thinking about this lady who had this whole other life when she was young.

Not every song feels that way — but there are moments where you go, “This feels like a bigger story.” And we’re just the vehicle for this. It’s coming out of the air. And I’ll chase that forever because If I don’t, then I should probably quit.

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