It’s been almost 16 years since Lambert first appeared on the chart with “Me and Charlie Talking,” and by her own admission, she and radio have had “our ups and downs.” But she adds she’s overwhelmingly grateful for radio’s support during her career and that with her latest chart topper, “I'm so thankful that after all these years, I still have a spot.”
Did you worry that maybe you didn't have a spot at No. 1 as a solo artist any more after your last two No. 1s were duets with Keith Urban on “We Were Us” and “Drowns The Whiskey” with Jason Aldean?
I didn't worry, because I’ve built a career. A hit is not a chart position necessarily. The reason why I’ve had the long career that I’ve had is because I haven't relied on chart positions to have hits, like “Little Red Wagon,” for instance, was somewhere low on the chart [editor’s note: it peaked at No. 18 on Country Airplay] and it's one of my biggest songs, you know? But it feels nice to know that I still got it (laughs).
I had resolved that if there wasn't a place for me -- after The Weight of These Wings I think is when I really started to accept it because I had a song like “Tin Man” and it didn't do anything on the charts. So I was like, “Well, maybe this is my new course. I’ll just put out what I love and believe in.” But definitely I will say that when on tour, having a hit -- like a top five -- it changes the way the crowd sings along. It changes the way that your show is. And I can always tell.
That must make it even tougher to not be on the road now and not hear the audience sing “Bluebird” with you.
That's one down side to right now: it's the No. 1 song and I don't get to share it with them. I miss the fans and sharing this moment with them, but when [touring] comes back, I know it'll still be there. I can't wait to hear the crowd sing along. That's one thing I'm really looking forward to.
You wrote it three days after you got married to Brendan Mcloughlin. What was that session like with Luke and Natalie?
I spilled the beans to the two of them that I got married because I’d kept it a secret. So that same day we were writing that song, I’m bursting at the seams: "I have to tell y'all a secret!” Luke had texted us a group text. We're always on a thread. And he sent those lines [from Charles Bukowski’s poem “The Bluebird.”] He was like, “maybe there’s something to this. It really spoke to me. Did it speak to y’all?” I said, “Absolutely.” So we went in that day knowing we were going to write “Bluebird” or figure out if we could.
You know, those are some big lyrics to try to build around, and so we wanted to make sure we did a good job of that. It's always fun writing with them. Sometimes it's hard and when it gets hard is when we know we're about to get something good. When your skin starts crawling because you can't think of it and you kind of want to leave the room is when something comes.
So as a writer you’ve learned to push through that discomfort?
Yeah, because as soon as [we] are all talking about what kind of jobs are we going to do since we can't write songs anymore [laughs], clearly something magical comes out of someone’s mouth and then we're back on track. Or we take a rosé break. That also helps.
Did you know it was special after you finished writing it?
Yeah, we knew right then that it was really just a cool song, something different.
You even took the title of the album, Wildcard, from a line in the song, which usually means that the song has special significance. How did that decision come about?
We borrowed from some amazing writers for this song, because we had the Charles Bukowski poem and I’d gotten a wildcard tattooed on my arm in October of 2018, a wildcard up my sleeve. I got it partly because I covered a song on my second record that was an Emmylou Harris song [written by Carlene Routh and Susanna Clark] called “Easy From Now On.”
One of my favorite lines is, “When the mornin’ comes and it's time for me to leave/Don’t worry about me, I got a wild card up my sleeve,” and it’s always resonated with me. I got the tattoo before we wrote “Bluebird,” obviously, to remind myself be queen of your own heart and you know you can pull something out if you need to get out of the situation. And then, when we were writing this song, it felt like it fits totally to the message.
How are you going to celebrate hitting No. 1?
I’m probably just going to be on my porch with Natalie and Luke and maybe my manager and a very small group and have a little porch hang and celebrate. You know, it’s a big deal.