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The Chicks with Willie Morgan
photo courtesy of Willie Morgan

This is an interview produced by the Dixie Chicks record label for promotion of the album Wide Open Spaces in Great Britain. In it, they talk about the songs that make up the album, including what their least favorite song on the album is. Some of the other things discussed include their producers, getting audited, dance mixes, and Chicks merchandising.
Host: Willie Morgan
Airdate: June 1999

(Some host comments not affecting the interview have been edited out)

WILLIE: I'm Willie Morgan and lets say hi to the Dixie Chicks. Hi to Martie.

MARTIE: Hello.

WILLIE: And to Natalie.


WILLIE: To Emily.

EMILY: Hello.

WILLIE: Now this has got to be strange for you ladies because you're over here to talk about an album and a new single which to you must be ancient history but There's Your Trouble is the new UK release and do you feel in a weird situation?

EMILY: We're talking yesterday about how it's neat to have new territory to cover and we have been successful in the states but over here we still have to prove ourselves and get up on stage and let people know that were real. This is not something that's manufactured so it's a good challenge for us.

WILLIE: We had this album out here a while and looking down the list of musicians Natalie, I noticed a man playing steel guitar.

NATALIE: Yeah, my dad. He played on two of the girls independent albums before I joined and he played on Wide Open Spaces and he just played on our new album Fly.

WILLIE: Okay. Lets talk about this album Wide Open Spaces which to us is a relatively new album but to you ladies it must seem like it's an old album. We know you're already in the studio. Have you completed recording the new one? Is it all sort of boxed up ready to go?

MARTIE: It's not boxed up but it's in the can as they say and were real excited about it but we're not done with Wide Open Spaces. We're so proud of that album and it won a Grammy so we don't feel like its over. We don't want it to be over so I'm glad it's coming out here and then people in the UK can look for Fly as well. That's the name of the next album and they'll see a lot more originals on the second one.

WILLIE: Natalie touched on the fact that you had independent albums. You, Martie and Emily, are sisters and you all had the band going before you got Natalie to join you.

MARTIE: Yeah. We started in 1989 on a street corner playing for tips instead of going and getting normal teenage jobs waiting tables or something. We had a small fan base in Dallas, Texas and put out three self-produced and self-financed albums that are hard to find right now. We're kind of glad because they we're...we were teenagers at the time. They were growing works of art and we were a lot more bluegrass and cowgirl oriented and then when Natalie joined the group four years ago it really took a turn and we feel like Wide Open Spaces is exactly what we've always wanted -- the kind of music we wanted to create and I think it took a great voice like Natalie's to enable us to do that.

WILLIE: A lot of the critics say Natalie that is was your voice that made the big change to the Chicks and it was the one that was the catalyst of the great success that came through. How do you feel about that mantle put on your shoulders?

NATALIE: I feel like they know exactly what they're talking about (Laughter) Gosh, I dont know. I think what keeps us together and what makes us strong is that we each know our strength. I am proud of my voice but I would never try to play the fiddle (Laughter)

EMILY: She does try.

NATALIE: I would never claim to play the fiddle. I'm a closet fiddler. Gosh, I don't know. I think the history of the Dixie Chicks was such they learned a lot before I came along. Just about the business and about who they were. They said themselves they definitely were not ready to go out and shop for a deal. They're all still learning their instruments and learning how to be in a band. So I think something in the stars led us together and it was just the right combination

WILLIE: I have to ask Emily? How did you get the name?

EMILY: We were going down to the street corner one night and we heard the Little Feat song come on the radio and up till then we hadn't had a name. We were just -- we really didn't think that seriously about what we were doing. We were just trying to make some tips and so when we heard the name -- we thought, you know, we should -- people had been begging us to get a name so when we heard it, we were like okay, I'll be your Dixie chicken if you'll be my Tennessee lamb. We'll be the Dixie Chickens and we were the Dixie Chickens for a couple weeks and then Martie's like 'I do not want to be a chicken.' So, she was too cool to be a chicken so we shortened it to Chicks and it was totally tongue in cheek and ever since then people have paid special attention to the name but it's always just been out of fun.

WILLIE: Let's talk about a couple of songs on the album. There's Your Trouble is the first UK release single but is also of course from the album Wide Open Spaces. Tell me about how you came to record the song like There's Your Trouble because I know in the past some of you girls have been writing your own songs but this is not one of your own compositions is it Martie?

MARTIE: No, we get a lot of songs from Nashville songwriters and we have grown as writers this year. We spent a lot of time getting together and also splitting off with other great writers but on this Wide Open Spaces album we just had the one original You Were Mine that Emily and I wrote. There's Your Trouble was just a demo that came our way that we thought was a lot of fun and made us want to get up and dance and tap our toes. It's not real deep but not everything we do has to have some deep meaning. It just is a song that makes the audience feel good, makes us feel good.

WILLIE: When you finally got your deal -- your major label deal -- it was a reintroduction of an old label. This must have been an amazing thing to suddenly not only be signed by the Sony corporation but suddenly they're reviving Monument.

EMILY: Well, I think being such huge fans of people like Dolly Parton and Roy Orbison and the people that were on the label before that was very interesting for us to rejuvenate it. Also, just the history in it and they took chances back then and I think they were taking a chance on us. Letting us be the leadoff act so we really felt like there was a lot of momentum behind it and it was the right decision for us. It might not have been the right decision for everybody but we were different. We weren't the typical Nashville thing so it really kind of -- the label represented what we really felt was us.

WILLIE: How many million albums have you sold now to say it was the right decision for Sony?

EMILY: We're pushing 6 million in the states so it was the right decision needless to say.

WILLIE: What about the guys who produce you? Paul Worley and Blake Chancey.

MARTIE: Ahhh, they're just geniuses. I think the greatest thing about them is they let us be ourselves and they respect the fact that we were a group before Sony gave us our deal. They didn't come in trying to call all the shots and change us. They kinda came in -- I don't know -- they just, their job was to get on tape everything we had in us and they were so encouraging in the studio. I mean, it takes us eight hours to do an overdub that a studio musician could take one hour to do. So they're very patient. They just get from us our best efforts, our best talents. And were a team. The five of us all really have to get excited about a song. Nobody ends up being really disappointed at a cut on the album. I think that's what makes our albums so good, at least in our eyes. That we love every single song on there and there are a few compromises but it's amazing how much our team thinks alike.

WILLIE: Over here we've had a lot of success with artists like Shania Twain, with Faith Hill to a lesser extent, with Leann Rimes but they've gone and changed their album and they mixed a lot of the country music out and you ladies -- to me it was great -- you were faithful to what you've done. We didn't see no changes. I mean what about this thing with VH1 and they didn't appreciate your fiddle playing did they?

MARTIE: I thought of all things they would have taken maybe the banjo or the steel guitar out to make it less country but they wanted to take me out. Of course my cohorts were the first to say 'No way. We're not taking out the fiddle.' And you know we're not opposed to doing dance mixes of our songs. We really dig the dance mix of There's Your Trouble but we also want people to know what kind of music we play on stage because when we come over here and we play we're not gonna be doing our dance mixes. But we understand that they accept that and they know that. They don't expect us to be only a dance mix band. So we're proud of our roots and our traditional country music heritage.

WILLIE: Emily, you recently tied the knot did you not?

EMILY: Yeah. May 1st. Got married. Natalie and Martie were my bridesmaids. They crashed my wedding night. They came into the room and we had a big slumber party (Laughter). So it wasn't necessarily your traditional wedding night. I still haven't had my honeymoon either.

WILLIE: Your husband Charlie is an artist in his own right?

EMILY: Yeah, he's an Austin singer-songwriter and he's also on the Sony label. A division of Sony called Lucky Dog so he's doing really well for himself right now.

WILLIE: Did you suddenly find it strange that -- wait a minute Kelly Willis is now my sister-in-law -- because for everyone who doesn't realize Kelly is married to Charlie's brother Bruce right?

EMILY: It was very bizarre at first. We saw her a long, long time ago up at a Texas festival in Washington DC and we went and saw her show. We'd been big fans of hers for a long time so when I first realized the connection it was kind of neat you know - the musical family thing.

WILLIE: You ladies are from Texas. Is it from Dallas Texas?

MARTIE: Yeah, Emily and I actually grew up in -- we were born in the northeast -- but we grew up in Texas in Dallas and Natalie grew up in and was born in Lubbock, Texas. So she's the real small town girl.

WILLIE: Hey if it was good enough for Buddy Holly it's good enough for you I get.

NATALIE: I think so.

WILLIE: Was there much of the music scene while you were growing up? Because way back in the 50's and in the 60's there was that kind of thing that was coming out of the studios down there and was it Norman Petty's place at Clovis where he's the guy that discovered Buddy Holly. Is there an ongoing heritage of popular contemporary music now in Lubbock?

NATALIE: Yeah. I think its amazing how many things come out of a town like Lubbock but Joe Ely is from there. Singer and songwriter and artist Terry Allen is from there. Who else? Waylon Jennings is from around there and then of course me (Laughing).

WILLIE: And how many of them have sold as many albums as you? Possibly only Waylon.

NATALIE: Yeah, I think he'd be the only one.

WILLIE: Did it over about 25 years or less. What about the early days when you were on the road? Some of the acts you opened for -- you found yourself on the same stage as some of the biggest names in country music?

MARTIE: I know. We were so fortunate early on without a label still being mainly a bluegrass band. We were at the Louisiana State fair opening for Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. And we opened a lot of shows for Emmylou Harris at different venues so we feel like we had a lot of people helping us early on. Giving us opportunities that a lot of groups don't have and I think that kept us going. It kept us seeing the light at the end of the tunnel because this year we celebrated our ten year anniversary and most of those years we were in either a Dodge van or an old RV, stinky RV. That's hard to travel like that and make that your living. You don't make a lot of money doing that. Much less playing street corners. So we got to meet a lot of people.

WILLIE: Recently Natalie, you just finished this kind of weekend tour thing with George Strait and many other guest artists. Tell us about that.

NATALIE: Yeah, that was our first I think, big professional tour that we've ever been on and it's pretty easy going. Ya know, show up on Saturday and Sunday and play a show in front of 70,000 screaming fans but I don't think we realized until it was about to be over the friends that we had made and the camaraderie between the artists and fun we had. So we had a big party on the last night and everybody sang with George. It was a great experience. It's something that is going to be hard to top.

WILLIE: I know that George only works weekends but what were you girls doing filling in the time on the weekdays?

NATALIE: Actually we took a little time for ourselves during the week as well. Early on in the tour we were in the studio during the week and then we'd go out on the weekends. And then near the end of it we took some time off cause starting this week actually we go non-stop for about five months now.

WILLIE: Just one last question about that. To me it seems weird. I think Tim McGraw had the number one record and he was some way down the bill with George Strait at the top. I mean that's just a strange situation to have the number one song and you had the number one album at the time and George is still closing the shows. Does that feel strange to you?

EMILY: George is such a country icon. It doesn't matter where he is on the charts. He has fans across the board. He's one of those people -- he's a legend. He's a living legend. People want to see that. It was a great package first of all. People wanted to see all the seven acts that were there. When you see George's show you realize why he's the last one on the bill. Hit after hit after hit and people respond to him and especially being from Texas, he is a hero.

WILLIE: What about the title song of Wide Open Spaces? I've got to ask Natalie because to me its Natalie's voice is what cuts through. The first time I heard that song I went woah!!

NATALIE: Well my dad gave us that song actually and I brought it to Martie and Emily and we sat on it for a little while. I think I'm the one who initially really felt the love for this song but we all agreed to record it and when we did that we all knew hands down that it was a great song and it's all three of our favorite song on the record. And the reason we named the album after it is just cause we felt like the song represented the time in our lives. Going out there, taking on the world and discovering the wide open spaces together. It's definitely my favorite song and Susan Gibson who wrote it is from Amarillo, Texas and it's her first cut on an album and for her to have a number 1 song the first time out -- it was really great for us to be able to do that for her.

WILLIE: Another song that's gained a lot of airplay is the opening cut I Can love You Better.

EMILY: That's a Kostas song and Pamela Brown Hayes co-wrote that one too. We heard that one in the group. I think alone it was enough for us to get hooked on that one. We rarely talk about what's going to be the next single. That one just popped up on the first album as being obvious to us to be the first single. It's groovy. It had a great melody. It really showcased our three-part harmony. It was a little bit different and of course Kostas is just a great songwriter so that one was an obvious one for us.

WILLIE: I don't know about your live shows and your live sets with how many oldies you do but there's a song that Elvis recorded years ago and of course Dobie Gray recorded and everybody seems to record it. A Tom Jans song Loving Arms. I saw it on the album and thought oh yeah! Why did you choose to do that particular song?

MARTIE: Well, we don't do a lot of cover tunes in our show. If we do them, we do obscure tunes and that's kind of an obscure tune. Natalie brought that one to the group. She had an album of Dobie Gray and she's a huge Dobie Gray fan and now Emily and I are too. And we actually got to sing Loving Arms on stage with him before and it is a moving experience to hear his voice come in. Man! On that second verse it's awesome. So when Natalie played us his version we were pretty sold and we like the campiness of it. It's not a power ballad. It's just one of those really moving slow songs and so that's why we put it on the album.

WILLIE: Emily, the one composition on this album that you had a hand in with your sister is You Were Mine. Do you want to give us the story behind that?

EMILY: That was a song that I started long time ago, probably two years before Natalie even joined the band and I just kind of kept working on it. One day I brought it out and played it for Martie and it wasn't completed yet. She wrote the bridge to it which is everyone's favorite part the line "he's two and she's four" and I loved it once I heard it and I was like yeah, that has to be in there. It was really special for us because it was a true story. It was about our parent's divorce and there's a little bit of poetic license in there. We were 16 and 19, not 2 and 4 but I think the sentiment is there. It was kind of from my mother's perspective. I was the last one at home. Martie was off to college and my other sister was off to college and I got to see my mom -- I had to see my mom go through everything that she went through so it was very touching for me and I think the song kind of captures all that.

WILLIE: Another hit single in the states from the album is Tonight The Heartache's on me. Obviously an album cut for us over here. Again, it's just one of these great songs to hear on the radio.

NATALIE: Yeah, I think our album has a lot of different elements and that's the hardcore true country. I think a lot of Texas country comes from that song. I'm a sucker for a shuffle so I just love that song. Just old smoky barroom lyrics. It's just so Texas.

WILLIE: I always look at songwriting credits on albums, particularly if it's someone I know, and you got a Radney Foster song on here. One he co-wrote with George Dukas. I know Radney Foster was involved with some of the product you put out prior to the launch of the band with Natalie in it. Radney actually is a bit of an Anglophile. He lived in London for a while and he told me once he used to busk outside Lestre Square by the cinemas and had pennies thrown in his hand.

MARTIE: We're very fond of Radney. Hes' a fellow Texan and he actually, on one of our independent albums, he wrote a song specifically for us and we always thought that was so cool cause he was very famous and we thought that's really neat that he knows about the Dixie Chicks down here in Dallas Texas. And then this album -- Wide Open Spaces -- we got a demo from him of several songs and that song just stood out. We wanted a positive love song and that's definitely one.

WILLIE: The reason I want to go through the album chronologically is cause the one at the end needs to be at the end. We all know that. That's why you sequenced it that way. You girls like to rock. There ain't no question about you girls liking to rock so I thought if were going to talk about Let 'Er Rip I think we have to head over to Natalie one more time.

NATALIE: You know that's interesting that you put the microphone in my face cause that's another one that I had to be the advocate for on the record. It's not a shuffle but it's a jitterbug tune and it's so Texas to me. I loved how it came in with the slow part and they thought about taking off the intro and I said you can't take off the intro. That makes the whole song when it finally kicks in. I think Emily took the most convincing on that but I compromised on another song so we do that occasionally. We have to trust each other. We can't just think that we know everything on our own. Let 'Er Rip is one that all the fans are holding up signs for in the audience. It's actually what we wanted to be the fifth single but the label wanted Tonight The Heartache's on Me so that was fine with us. We liked both the songs but Let 'Er Rip is probably one of the more rocking tunes in the show off this first album.

WILLIE: What about these t-shirts we've heard about?

MARTIE: Which ones would those be? (Laughing)

WILLIE: Don't you have Chick Power t-shirts?

MARTIE: Not Chick power. But Chicks Rock and Chicks Rule and they sell like hotcakes. I love seeing all these little girls -- we have a lot of little girl fans -- and they'll be running around in their Chicks Rule t-shirts. It was all just in fun to have a little babydoll style T-shirt cause that's what the young girls are wearing. We take pride in our merchandise. We don't sell 50-50 t-shirts. We sell 100% cotton and our cost is usually a little higher on the stuff that we sell but we think its worth it. We would rather buy quality merchandise.

WILLIE: You've got this huge fan base now. You don't go around and just do shows but you've got a big merchandising operation. It's a big number. Your bio describes you as the real deal not only I guess in your performance but the entire operation. This is no fly by night thing that's happening here.

MARTIE: Well, we someday maybe want to have a clothing line. We're all very into fashion and into the way we dress and we think our fans are too so we take pride in our merchandise. We try to come up with hip cool styles that they want to wear.

EMILY: I think you have to have a business head about you in this music business. We've had ten years to make mistakes and learn and figure out what's it all about. I think a lot of people don't pay attention to the details and that's where they make their mistakes because it's -- the more hands on you can be the more in control of your own career you are. And it's not just about the music. That's the most important thing but you also have to pay attention to what's going on around you.

WILLIE: It's an important point to make. Because a lot of other young bands that come on the scene -- we have them over here -- with a lot of boy bands and some young girl bands and a lot of new singers. They just suddenly arrive and they haven't gone out and paid their dues and learn how to operate the business. You've really done it the long way and the hard way.

EMILY: Well we joke about the fact that when we were...before we got on the label we used to have to do all the jobs within the band. Martie was the road manager, Natalie did the accounting and I was the tax girl. We've been in all those shoes and we've filled all those positions so we know what the job is. We didn't do a very good job of it at the time but at least we know what the job entailed so we respect our employees because we know how hard it is.

WILLIE: I better ask the other two. If you were the tax lady you're not going to be like Willie Nelson and have the IRS come after you.

MARTIE: Actually the tax lady is the only one of the three of us that's ever been audited. (Laughter) And it was very hard to convince the auditor that our costumes should be able to be written off. So she showed up at the door one day in one of our spangled western outfits that we used to wear and she asked the auditor if she would wear that to the grocery store.

EMILY: I don't think she won that battle.

WILLIE: What about the song Once You've Loved Somebody from Wide Open Spaces.

MARTIE: That was probably one of the first songs we gathered for the album and the label was really gung ho about that song and thought 'that's going to be the first single or the second single, the first ballad out.' And we always -- we felt like maybe that was the most commercial song in their minds. That's why they wanted to put it out. But it wasn't the most heartfelt song for us. That's probably our least favorite on the album but I do think it showcases Natalie's voice and her range and her power. Her ability to wail. So definitely give it a listen. But it wasn't one we ended up releasing as a single.

WILLIE: The John David Souther song I'll Take Care Of You.

EMILY: That was an early favorite as well. We had to put that on the first half. We recorded kind of in two different halves. Once again that was just a great harmony potential song. It really allowed us to do the dobro and the fiddle. It's just really tender and it said a lot to us. We had a lot of crowd reaction to that one. One of the benefits of being a touring group at the time before we went out and did the album was touring and getting response from the audience and figuring out what they liked and that was one of the crowd favorites.

WILLIE: You've got a Maria McKee song on this album and this song I'm definitely going to come to Natalie.

NATALIE: Yeah, once again I was a huge Maria McKee fan and brought that song to the table. I like the rawness of it and sort of pushing the envelope lyrics. They're not good old boy country lyrics. They strike a nerve with some people. We like to call it our only gospel song in the set (Laughter). On stage I just like expressing that sort of anger. It just gets you on such an adrenaline high on the stage and that one I just love to belt and just get out a lot of emotion on that song. I think it's a great song.

MARTIE: Yeah, so she doesn't have to yell at us. (Laughing)

NATALIE: That's right.

WILLIE: I know you like a rip roaring end to whatever you do and you've got this great Bonnie Raitt song to finish things off the album.

MARTIE: Actually that's another one Natalie brought to the group. And I don't think she imagined -- you know she came from a more R&B and rock influence. So when she joined the band I think one of her fears might have been that we were going to try to turn her into a bluegrass singer or something and really we didn't want to do that. Her strength was her voice and her influences and that song was one that she had loved for years and Emily and I were really ready to branch out for once and play a song like that. It gives us an opportunity to jam on our instruments. Emily plays awesome dobro on that song and I get to wail on the fiddle. So that's I think a fun tune. We used to close our shows with that for a long time because it really gets the audience excited. And a couple radio stations -- not a couple, maybe more than a couple -- in the states that was one that they picked up off the album and would play on the air, it not being a single, because it's so fun and addictive and shows a different side to us.

NATALIE: And it was also cool because that's the only song on the album that was recorded totally live. We just all had a little bit of wine and went into the studio and recorded that song straight to track so that's really cool for us creatively to branch out and do something like that. Its not something that people do very often.

WILLIE: In conclusion can I just ask you about the track you contributed to the Tribute To Tradition album. You did the old Tammy Wynette song Stand By Your Man.

EMILY: I love that album so much. I listen to that all the time. I love our cut too. But I'm so glad that Sony put this project together and having everything come together this year with Tammy Wynettes death and all the tributes and everything. They also dedicated the album to her. I love going back and paying -- (To Martie and Natalie) what are you...they're laughing at me

MARTIE: (in background) You're smacking.

[note] Emily's "smacking" occurred while she was eating cereal and berries.

EMILY: I'm sorry...paying homage to the people who came before us. And she opened a lot of doors for women and just to be able to sing that song is an honor. We hope we did it justice.

WILLIE: My thank you for taking time to join us. Thank you to Emily, to Natalie and to Martie. Thanks.

MARTIE: Thank you for having us.

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