Natalie Maines: A Passion for Music and Equality
Natalie Maines hates politics.
That’s a little surprising to hear from the erstwhile Dixie Chicks front woman, who has never been shy about speaking out on political matters. But she clarifies that it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about the issues.
“I hate politics as a business, but I am definitely drawn to social causes,” she says. And her passion for social causes informs her first solo album, Mother, which hits stores today.
The title track, a cover of the 1979 Pink Floyd classic, was first released on West of Memphis: Voices for Justice, the soundtrack to the 2012 documentary West of Memphis, about three young Arkansas men who were convicted, on flimsy evidence, of killing three 8-year-old boys in the 1990s. The men, who became known as the West Memphis Three, strongly proclaimed their innocence, and Maines was one of many who joined in efforts to free them. A plea deal finally resulted in their release from prison in 2011.
Another track, “Free Life,” is also connected to the West Memphis case. Maines performed the Dan Wilson composition at a rally for the West Memphis Three, and it became a favorite of the wife of one of the men.
The album’s 10 tracks are a mix of covers and originals. Besides “Mother” and “Free Life,” the covers include “Without You,” which Eddie Vedder performed on his Ukelele Songs album, and Jeff Buckley’s “Lover You Should Have Come Over.” Among the originals are “Come Cryin’ to Me,” which Maines wrote with Dixie Chicks cohorts Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, plus Gary Louris from the Jayhawks. The song had been intended for the 2006 Dixie Chicks release Taking the Long Way but was eventually rejected by the group as too rock-oriented for the album.
Mother has been characterized as more in the vein of rock and roll than the country sound associated with the Chicks. Maines notes that there’s a very singer-songwriter feel to the album as well, and while she says she set about making a recording very different from her Dixie Chicks work, it wasn’t something she had to think about. She chose the songs more than anything for the emotions they aroused in her. “It just feels very natural,” she says.
She had already started recording the album, produced by Maines and her friend Ben Harper at his Los Angeles studio, when she heard Roger Waters perform “Mother” in concert. “It just hit me that I’ve got to do that song,” she says. “Lover You Should Have Come Over” reminded her of the early days of her relationship with her husband, actor Adrian Pasdar. The Vedder song wound up on her album because she loved Ukelele Songs and listened to it daily for a while. On what she hopes listeners will take away from Mother, she says, “I just hope they all really enjoy it.”
Maines may tour in support of the album, and she has some appearances scheduled this summer with the Dixie Chicks, who haven’t recorded together in a few years. They’ll be part of an all-star concert May 16 in Austin, benefiting PBS station KLRU, home of the Austin City Limits music show. They also will appear at some festivals in Canada later this summer. “We’ve done shows here and there together over the years,” says Maines. She doesn’t expect they’ll be in the recording studio together in the near future, however; for one thing, with Maines living in Los Angeles and Maguire and Robison in Texas, it makes the logistics a bit challenging.
Maines recently said she has no regrets about her criticism of George W. Bush and the Iraq war, which resulted in a huge backlash from some of the Chicks’ more conservative fans. Until then, Maines says, she hadn’t seen the country-music world as particularly conservative, but her statements were met with the type of right-wing reaction one might associate with the ultraconservative stereotype. “I think it’s about the fan base,” she says now.
Neither that nor her distaste for the political process has put her off speaking her mind. Causes important to her include global poverty relief, gun regulations, mental health, and prison reform. And, most definitely, LGBT rights, and she finds one of this cause’s best advocates to be a provocative but progressive talk-show host. “I’m a big listener of Howard Stern,” she says. “He gives the best pro-gay rant I’ve ever heard.”
She’s encouraged by recent advances on marriage equality and other LGBT concerns. “The tide is turning quickly,” she says, adding that it’s being helped by people coming out earlier in life than ever. One simple statement seems to sum up her political consciousness: “Equality is important to me.”
Mother, released by Columbia Records, is in stores today. Find more info here, and watch a video of “Free Life” below.