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Amanda Shires talks new album 'Take It Like A Man'

CHERYL CORLEY, HOST:

Finally today, the music of singer-songwriter, fiddle player and poet Amanda Shires.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE IT LIKE A MAN")

AMANDA SHIRES: (Singing) I was snared by your wrist.

CORLEY: For years, she's been out there making quite a name for herself while also performing alongside country music legends. She's won music awards, formed the country supergroup of female musicians, the Highwomen, performs with her husband's band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, all while releasing solo albums. Her latest was released Friday, and it's called "Take It Like A Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE IT LIKE A MAN")

SHIRES: (Singing) I know I could take it like a man.

CORLEY: Amanda Shires, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. It is such a treat to have you join us.

SHIRES: It is a high honor for me, for sure.

CORLEY: Well, as I understand, this is a musical version of your life, all autobiographical that you wrote and recorded during the pandemic lockdown. I also read that the producer for this album, musician Lawrence Rothman, said that you wrote this title song in an hour. So tell me how that happened. What inspired you?

SHIRES: Well, that part's true. I wrote it in an hour, but that does a little disservice to the process that I put myself through daily. So really, though, truly, I spend time writing every morning, whether it be 3 minutes or 30, depending on what the to-do list looks like. And I write everything in my journals, and then when I get to the end of the journals, I pick out the good lines or couplets or images, and I transfer them onto index cards. I then take painter's tape up all these index cards everywhere, and then I start seeing themes and observations that match or parallel. And it kind of is a synthesizing, I guess, of where I'm at and where I've been from 2018 to present. And it shows up and seems linear, although it looks like a chaotic tinder box.

CORLEY: Well, you know, throughout the album, there are songs about the challenges that people go through in relationships, challenges that you went through. Your husband, Jason Isbell, plays guitar on many of the tracks. You collaborate often. So I was wondering, what is it like to do so on this album that seems to be so revealing about tough times?

SHIRES: In this instance, we were having a disconnect. And people don't really talk about that kind of thing. My grandparents, they say, you know, marriage is hard work sometimes, and then that's all they say. They don't say - they don't have reasons because sometimes it is so vague and nebulous and hard to relate to. But in this particular moment in time, there was just a wall, and it took this music and doing these songs and working on all of it together to get us to a place where we could talk about our lives and what we're doing and how our feelings are going, you know, in a way. I had questions about which songs were going to make the record because I know that invites scrutiny and, you know, whatever. Then Jason said, that's just a good song. You have to leave it on there. Who cares?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAULT LINES")

SHIRES: (Singing) There’s nothing left to fix. You can say I lost my grip. Say whatever feels better or whatever. You can just say I’m crazy.

And then, you know, it's just being vulnerable. That's all it is. And a long time ago, John Prine told me the secret to marriage is vulnerability. And I think about that every day - like, what exactly does that mean and how you get to be in that not guarded space, I guess.

CORLEY: Well, it's interesting that you talk about vulnerability, because there's this song that you have on called "Hawk For The Dove," which is just so fierce and aggressive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAWK FOR THE DOVE")

SHIRES: (Singing) I'm well aware of what the night's made of. And I'm coming for you like a hawk for the dove. You can call it serious trouble, 'cause that's what I want.

There's this feeling like you're not supposed to be a sexual creature or have desirous feelings after a certain age or if you're married or if you're a mom. So in a way, it's like you're opening yourself up to more or less, who knows? But anyway, I was just trying to admit the fact that, yeah, I'm just a mom and a wife in my 40s, and I still want to, you know, be the pursuer sometimes. Why not?

CORLEY: (Laughter) Still got it going on.

SHIRES: And what I liked about it is when it came out, like, everybody that commented on it, I discovered that, well, you can have this kind of, you know, healthy love life if you want to up until your 80s. I mean, I had some 80-year-old women on there saying, it doesn't go away, honey.

CORLEY: Now, that is a song that makes you sit up and take notice, I will say.

SHIRES: Let's get this party started.

(LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: Well, in addition to your solo career, you came up with the idea for a country supergroup of female artists called the Highwomen. And the other members are Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby. You all hit No. 1 on the Billboard top country albums chart when it was released in 2019. On this solo album of yours, you and Maren sing these really sweet harmonies on "Empty Cups," a song about a longtime couple drifting apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPTY CUPS")

AMANDA SHIRES AND MAREN MORRIS: (Singing) You used to lean in like I was whispering, any excuse to get near again. I still miss the way you lean in. What happened between now and then? And my hands are two empty cups. Maybe I was asking for a little too much. To keep the newness from wearing off, for every start there's going to be a stop.

CORLEY: I wonder when you were writing that if you envisioned her voice, her being part of this song. Talk about the process a little bit for this song.

SHIRES: This song - just the process of it was I was trying to communicate the amount of trying that we sometimes go through when we're trying to do anything like maintain a relationship. I guess in this case, I'll just be honest, it's like the amount of trying you do to try to get back to good, and then you get left - you don't get left, but you're left feeling like empty or like a shell, kind of. And when I was writing it, I knew, because I was having a hard time trying to even sing it - how ridiculous is that, to cry at your own song? But, you know, it's my feelings, so it sometimes happens. And I thought, geez, how am I going to pull this off, you know, in front of my friends in the studio? And I thought of my mighty friend Maren, who has that kind of strength in her voice. And I just knew it had to be her. And I called her until she finally showed up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPTY CUPS")

SHIRES: (Singing) You were looking away towards the trees. There was a time you used to listen closer to me. As close as the air is to the sea

CORLEY: Amanda Shires' new album is called "Take It Like A Man," and it came out on Friday. Amanda Shires, thank you so much for joining us.

SHIRES: Thank you so much. I hope everybody out there that's dishing it out can take it in equal amounts.

CORLEY: (Laughter) All right. They'll take it like a man, yeah?

SHIRES: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPTY CUPS")

SHIRES: Further and further, further away. Now my hands are two empty cups. Maybe I was asking for a little too much. To keep the newness from wearing. For every start there's going to be a stop. You're leaving now through the hole of an argument... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.