Dixie Chicks Come 'Home'

Excerpted from the magazine for Billbaord.com.

The title of the new Dixie Chicks album, "Home," works on a number of levels. For starters, it's the group's first major-label effort recorded in its home state of Texas, as opposed to Nashville. The Chicks co-produced the album with singer Natalie Maines' father and well-known Texas musician/producer, Lloyd Maines, and worked up the arrangements in Natalie's living room in Austin.

The title also reflects a newfound domestic tranquility for the three members of the group -- Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison -- as well as the fact that they are coming out of a self-imposed break of a year-and-a-half. During that time, Maguire got married and Maines gave birth to a son. Robison is expecting her first child, also a son, in mid-November.

Finally, the title describes the trio's return to its longtime label home, Sony Music, after a contentious, yearlong legal battle marked by back-and-forth lawsuits during which the group sought to be freed of its Sony contract as a result of alleged accounting discrepancies and Sony sought to enforce a contract that called for five more albums from the trio.

"Home," due Aug. 27, is the Chicks' third album for Sony Music. They recently had the distinction of becoming the first female group and the only country group ever to earn back-to-back diamond awards, certifying sales of 10 million units of each of their first two albums, from the Recording Industry Association of America.

The members of the Chicks spoke with Billboard about their music, touring, their finally resolved battle with Sony, and more.

Why did you decide to make a more acoustic, bluegrass-flavored album at a career point at which most country artists who have tasted success choose to take their music in a slicker, poppier direction?

Robison: To me, it's just more of us being us. Yes, there's a bluegrass flair, but if anything, it's just kind of peeling back a few layers. It's not going off in a different direction. It's being able to hear the banjos and fiddles and dobros and the harmonies and the more intricate arrangements a little bit more, peeling back some of the drums and some of the keyboards. I feel like it's more essential Dixie Chicks.

Maines: I don't think the album is scary. It doesn't sound that different from us. There's a lot less attitude, and it's not quite as humorous and lighthearted as the other two. But I don't think any artist can remake an album that they've already made. We've all matured emotionally and in years as well, and I think the music just reflects that this time.

Maguire: We feel like we have to record and perform music that is speaking to us at the time. On our year off we were inspired by a lot of acoustic music. Emily and I grew up around bluegrass, but we've never been so inspired by bluegrass as in this last year.

When you're touring, you don't get to hear a lot of live music. And living in Austin, Texas, it's all around you. We took that year [off] to actually go hear some artists. I took several trips to Ireland and got in touch with different layers. My husband [who is Irish] has a whole collection of music that I've never heard before, and I got inspired by a lot of [that].

What were your goals for this album?

Maguire: One of our goals was to showcase the picking more, the instrumentation more, the harmony more. We felt like it was a good opportunity to record some songs that we've always wanted to record but never really had a place on the other records.

What are your plans for touring behind "Home"?

Robison: We'll be gearing up to get ready for [a] spring [tour]. Most likely it will be [outdoor] sheds, and we're going to try to do more of a festival-feeling tour [with other acts.] I don't think this album would translate real well to arenas.

In our long list [of other acts to consider for the tour], we're including everyone under the sun, from country to classic rock to singer/songwriters-everything.

Did the lawsuit detract from your music?

Maines: We had already planned on taking at least a year off after the "Fly" tour. We'd been working for four years solid, and we were really tired and burned out and [didn't have] a lot of creative energy flowing. So the lawsuit happened at a good time.

When we were ready to go in the studio to make music, that's exactly when we did it. We didn't care if we had a label. We financed everything. We did everything ourselves... and it was so much fun. I think we'll probably never be able to do that again, so I'm glad we got this opportunity.

Part of the resolution of that deal is that you got your own Sony imprint, Open Wide Records, on which "Home" is being released. Do you plan to eventually sign other artists?

Robison: To me, [having our own imprint] means a little bit more stability within the label. It means that they recognize you're basically making the artistic decisions. It gives us the freedom to sign other people down the line on our own label if we want to and really develop other acts. It may be phase two of our careers. We may want to start flexing our muscle behind other people. It opens up a lot of opportunities and possibilities.

Excerpted from the Aug. 24, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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