It’s a warm spring evening in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, and nothing is happening whatsoever.
OK, that’s not exactly true. The local community college just hired a new women’s basketball coach (Go, Lady Aggies!). A local man died after crashing his Ford F-150 into a freight train. The biggest news in town is still the county’s liquor-by-the-drink law, passed several weeks ago by popular vote, which makes it legal for bars to sell shots and mixed drinks in addition to beer. (Not that the one bar in town has taken advantage of it.) But mostly, life in Tishomingo is just meandering along as usual. Which is exactly how Miranda Lambert likes it.
“Well, hi there,” Lambert says, shortly after parking her black Ford F-250 at the town’s busiest intersection (one of three with stop lights). “So this is downtown.”
When Lambert isn’t touring sold-out arenas or racking up awards (or promoting her new album, the confidently titled Platinum), Tishomingo is where she can usually be found – a sleepy southern Oklahoman home to roughly 3,000 people. (“Three thousand one hundred,” Lambert says.) She moved here from Nashville in 2006 to be closer to her then-boyfriend, now-husband – fellow country singer and The Voice star Blake Shelton – but at this point, she’s practically the mayor. She has a little shop downtown and a bed-and-breakfast opening soon, plus four plots of land comprising a few thousand acres where Lambert and Shelton keep an ever-growing barnyard menagerie. “Some people are scared to visit, because it’s muddy and there’s animal poop,” she says.
But it’s not like you’re, like, castrating bulls or anything, right? Lambert laughs. “That’s not really an everyday thing,” she says. A pause. “We could if you want to.”
Right now we’re on our way to what Lambert, 30, calls her “creek house,” a homey wood cabin where she often hangs with family and friends. It’s a few miles outside of town, down a dirt road that leads to a smaller dirt road. In the front yard there’s a barrel overflowing with beer bottles (“It’s supposed to be a burn pile, but nobody ever burns it”), and inside are half a dozen mounted buck heads draped in Mardi Gras beads and a life-size statue of Mr. Jack Daniel. Lambert watches out the window as a pair of armadillos fight in the backyard, flinging themselves at each other like gladiators. “I think it’s rutting season,” she says nonchalantly.
Lambert has built an extremely successful career out of being a sweet, fun-loving Texas girl who might occasionally point a shotgun at you. Her most famous songs range from pistol-packing revenge jams (like “Kerosene” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) to tender, nostalgic ballads (like “The House That Built Me”), but what they have in common is a shortage of pretension and a surplus of lived-in authenticity. “I’m a country girl at heart,” she says. “It’s great to be on the cover of magazines; after four hours of glam, everybody looks great. But it’s not who I am every day.”
Although she’s logged four platinum albums and as much TV time as a lot of pop stars, she prefers to pass her days ankle-deep in horse shit in a down-home fantasy of her own creation. It’s an almost clichéd version of the perfect country life – made considerably more charming by the fact that it actually seems to be true.
Lambert’s closest peers are country artists like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, but she almost has more in common with another Texas girl, Beyoncé Knowles. They’re both married to husbands who are arguably more famous, yet each seems to wield the power in the relationship. (Shelton has a whole song about this: It’s called “Doin’ What She Likes.”) Both Lambert and Knowles sing feminist-friendly songs about empowerment (shotguns aside, it’s not a far walk from Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” to Lambert’s “Gunpowder & Lead”). And they both oversee empires that reach far beyond music (in Lambert’s case, a shoe line, a winery and a nonprofit for rescue dogs called MuttNation Foundation).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lambert is a gigantic Beyoncé fan, having seen her in concert five times and calling herself “a little bit of a stalker.” “She’s just a girl from Houston, and she worked her butt off to get where she is,” Lambert says. “And she seems involved in every decision. She’s not just being carted around on her chariot – she’s driving it.”
Lambert, dressed in a red top, tight jeans and broken-in boots, goes to make a cocktail while her mom, Bev, busies herself with the snack tray – chips and dip, a handmade cheese ball, deviled eggs. She and Lambert’s dad, Rick, who manage Miranda’s tour merch and fan club, live three hours away, but they visit a lot; Bev sometimes takes care of the dogs when Lambert is traveling, and Rick likes to hunt deer on the land. Lambert hunts too – she just went turkey hunting the other day – but to hear Shelton tell it, this may be more about just being outdoors than actually shooting animals. “I’m constantly having to tell her, ‘Shh! Get down!'” he says with a laugh. “Mostly she’s on Twitter or reading books on her iPad.”
Drink in hand, Lambert heads out to the patio, which overlooks a little trickle of a stream called Pennington Creek. “Blake and I tried to float this once,” she says. “It took six hours.” Supposedly there are fish in it – bass and crappie – but after casting her rod and reel a few times, Lambert gets no bites. “We need live bait,” she says, frowning. One of her friends jokes that she should open a bait shop.
Lambert talks a mile a minute and loves telling stories, especially when her mom is around to egg her on. Often these are about how country Lambert’s family is: “Like how Dad will try to get his duck decoys out of the water because duck season’s over and he’ll get his truck stuck in the lake,” she says. “Or how at our house in L.A. there was a leak in the fridge and they had to replace the floor, so our huge, industrial-size stainless-steel refrigerator is now in the dining room. It’s not super-white-trash or anything,” she says.
“Just a little bit redneck. Which I’m totally fine with.”
A few minutes later, Lambert and Bev are sitting at the picnic table, laughing about the time in Switzerland when Bev got stuck on an Alp and wanted a helicopter to come rescue her. All of a sudden, Lambert starts staring at her mom’s hand. There’s something yellow and gooey clinging to her diamond ring. Lambert leans in for a closer look.
“Is that deviled egg?” she says, mortified. Her mom busts out laughing.
Lambert shakes her head. “I told you,” she says. “Redneck follows us around.”
Early the next morning, Lambert is back downtown to take me on a guided tour of Tishomingo. “It’ll take about five minutes,” she jokes. “This is pretty much it.” There’s the library, the Sonic, a coffee shop called Latté Da. In the window of Houser Furniture (“City Style at Small Town Prices”), there’s a handwritten note on a sheet of green poster board inviting customers to come in and browse, with a phone number below in case you want to buy anything. “There’s no crime here,” Lambert says. “I never even lock my car.”
We pop into Lambert’s boutique, a clothing-and-souvenir store called the Pink Pistol. (Rated the number-one attraction in Tishomingo on TripAdvisor!) (Out of two.) The vibe is somewhere between cowgirl-chic and a Branson gift shop: racks of designer cutoffs and sequined tops; Pink Pistol–branded koozies and trucker hats; lip balm and scented candles and kitchen gadgets; and a book called Don’t Squat With Your Spurs On: A Cowboy’s Guide to Life. Shelton says Lambert has almost single-handedly turned Tishomingo around. “Since she put in that store, there’s businesses moving in, Main Street’s come back to life,” he says. “I’m just a guy who drives to the gas station like, ‘Golly, look at all the cars!'”
Lambert says that before she opened the store, in 2012, she wasn’t completely sold on Tishomingo: “When I first moved here, I was 23. I only knew one person. I didn’t have anybody. But when I opened the store, I feel like I kind of put down roots. Now I have my little thing, and all the girls are my friends.”
“The girls” are Lambert’s nine employees, all of them women. Sometimes she’ll take them on a field trip for some team bonding: They call them “Randatory Fun Days.” (“I didn’t coin that,” she says. “It’d be really corny if I did.”) A few months ago, Lambert rented a party bus and drove all of them to Dallas to do some “inspiration shopping”; before that, they took a class to get their concealed-handgun permits. “We’re planning another one right now – maybe to a horse track,” Lambert says. “We found a bunch of quarters in our gumball machine, and I was like, ‘Save it – that’s beer money!'”
After guzzling a quick root beer from the soda fountain, we head across the street to the Ladysmith, the eight-room bed-and-breakfast Lambert is planning to open this summer, next to Guerrero’s Mexican Restaurant. (“I wish they’d change the font on their sign,” Lambert says. “It looks so … Mexican restaurant.”) She bought the 100-year-old building a couple of years ago, and she and her contractor have been fixing it up. The interior is all old barn wood and reclaimed tin ceilings, decorated with fixtures and furniture she’s acquired on countless trips to her favorite Texas antique fair. There’s also a bar with a balcony overlooking Main Street. “We’re probably gonna close it and lock it at midnight, though,” she says. “We don’t need anybody overboard.”
The hotel is named after her Smith & Wesson Ladysmith, a .38 revolver with a hot-pink grip. (It’s the one Lambert carries, and also the one she named her store after.) At first she was hesitant to name another business after a firearm: “I wanted to be a little more classy and upscale,” she says. “But we were going through names and going through names, and I couldn’t think of anything else. And anyway, it just sounded awesome.” She and Shelton both keep pistols by their bed: “One night, we jumped out of bed with them, like, ‘Someone’s breaking in!'” It turned out to be their new ice machine.
Sometimes, as with the gun motif, Lambert’s life can seem like an extended piece of cross-promotion for her brand – but a more generous interpretation is that she’s just singing what she lives. That’s certainly true in the case of her favorite truck, a cherry-red 1955 Chevy Stepside, which we’re on our way to get now. Its name is Tammy, because there was a Tammy Wynette tape inside when Lambert got it. She sings about it on her latest single, “Automatic,” and named her winery after it, too (Red 55). Springtime is about the only time she can drive it: “There’s no AC, the wipers don’t work, and the inside-door handles fell off,” she says with pride. “Blake’s never driven it.” She grins. “I don’t think he knows how.”
“We’ll just drive around the back roads,” she says. “I don’t trust myself in town – sometimes I stall out on hills.” Lambert turns the key and Tammy sputters to life, and she jams the three-on-the-tree transmission into gear. This is the truck she learned to drive stick on, back in tiny Lindale, Texas, about 80 miles east of Dallas (motto: “Good Country Living”). Her dad bought it for her when she was 17, a full three years after she first spotted it in the parking lot of a feed store – which says something about both Miranda’s taste and Rick’s devotion as a dad. An ex-homicide-and-narcotics cop who used to work undercover for the Dallas Police Department, Rick also sang in a country band, which doubled as a convenient way to meet drug dealers. “My dad’s been shot twice,” Lambert says. “But one of them was hunting, so that didn’t count. And the other time his gun misfired.”
After Miranda was born, Rick and Bev, a former college cheerleader who had worked as an aerobics instructor, moved to a small town in North Texas and opened a mom-and-pop detective agency called Lambert & Lambert. “They’re both kind of entrepreneurs,” Lambert says. “I don’t know if it’s losing everything, or just who they are. But I definitely got that gene.”
When Lambert says “losing everything,” she’s not exaggerating. When she was six, her parents stopped getting calls for work, and they had to move in with Bev’s brother. Her mom bought her clothes at Goodwill, or else made them herself. Her dad started hanging out at the feed store and learned how to subsistence-farm, and they grew vegetables (squash, cabbage, onions) and started raising livestock (chickens, goats, pigs). Bev stir-fried some of their rabbits for dinner, and Rick sold the rest for five bucks each. When times were really tough, Lambert and her dad would lie on the floor in his gun room and listen to sad country songs in the dark.
Then salvation arrived, in the form of Bill Clinton’s libido. In 1997, Lambert’s parents got a call from the attorneys for Paula Jones, who wanted them to investigate Clinton for Jones’ sexual-harassment case. The job got the family back on their feet, but investigating the leader of the free world came with some risks. Lambert remembers seeing black helicopters overhead – which sounds crazy, but was surely a memorable sight in little Lindale, Texas. “It was really dangerous,” Lambert says of her parents’ work. “And yet my mom would spend the day taking pictures of somebody cheating – it could have been the president – and then we’d come home and she’d have cookies and milk.”
Through it all, Lambert’s parents tried to keep Miranda and her little brother Luke in on the fun. Sometimes the kids would tag along on stakeouts, lying down in the back of the family’s Suburban with a coloring book. Other times Rick and Bev would get booked on a job in Tennessee or Arkansas, and take the kids along to swim in the motel pool.
Most of their work was custody and divorce cases, and sometimes they would take in victims of abuse. Lambert remembers her dad once going in the middle of the night to rescue a girl her age and her mother from one town over. They lived in Miranda’s room for two months. By then Lambert was 13 or 14, and she would often sit with these women while they cried at the kitchen table. “I’d see how mad my dad got when they would go back,” she says. “Those things kind of taught me to be a strong woman.” She would also listen to her parents talk about work over dinner – who was drinking, who was cheating, who shot whom. “When I look back on those years,” Rick once told Texas Monthly, “I realize Miranda was getting a clinic in how to write a country song.”
“Want to see some goats?” Lambert asks. “There’s a baby. …”
A baby goat is tough to turn down, so we head out to her friend Mel’s house. “Mel’s my farm girl,” Lambert says. “She rolls her own cigarettes, and she can lift two 50-pound feed sacks at once. She’s a hoss.” When we get there, Mel is waiting out front in muddy jeans and a Lone Star Beer shirt, leaning against a fence. “Me and her built this goat fence ourselves,” Lambert says. “We dug all those T-post holes with a post-hole digger – she did three, I did three, she did three, I did three. Oh, Lord! It took all day.”
Lambert ambles over to the baby goat’s pen, bypassing the goats Jesus, Joseph and Martin Luther King. (Says Lambert, “That’s the black goat.”) “Come here, baby goat!” she says. “Come here! There he is. Little buddy.” She picks him up and nuzzles him with her nose. “Nothing’s cuter than a baby goat – I don’t care who you are.”
Lambert bought this house for Mel to stay in, because it’s nearby her place with Shelton, and Mel takes care of their animals when they’re not around. They’ve got chickens, donkeys, pigs, goats, Black Angus cattle. They have six dogs – all strays Lambert has picked up or adopted from shelters – between the house and the farm, and five barn cats. (“You gotta have barn cats.”) Lambert also has three horses: an American Paint, a Welsh cob, and a Gypsy Vanner that Shelton gave her for her birthday. Lambert and Mel have been taking English-riding lessons together, and they’re planning to compete in Lambert’s first horse show in Tulsa in a few weeks. “We’re taking our bus,” Lambert says. “That’s one of the perks of being a singer – I don’t go to a fair without a bus.” (She also has three mini-horses, including one named Sugar Pie.)
We leave the goats and rattle out to a town called Milburn, where Lambert’s farm is. (It’s called Flying Pistols, because, of course.) “It’s a tiny little town,” she says. “Like literally, it’s a post office and a gas station.” We crest a hill and come upon a bend in the road with maybe a dozen houses. “This is it – the big town of Milburn,” she says, cruising through. “Annnnd … there it was.”
Back when she and Shelton were dating, Lambert bought 700 acres here, one ZIP code over from Shelton’s place. “I had a really good feeling about Blake,” she says, “but I wasn’t ready to move in with him. I kind of just wanted my own thing. I always wanted property of my own.” She fixed up the old farmhouse and got some rescue dogs, and although they live at Shelton’s place now, they kept this one for guests. They also have a house in Nashville, where they work, and rent one in L.A., where The Voice films – “but we live here,” Lambert says. “This is our home. This is where we’ll be rockin’ in a rockin’ chair when we’re 85.”
Lambert and Shelton got married three years ago. “My only regret is that I was so busy saying hi to everybody at the wedding that I never got a proper buzz,” she says. They spent three days honeymooning at Shelton’s ranch, fishing for bass, then three days in Cancún at Reba McEntire’s house. And then Shelton went back to The Voice and Lambert went back on tour.
At the time, The Voice had been on the air for less than a month, and wasn’t yet the smash it is now. She was wholly unprepared for what came next. “It was pretty instantaneous,” she says. “One day we were country singers, and the next we’re on the front of the tabloids.”
Nowadays it seems like every week they’re having an affair, getting divorced or having a baby. “I’m, like, really magical,” Lambert jokes. “I’ve been pregnant for two and a half years.”
Lambert credits The Voice with boosting both her career and Shelton’s into the mainstream: “It put him on a whole new level, and I kind of got up there too, by marriage.” But it’s not always easy, having a spouse who does the same thing as you, only more famously.
There’s a song on her new album called “Priscilla,” an imagined girl-talk session with Priscilla Presley about what it’s like to be a “permanent accessory, when everybody wants your man.” At least one line of the song comes straight from real life: “Didn’t know I was his bodyguard.”
“We were in New York City,” Lambert recalls, “and we were gonna walk to the Walgreens to get some lip gloss or whatever. And we walked around the corner and straight into the holding area of Letterman. And it was a mob. There were cameras, TMZ. And it just hit me: ‘We’re by ourselves. One of us has to be an asshole right now.’ I was wearing my work-out clothes and no makeup, so I was like, ‘Gotta go, guys, gotta get him to an interview. Make a hole!’ My tour manager told me, ‘You were using all my lines!'”
When they’re in Tishomingo, though, things are different. They’re usually up at 7:30 or 8 a.m. to feed the dogs, a cup of Folgers Country Roast in hand. Lambert spends her day at the shop, hanging with the girls, or across the street talking to her contractor, while Shelton plants corn or clears brush or whatever else he does on his tractor. Sometimes they’ll order pizza, or get BBQ Baked Potatoes from the Rockin Rib. Usually they will cook: Shelton loves her hamburger steak with mushroom gravy and peanut-butter pie, and Lambert loves when he fires up the grill. In the evenings the couple will go backroading or sit on the porch with a cooler full of cocktails, and a big weekend is taking the pontoon boat out on Lake Texoma, or maybe hitting the Walmart in Durant. “He likes when I cook him a big country breakfast on Sundays, or when he’s on the tractor and I bring him some sweet tea,” she says. “I know that sounds like a Kenny Chesney song. But it’s real.
“Blake likes when I cook him a big country breakfast on Sundays, or when he’s on the tractor and I bring him some sweet tea.”
“We can be really sarcastic with each other, but we know when to really be sweet too,” she says. “We really don’t fight much at all – he’s very laid-back, and he’d rather not fight than fight. I’m definitely the more irritable one. But when it’s time to call me on my shit, he will. Like, ‘Are you really about to get into a bar fight right now? Aren’t you too old for that?'”
Lambert isn’t speaking figuratively here. “The last two scuffles I’ve seen her get into were in the same bar in Nashville,” Shelton says. “People always try to pop off or call her bluff at bars. One of them, I don’t want to say the guy’s name, but he’s the lead singer of a very popular rock band. His initials are C.K.”
It soon becomes apparent that Shelton is talking about a 2010 incident with Chad Kroeger of Nickelback. “He tried to get her to drink some moonshine, and she said no,” Shelton says. “He was drunk, and I can’t remember what he said to her, but she grabbed that jar out of his hand and threw it on him. So then me and him ended up getting into it. And then at the same bar a few months ago, somebody called her booking agent an asshole. You call out anybody in Miranda’s circle, and she’s like a guard dog. She’ll knock shit over – and she did. Trying to get across a bunch of people, cussing and swinging. I’m holding her back, like, ‘But he is an asshole!'”
A week later, Lambert is in L.A., at the office of one of her publicists, whom she shares with Scarlett Johansson. A few days earlier, she was nominated for six CMT Awards, the most of any artist, despite not having released an album since 2011. This came on the heels of a weekend getting drunk at the Kentucky Derby with her mom and four girlfriends, an annual trip. “We just drink a lot and bet on the horses,” she says. “I think I broke even – I always bet on a female jockey, Rosie, and she came through for me pretty good. Girl power.”
Lambert used to come to L.A. a lot more while The Voice was in production, but now that Shelton usually works Mondays through Wednesdays, she often stays at home. “When I’m here, he’s working all day anyway, so I never get to see him,” she says. “I’m waiting around while he does red carpet. It was funny – yesterday my sister-in-law said, ‘If I wanted to hang out in a trailer all day, I’d have just stayed in Oklahoma!'”
Lambert’s sister-in-law is visiting from Oklahoma too; they have two kids, and they’ve never been to The Voice, so Lambert and Shelton flew them out for a few days. “Yesterday we went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and saw the Walk of Fame,” Lambert says. “And I got my picture with Mickey and Minnie on Hollywood Boulevard – that was great. I’ve never done anything touristy in Hollywood. Every time I’m here, I just work or go to work with Blake. I feel like if I got out more, I would probably like L.A. more. I need to see wine country at some point. I’ve never been to Disneyland. After all this is over, I doubt I’ll be spending that much time out here, so while I’m here, I need to take advantage.”
But she does have one good Hollywood story, and that was meeting Queen Bey herself, Beyoncé. They’ve actually met twice, although the first one doesn’t really count: Lambert stood in line at one of her Dallas concerts for a meet-and-greet. (“I met her with Emmitt Smith and Donald Driver,” she says. “You know you’ve made it when you have celebrities lining up to meet you.”) But the second one – that one was awesome.
“I sat behind her at the Grammys last year,” Lambert says. “My manager was sitting with me, and she was like, ‘Tap her on the shoulder!’ I wouldn’t have done it, but I had just sung and she was in the front row, so I at least knew she wouldn’t think I was some random fan. So I was like, ‘Hey, hi …’ and she was so, so sweet. She was like, ‘I love you and your husband!'” Lambert laughs. “I was like, ‘No! Just me!'”