Host: The Dixie Chicks are
one of the most successful groups in music history. They’re tucked in between the Beatles and the Eagles on the short
list of popular artists like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. But in 2003, their lives changed. The Dixie Chicks made a political
statement that caused upheaval and controversy. Now with time and perspective, they’re back with a response and a new
album of all original songs. In the next hour, we’ll hear some of those songs and talk to the Dixie Chicks who are Natalie
Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. We’re also joined by their producer Rick Rubin, songwriter Dan Wilson and
music writers Alan Light and Anthony DeCurtis. I’m Rita Houston and welcome to Dixie Chicks Taking The Long Way.
"The Long Way Around"
Host: Let’s get a little background on what happened
in 2003. Contributing editor of Rolling Stone magazine Anthony DeCurtis.
Anthony DeCurtis: When the Dixie Chicks were performing in London a few years back, Natalie made
a statement from the stage about the band being ashamed to share a home state with George Bush and this was a statement that
essentially went unremarked for a long time but it got picked up in the sort of right wing echo chamber and it suddenly became
an issue and there was a real effort on the part of those people to punish the Dixie Chicks for speaking out.
Host: Music writer Alan Light watched the fallout.
Alan Light: From a general condemnation within the Nashville industry to boycotts from not just
single radio stations but radio networks and chains to records returned and smashed and all of that stuff to most seriously
a death threat that was made at a show to Natalie.
Host: Producer Rick Rubin saw the controversy in a positive light.
Rick Rubin: I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I felt like it was the start of their
career because I felt like up until then people loved them but loved them in a very surface way and this was the first time
I heard anybody talk about the Dixie Chicks in a way that they cared what they thought, cared what they said, took them really
seriously and it was like a whole new day. It was like in one stroke went from being loved artists to serious artists. Just
Host: So the Dixie Chicks spent some time making a response to their critics the most appropriate
way. Writing a song.
Emily: Well, we wrote “Not Ready To Make Nice” with Dan Wilson and we tried to write
a song that kind of summed up our feelings about what happened three years ago a couple of times and we felt like it was either
too heavy handed a little bit, too angry or too… I don’t know.
Martie: Making light of it too much.
Emily: Making light of it or it just didn’t really hit the true emotion of what we’d
gone through and all the rest. So we were happy when we wrote the song ‘cause it finally felt like it was the perfect
sentiment about what we went through.
Dan Wilson: The experiment was let’s just really come out and say exactly, you know, how you
guys feel about it. Let’s just really, you know, not get political, not talk about wars or policies or Democrats or
Republicans or liberals or conservatives or whatever. Not talk about, you know, have it be personal about what kind of, you
know, what kind of experience you had and what you’re point of view about it is now. The song, when I listen, it kind
of makes my hair stand on end. It’s pretty intense. And it’s really personal.
"Not Ready To Make Nice"
Natalie: Going through something like that just definitely
shows what you’re made of.
Host: All of the Dixie Chicks learned more about themselves.
Martie: I learned that I was willing to put my career on the line for what I believed in because
what would have made us a lot more successful probably at the time -- saved our record from falling of the charts or whatever
-- would have been to convince Natalie to apologize and I think Emily and I probably could have pressured her and it took
till I was 34 years old to figure this out but I felt that I had the inner strength that was always there that nothing is
as important as standing up for what you believe in.
Host: When they started working on an album with producer Rick Rubin, the Dixie Chicks were asked
to rise to occasion once again but in a different way.
Martie: Rick had said he wanted us to try to write the whole thing which was off the bat a tall
order because we had had original songs on our records but we had never had even half of the cuts be our own writing so the
fact that he was confident we could do that and knew who to pair us up with was a great adventure.
Host: Producer Rick Rubin has crafted albums for the Beastie Boys, Slayer, Run DMC, Red Hot Chili
Peppers, and Johnny Cash among many others.
Rick Rubin: I felt like they had a lot to talk about. I just felt like there was a lot of -- there
was a lot of power and energy and talk around them that it would be a good time for them to talk.
Host: Rubin brought in musicians to write songs with the Dixie Chicks. Most of them came from the
rock world. Like Pete Yorn. Gary
Louris from the Jayhawks and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s band the Heartbreakers. Now a solo artist, Dan Wilson spent
years with Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic, two indy rock bands. He asked Rubin for direction.
Dan Wilson: I said ‘what kind of thing do you want’. And he said ’really great
songs’. And that was it. I kind of pressed him for more details but he really just stuck to that as the mission. Just
great songs. So that’s really what we tried to do and we didn’t think about what style it was or how it was going
to fit. We just tried to write the greatest songs together that we could.
Host: The Dixie Chicks wrote the next song “Lubbock Or Leave It” with Mike Campbell.
Natalie: It’s not necessarily Lubbock. It’s small religious
Emily: Of course Natalie is from Lubbock so she has a personal experience
with the box that these small communities try and keep people in.
Natalie: It was a fun song to write because Mike -- to approach lyrics -- especially on that song
it was easy. We just brainstormed – like -- he was like ’name hotels, streets. Just tell me things about Lubbock.’ We made this big long list and then…
Emily: Names of Buddy Holly songs.
Natalie: Yeah. And just describing that there’s a mural of Buddy Holly in the airport which
we always just found ironic that before you’re about to get on a plane you look at someone who died on a plane. And
just -- Buddy Holly from what I hear was not liked by Lubbock when he was singing that rock
Martie: Devil’s music.
Natalie: And then when he died it’s like Lubbock’s
claim to fame and it got the Buddy Holly museum and statue so then it says “maybe when I’m dead and gone I’ll
get a statue too.” And then Mike was like ‘does Lubbock have a motto, a slogan’.
Yes, it’s Lubbock or Leave It (laughter from the Chicks). They thought I was lying.
Emily: That was a fun song to write.
Natalie: So it doesn’t say Lubbock or Leave It in it but it’s a good title.
"Lubbock Or Leave It"
Natalie: I don’t know if it’s ‘cause
the songs were more personal this time but when you go back and listen to songs we’ve written in the past there’s
just more of a maturity and depth and intellect in these songs. Even it’s not the lyrics but just the chord progression
or the melody. They just feel more grown up.
Host: Life has changed a lot over the last several years for Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and
Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks. They now all have children.
Dan Wilson: One of the things I had noticed was that they – that none of the songs that they
had played me so far were about becoming parents.
Natalie: I didn’t think we’d get to anything like the lullaby ‘cause anybody who’d
ask us was like “I bet a lot of songs are about your family and kids.” And I was like no; I’m angry (laughter).
It’s like I had to get a lot of other things off my chest before I could be nice.
Host: Wilson held onto a song until the last day of working with the group.
Dan Wilson: It’s risky in a way ‘cause it can be pretty sappy. I had this kind of guitar
riff and the beginnings of an idea for the song. I just kept not wanting to show it to them. Then on the last day we wrote
together I just kind of said to them ‘what about this’ and I just played a short little bit and they all started
screaming and laughing saying “What are you doing? Are you holding out on us?” And then we really wrote it together
basically that day.
Host: It turned out to be a lullaby for their children.
Natalie: I think one thing that’s cool about making music or being a writer or an artist or
whatever is things live forever past you and so you know our kids will always have that. A gift to them.
Natalie: I think most songs we recorded we knew they were
good songs. We didn’t go in just saying ‘That’s an okay song. Let’s see if the band can make it sound
good’. But there’s songs that felt more personal or powerful.
Host: Producer Rick Rubin did put together a band of veterans, including Chad Smith, drummer for
the Red Hot Chili Peppers, pianist Larry Knechtel who for forty years has played with everyone from the Byrds to Poco to Simon
& Garfunkel and Smokey Hormel often is heard with Beck and Tom Waites. Having a good band is a way for Rubin to be able
to concentrate on the real reason they’re in the studio. The songs.
Alan Light: Over and over again the thing that is extraordinary about Rick Rubin is the ability
to really focus people on songs. I did an interview with Rick 15 years ago and he said “the thing that I introduced
into hip hop was song structure. Before that it was just guys rhyming on and on until they ran out of rhymes and with the
first Def Jam records I put choruses, verses, breaks. Made them into songs and real records” And that’s always
been whether he’s working with Slayer, whether he’s working with Johnny Cash, whether he’s working with
the Chili Peppers and here with the Dixie Chicks. The ability… what’s the song about. What does it need. What’s
gonna make it work and how do we find that.
Anthony DeCurtis: People think that he has a particular sound but it’s not so much a sound
as it’s a kind of gift for helping artists discover what they want to do and then just doing only that. He has a great kind of detector for it. ‘That’s not necessary. Let’s take that away.
Let’s take that away.’ And then what you’re left with is a kind of essence of what you want to do at that
Rick Rubin: It’s really just trying to get to a place of balance and I think it’s reflecting
some — as odd as it sounds – it probably is reflecting something familiar in nature that just -- there’s
just a rightness when you see the sun set or when you look at a tree or look at clouds. It’s the same. In a song we’re
looking for those same elements of just kind of harmonic balance and I don’t even necessarily mean harmony although
it’s part of it but just a real natural state of balance. I feel like it would be the same if we were doing architecture
Host: Working with Rick Rubin forced the Dixie Chicks
to adjust in the studio.
Natalie: He definitely has a different style of working than we were used to. And I found it very
refreshing. At times it can be hard to get used to because we are so used to working a certain way. Like you go in the studio
and you know exactly who’s playing what, where and you have it all worked out ahead of time and you cut four songs in
one day as far as tracking. So you have to learn to relax and be okay with experimenting. I think in my mind, if it got laid
down in the past then that meant we needed to use it because time is money (laughter). He’d remind us we can try anything.
He’s so good. We would sort of be not arguing but debating about ‘should we have a horn on here? No, we shouldn’t
have a horn on there. It would be terrible. And then he’d… we’d say “should we have a horn on there”
‘Just try it.’ Right. Right.
Emily: We can always take it off.
Rick Rubin: So much of the process was about not deciding before you heard it whether you liked
it or not and the same goes like if you decide how the record is supposed to be then when it gets to that you think you’re
done and it is what it is but I feel like that’s got some serious limitations on it. If all we’re going for is
something really good, then it might turn into something that we didn’t know it was going to be. And that happened a
lot of times on the tracks. We were just saying earlier, some of our favorite songs on the album might not have been our favorite
songs from the demo stage but they really kind of came to life in the studio not because we had any great ideas. It just kind
of was -- we were paying attention and watching the moment and seeing it happen and it happened. And we luckily caught it.
Host: One of the more striking moments they caught in the studio was a song written by the Dixie
Chicks with former Crowded House leader Neil Finn. It’s called “Silent House”.
Natalie: That one is about my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s and it’s sort of about
going in someone’s house who you’ve had to move out or whatever but they’re not necessarily dead and just
going through the rooms and their things and um….
Emily: Just realizing you’re going to be the -- you have to remember them the way they are
because you’re going to be a witness to their life. Martie and I also had a grandfather who had dementia later in his
life so although it’s not Alzheimer’s you have that sense – this person has lost most memories or sense
of reality about who they were what their life is. A lot of times who their family is. Don’t even recognize them when
they walk through the door. So it’s up to you to remember these things
and carry it on.
end of part 1
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