When Amanda Shires first appeared on Walking the Floor, she was a new mother, splitting her time between solo gigs, an ongoing tour with Jason Isbell and her responsibilities as a parent. She returns to the show for a second interview this week. Much has changed during the two years that separate My Own Piece of Land from To the Sunset, with Shires — now a Grammy-winning musician, as well as a graduate of the masters poetry program at Sewanee — flexing hew newly-sharpened writing chops on the latter release.
From a midair songwriting powwow with John Prine to her childhood fiddle lessons from Texas Playboy Frankie McWhorter, Shires takes podcast host Chris Shiflett through the Americana milestones that have led to this year’s To the Sunset. Here are five things we learned from Shires’ interview.
John Prine gives great touring advice.
“Always travel with your own condiments,” says Shires, rattling off some touring advice dispensed by longtime road warrior (and frequent tourmate) John Prine. “Be yourself onstage. Be yourself offstage. Be yourself when you write songs.”
John Prine also writes great songs. . .even in mid-air.
While flying to a show with Prine, Shires found herself engaged in an impromptu songwriting session with the country legend. “I was working on my thesis, because it was coming up on ‘defending thesis time,'” remembers Shires, who’d lugged a pile of schoolbooks onto the flight. Deep into the writing process of The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine asked Shires if she’d brought along a rhyming dictionary. She hadn’t, but the two nevertheless began talking about the rhyming process, which spiraled into a cowriting session at 45,000 feet.
When it came time to write To the Sunset, Shires headed to the closet.
Being a parent to a three-year-old daughter is wonderful … but it doesn’t always provide an artist with free time to create. “With Mercy around, it’s super awesome, but any time I try to sit down and play an instrument, suddenly it’s a family jam, and she’s playing the tuba,” Shires explains. “So that happens, and then out comes the crayons, and everything else that happens. I wasn’t getting anything done. I told Jason I was gonna have to move into the closet. And he said ‘Cool.'” Sandwiching herself into the couple’s wardrobe, Shires found a space where she could create, try out new ideas and even tape songwriting ideas onto the walls. To the Sunset owes much of its existence to that clothes-filled room.
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Although not expressly political, To the Sunset was inspired by today’s social climate, including the modern female empowerment movement.
Shires credits current events with inspiring several tracks on her new album. “‘Take on the Dark’ — that’s definitely a product of dark times,” she says. “‘Eve’s Daughter’ — that’s like, ‘Make way, women are cool.’ I feel like it’s my responsibility to try and do at least a little bit for my own daughter … It’s just really cool that there are a lot of people speakers right now. Not just musicians. That’s one benefit we have to this shit-ass presidency.”
She’s the brains behind some of Jason Isbell’s best gear.
“I buy him guitars, she says, rattling off a list of instruments, pedals and amps — including a Tone King, a Klon Centaur and a Vibrolux — that she’s added to his rig over the years. She then makes a FaceTime call to Isbell, who takes a break from his daily workout and talks to them about his approach to Sunset‘s guitar work.