Natalie Maines and Ben Harper
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"I would never have made a country solo album ever in a million years. That's what the Dixie Chicks do, and I wanted to be something different on my own"

As she prepares for the May 7 release of  her first solo album, "Mother" -- a decided departure from her work with the  Dixie Chicks -- Natalie Maines is curious to see what kind of audience she'll  be courting on her own.

"I'm watching that being revealed to me right now,"  Maines, who's played solo shows in Los Angeles and at South By Southwest with  "Mother" co-producer Ben Harper and his band, tells Billboard. "I don't know who they are yet, but they seem cool. I feel a lot of new fans out there. I think there's a lot of people who have maybe liked what I said (politically) who never had listened to the Dixie Chicks and weren't country music fans but I think are giving this a listen because they like me from a political point of view. So, yeah, the audience is anybody's guess. It's exciting. I like winning people over."

One lost cause, however, may be the Dixie Chicks'  usual base of support. "I don't think there's anything on here for country radio," Maines says of the rock-flavored "Mother," whose title track is a Pink Floyd song. "The influence is more Tom Petty than anything (country). I would never have made a country solo album ever in a million years. That's what the Dixie Chicks do, and I wanted to be something different on my own. I think a lot of our fans will like this and some won't, but I didn't let that affect what I wanted to do here."

But "Mother" does include "Come Cryin' To Me," an outtake from the Chicks' Grammy Award-winning 2006 album "Taking the Long  Way" that the trio co-wrote with the Jayhawks' Gary Louris. And Maines acknowledges that "it too me a long time" to make a solo album "because I thought I was cheating on Martie (Maguire) and Emily (Robison). It seemed very weird to not have them."

Maines is planning to tour in support to "Mother"  -- "Ben says he will, but how long can he want to do that, really?" she says  -- and headline dates will include some of the Dixie Chicks songs she had a hand in writing, though Maines says "I would want to talk to Martie and Emily about that first." The only firm dates on her calendar now, however, are three Dixie Chicks shows during early July in Canada. 

"I'm always open to touring," Maines says. "I like our stuff. I like playing it live. I love our fans." Another Chicks album, however, seems less likely.

"It's hard for me to imagine a country record, but I try not to say never," she says. "'Taking the Long Way' is... my favorite of our records, but I don't know if (Maguire and Robison) would say the same thing. I think it's as far outside of country as  they would be comfortable going."

Meanwhile, Maines provided guest vocals on two songs for Dan Wilson's upcoming solo album, and she's been working on a documentary about actress/singer Katey Sagal's brother Joey and his experiences growing up in a show biz-saturated family. Academy Award-nominated documentarian Amy Berg ("Deliver Us From Evil," "West of Memphis") is helping Maines finish the project.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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