Earlier this year, Miranda Lambert took home her fifth consecutive trophy as the Country Music Association’s “Female Vocalist of the Year.” In addition, the acclaimed country artist earned top CMA honors in the categories of “Single of the Year” (for “Automatic”) and “Album of the Year” (for Platinum). Still, like her husband, Blake Shelton, Lambert has maintained a down-to-earth persona even as country music fans have blessed her with superstardom. Below, the 31-year-old artist talks about her path in music thus far. Be sure to check out the special section, following the interview, wherein she discusses her longstanding preference Gibson guitars.
You began writing songs in your late teens, at the same time you picked up the guitar. Did you find you had a facility for it, right away?
I think so. I was 17 when I started writing. My Dad is a singer-songwriter, and he plays guitar. I felt I got it from him. I just loved it. I started playing guitar, and wrote my first song, and it felt like the first thing that had ever come naturally to me. It was something I didn’t have to work really hard at, whereas I had to work hard at everything else I had done. I think it’s maybe something you’re either born with, or you’re not.
You have a great talent for storytelling and turns of phrase. Do you know where that talent comes from?
I have no idea. I feel like it’s God-given, for sure. I think you can hone your skill, but I also think you’re born with it. I’m always working to be a better songwriter and musician and singer, but it’s truly something I had in my blood.
Has being married made it easier or more difficult to write “relationship” songs?
I think it’s made it easier. I no longer write the “cheatin’, burn your house down” songs as much as I once did. It’s great being married to another artist. We bounce ideas off one another and give one another advice, and each of us knows what the other is going through.
One of your recent songs, “Priscilla,” addresses the craziness of tabloid celebrity. That must have been a fun song to write.
It was. It’s something we’re going through—something that’s happening at this moment. Recording a song like “Priscilla”—what it talks about—is such a great way to address that. Of course Blake and I are definitely not Elvis and Priscilla. But the things that song had to say really caught my ear. It was perfect for where we are in our lives right now.
Is all the notoriety distracting? Does it interfere with work?
Everything starts and ends with music. The celebrity and tabloid stuff strays away from that and turns you into a caricature sometimes. It becomes about everything but the music. Blake and I both have to bring it back around to what’s important. Without the music, we don’t have anything.
Is there anyone who you’ve looked to as a model for how to forge a career?
There have been lots of people I’ve looked to for that. It’s sort of like you take little parts from them and try to learn and apply them to your own life. One strong female artist I look up to is Beyonce. She handles herself well and has such class. As far as building an empire goes—and reinventing yourself and being true to yourself—I would say Reba McIntyre and Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are people I look up to most.
Are there two or three songs you’ve written that you’re especially proud of?
“Dead Flowers” is a definite favorite. “Love Looking for You” is another one. Neither was a huge hit, but from a songwriting perspective I’m proud of both of those. “Love Looking for You” was one of the early ones. It took me a while to understand what I was saying with that song. Writing something as a young kid, sometimes you go back and hear it from a different angle from how you heard it when you wrote it. A song you wrote when you were young can surprise you when you’re older.
It’s been a little over ten years you appeared on Nashville Star, which effectively launched your career. Does it feel like that much time has passed?
It does, but in a good way. I feel like I’ve had a great ten years, and I’ve learned so much and I’ve done so much. And I still feel like I have a lot ahead of me as well.
[ Lambert has always been effusive in her love for Gibson guitars—employing a variety of models for studio work, live performance and for songwriting. In 2010 she elaborated on her longstanding preference for Gibson acoustics and electrics. ]
What guitars do you play?
I’ve always played Gibson acoustics—Hummingbirds, Sheryl Crow models, and Songwriter Deluxes. For electrics, I played Epiphone Wildkats for a long time, but last year Gibson built me two beautiful new electric guitars—a pink Gibson 339, and a black Les Paul Junior with a custom purple pick guard and truss rod cover.
What is it about each model, acoustic and electric, that appeals to you?
Gibson acoustics have the most beautiful sound of any acoustic I’ve ever played, and they also feel great in my hands. Now that I’ve developed a relationship with the custom shop, it’s great to have things that are unique to me, as far as colors and models go.
Were there other guitars you played on the Revolution album?
Gibson loaned me a J-45 that I took into the studio. I used it through tracking and it sounded amazing. There were various other guitars that our players used, but the J-45 was my main “go-to” guitar throughout Revolution.
Do you have a couple of preferred guitars for live performance?
I play a Black Hummingbird and my custom pink Songwriter acoustic. For electrics, I use the 339 and the Les Paul Junior. There’s also a Songwriter Deluxe that I’ve had for about five years, and I keep that one on the bus and use it for acoustic gigs. It’s getting a better sound as it ages. I love the Les Paul Junior, but the 339 is probably my preferred electric. It’s really versatile.
Do you have a go-to guitar for songwriting?
I have a Gibson Hummingbird that Merle Haggard signed a few years ago. I took it off the road and I keep it in my house. I use it when I write, but I’m scared sometimes because it’s so sacred to me. I don’t want to risk rubbing off the signature.