Miranda Lambert Is 'Nervous as Hell' But 'Willing to Be Vulnerable' on Post-Divorce Single 'Vice'
The first single from her upcoming project may be a "tear in your beer" ballad ripped from her own life, but Lambert promises, "I don’t think anybody’s gonna listen to this new project and say, ‘Ohhh, it’s so sad.’"
Intuitively, you might have expected Miranda Lambert to come back after her time in the tabloid spotlight with a Molotov cocktail of a single. But instead of being soaked in “Kerosene,” her new song, “Vice,” is drenched in Johnnie Walker. Rather than reassure the world that she’s feistier than ever, the single offers an old-school country lyric about sex and alcohol as not entirely successful salves for what ails the soul.
Is this any way for a country superstar with the eyes of the world upon her to assure everyone she’s double-coated in Teflon? No, but in an exclusive interview with Billboard, Lambert says she feels good about coming back out of the gate with a classic country feel-bad ballad. And she’s also OK if you read some of her real life into it, because she’s not playing make-believe.
“I’m nervous as hell,” she tells Billboard, calling from home during a brief touring break. “I’ve been hunkered down for a year writing, recording, trying to live a normal life and getting ready for a new album. No one’s heard from me. I’ve been pretty silent all this time. And now that I’m coming with a song, it does make me nervous, and I hope that people are respectful of it and understand what I’ve been doing. But I’ve never hidden anything or tried to be too mysterious. I’m pretty straightforward in my music. I always have been, and that hasn’t changed. With my songwriting, it’s taking a journey with what’s been going on in my everyday life -- good, bad, ugly and everything in between. I feel like the right thing to do was just come out with something really honest.”
No vengeance or even false bravado, then. While the production is undeniably modern, from its a cappella opening to its electronic textures to the eventually dominant electric guitar, “Vice” comes down to being what she calls “a tear-in-your-beer song” in the Hank Sr. tradition, steeped in self-medication and early morning walks of shame.
“The sassy confidence, yes, that’s what I’ve kind of built my career on. But it also takes a lot of confidence and strength to be willing to be vulnerable,” Lambert says. “And I feel like when you listen to this song, there’s really nothing to read into. It says what it says. Everybody has a vice. Everybody goes through a time in their life when they run to it a little bit more than when they don’t. When I’m journaling my life and putting it on paper to a melody and then allowing people to hear it, I can’t worry about what somebody might twist it into, because it’s not like I’m hiding anything.
“Every record I’ve ever made has been a reflection of where I am right then in my life, however old I am. And I’ve never held back at all. But this time,” she adds, alluding to the attention paid to her divorce from Blake Shelton, “with what I happened to be going through in my life, being honest was never really a choice. Everybody knew anyway. So I just said, I’m gonna journal it, and -- good days and bad days -- use it for my art.”
“Vice” is the teaser for a yet-untitled fifth album Lambert is expected to release before Christmas. She’s hesitant to share much about the other tracks because “it’s not done, and that’s why I’m being vague about it. I’m not 100 percent sure about all the details, though we’re getting closer to be able to talk about that. But I’m still holding it pretty close -- also because I want ‘Vice’ to have all the time [before] focusing on my [full] record just yet, because it’s a real important song for me. … Last night was the first night that I played ‘Vice’ onstage, and it felt like a new show all of a sudden.”
All Lambert had said about the song or album previously was in an Instagram message saying, “The last year of my life has been one of heartache and healing... Facing fears and feelings... I got to know my guitars...became friends with a pencil and paper…” Given that she’s always co-written more of her own material than the average country star, that last part may not sound like a new development, but it does speak to how she might be even more emotionally invested in the upcoming collection.
“I should have said became better friends and got to know more of my guitar,” she laughs. “But you run to things more and you lean on things more than you normally do when you’re hurting. I was off the road last summer, and a really positive thing that came out of the hard time in my life was that I grew as a songwriter -- and got to be better friends with the people that I write the songs with, just really getting that honest with each other and sitting there on a porch drinking wine. And I did spend a lot of time being quiet and being by myself. That’s part of a journey anyone has to take in their life, and sometimes we don’t slow down enough to take it. I’m glad I did, because now I have stories to share.”
She’ll admit she faltered just a bit on her last album, when it came to being that unflinching about what the audience might think. “If you worry about what people are going to think or what they’re going to say or if they’re going to like it or if they’re not, I think you start to freak out. And I did that a little bit on Platinum,” her 2014 release. “I was just really, really, really worried about what to do next.”
Not that this album won’t push most of the Miranda Lambert buttons, or that it’ll be all tears in the beer. “I’m never gonna have an album that’s quote-unquote a 'heartbreak album,'” she says. “Because everybody has bad moments, and then you come out of it and you have a great moment, and then you have some somber times. I want an emotional journey, because that’s what life is, and I want to document that. But I don’t think anybody’s gonna listen to this new project and say, ‘Ohhh, it’s so sad.’ Yeah, there’s sad songs. But I’ve had sad songs on every record I’ve ever made. There’s also some good old classic country, and some rock 'n' roll, and my signature in a few songs” -- so maybe don’t put away the flame-retardant speakers just yet.
Randy Goodman came in as the new head of Sony Music Nashville right around the time Lambert was hunkered down to write these songs last summer. He quickly learned that he wouldn’t be invited to hear them for a while, and he was OK with that. “When I first had dinner with Marion [Kraft, Lambert's manager] and Miranda at the very beginning,” Goodman recalls, “I said, ‘What can I do to be of service to you?’ Miranda said, ‘I say this with all respect, but just leave me alone for a while and let me figure out what it is that I need to say.’ I said, ‘You got it.’ And we did. And [recently] she called me and said, ‘Two weeks from now, I want to get everybody together and I want you guys to hear what we’ve been doing.’ And we went in and, I don’t know, man, I think she blew all of our minds.”
Can the new album be a revealing roman a clef and the commercial blockbuster Sony is surely hoping for during the holiday buying season? “’Commercial blockbuster album' -- I don’t have any idea,” Lambert laughs. “I’m sure they would love to have that. I don’t know. Those aren’t two terms I ever use for my music.”
What she is sure of is that Hank would have done it this way. “I just hope that [‘Vice’] is something that makes people feel, because that’s the most important thing,” Lambert says. “It’s a country lyric and that’s why we love country music. That’s what Hank Williams did: He said honestly what his thoughts were right then and said it in a simple way. That’s what we all should strive to do. It’s going to be a struggle forever because we’ll never be as good as Hank Williams -- nobody will.”
There’s virtue, anyway, in the trying.