Amanda Shires | Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro; Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2021, 7 p.m., $25-$28]

Over the phone, Amanda Shires—who is currently on tour for her seventh solo album, Take It Like a  Man, released on July 29—describes herself as a bit of a “word nerd.” That verbal attention shines through in the music—which is raw and vulnerable but burnished with a barn-burning edge. Idioms abound, but they’re taut and disciplined and rich with layers. Every word counts. 

Shires is a singer, songwriter, and fiddler with a Nashville résumé that’s longer than Music Row. Beyond her seven solo albums, she’s played as a member of the Texas Playboys, Thrift Store Cowboys, and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Shires is also married to Isbell); has a Grammy under her belt; and is the founder of The Highwomen, an industry-bucking country music supergroup alongside Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby.

Shires describes Take It Like a Man in unequivocally joyful terms, and there’s an electricity in her voice when she talks about her collaboration with Lawrence Rothman, whose production of the album gave space for Shires to be raw, assured, and free, all at once. Ahead of her stop at Cat’s Cradle on September 21, the INDY sat down with Shires to talk about poetry, reproductive rights, and vulnerability. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

INDY WEEK: I just listened to your interview with Terry Gross, which is a high interview bar to follow.

AMANDA SHIRES: The whole time I was talking to her, I kept waiting for somebody else to respond [to her questions]. I’ve gotten so used to staying up late listening to her talk.

The phrase “take it like a man”—what does that mean to you and why did it feel like a fitting album title?

Generally, repressing feelings or emotions and thinking about it, I discovered that it actually takes more strength and courage to be vulnerable and say your feelings. But it also means “Here’s all this shit: good luck with it.” It’s a comment on being vulnerable, and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.

It sounds like it can also be an instruction: “If you’re going to listen to this, take it like a man.”

Yeah, there are like 50 ways you can talk about it, and I think that’s sometimes what makes titles good, is when they’re broad enough but pointed enough to tie a collection together.

It’s also a comment on those folks who put women in boxes—like, “You’re a mom now, you’re a wife, these are what the rules are for those different roles”—when really, we’re unique individuals first and then occupy those roles as moms, wives, sisters, lovers, all that. It’s a comment, too, that we’re not just one thing.

Have you felt like you’ve been put into roles?

There’s always a thing—not a role thing, but there’s always a “Dress like this and this is what happens,” “If your avatar is a cat you must be ugly,” you know? “If you don’t get into doing XYZ right, you won’t be successful.” Those same labels don’t apply to men.

You’ve been very vocal about reproductive rights and recently called on people in the country music industry to be more vocal about these issues. Have you seen a shift?

No. I’ve been thinking about that a lot and, you know, Garth Brooks said he’s for women’s rights and all that, and he didn’t say he was pro-choice but he also didn’t say he wasn’t, so I’m going to assume he’s pro-choice. There’s still only a representation of 16 percent of women in country music right now, so there are not a lot of women who can say anything.

I do think it’s a shame that more men don’t say anything. Kendrick’s up on stage talking about its importance, and yet the [country music] bros don’t say boo about anything. And to that, I’d say, “Don’t support men who don’t support your rights.”

A lot of the men close to me are pro-choice and still seem uncomfortable talking about it, and they’re not the ones with a platform, with something quote-unquote “to lose.”

And knowing that they’re probably benefiting from it, too! More than shameful, it’s disgusting. And we need those people to say something. At one of the rallies I went to—and they said it way more eloquently than I’m about to—but they said, “The job for you fellas is to hold the line and protect the people out there fighting for their rights.”

There’s a lot of vulnerability in this album. How do you balance telling those stories and protecting yourself?

I made that decision intentionally. I was making choices about what songs to keep on the record and I knew that if I kept certain songs on the record, certain questions would get asked.

For me, I mean—I’m just a really bad liar, and as much as this world can be confusing and hard to give language to, I know that in whatever way I can help, I’m gonna do my best. As humans, we need each other to walk through this nebulous pain stuff so we can grow together, and it’s uncomfortable, but I guess I just feel that if I can find language to help someone, I’m doing a good job.

Everyone’s marriage looks different to the individual, but I didn’t want folks to look at my marriage or anyone’s and think, “That’s what a good marriage is supposed to look like.” It’s hard for everyone, even in friendship. I don’t want anyone to think, “My marriage is a piece of shit because they still make lovey-dovey eyes at each other on stage.”

You did an MFA in poetry at the University of Sewanee. What led you to pursue one and how did it change your songwriting?

I wanted to be better with words. I feel like I’m really good with them on the page but I haven’t gotten any better at them in conversation, you know. But yes, I just wanted the tools in the toolbox, you know; instead of it taking me an hour to figure out which preposition was right, I wanted to have a reason for my editing choices. And then when I got into it, it was really difficult and a lot of reading—I was getting ocular migraines! I was like, “How am I going to ever get done with this, this is crazy, who am I, I hate school?” It took me some time to finish it, but I had to be patient with myself. I’m a person that loves words and I love knowing the shade they can tint the page. Some could be bright or dazzling or even gloaming, which is a weird word.

For this album you had an abundance of material, right?

Yes. I think it was that because when I found joy in music again, it exploded and it exploded everywhere. I hadn’t felt joy in music in a long, long time, not since I was in the Texas Playboys band. Lawrence [Rothman] is just a joy to be around and banters and has fun in the studio. That’s not what everyone likes in the studio, but I like it. I wrote a song yesterday—when the joy is there, you get creativity. For a while, I was just making music, plotting a line to nothing land and having trouble keeping it happy and not feeling harmful. Now that I’ve figured out how to do that, I want to support everything that comes out—not that it’ll all be great, but it’ll be fun.

That sounds like a life-changing switch to turn on—in your head or heart, or wherever that gets turned on.

It really is, and I recommend it for everyone. If I could fix that for everyone, I would, but it kind of happened over time for me and I don’t know exactly what orientation of the Rubik’s cube happened for me. But I’m glad it did.

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