Miranda Lambert continues to shake off the emotional heaviness of 2017’s The Weight of These Wings, releasing the uptempo rocker “Mess With My Head” on Friday as the latest preview of her upcoming album. Channeling the plainspoken toughness of Pink along with the sleek, new-wave power pop of the Cars, the song — which Lambert wrote with Luke Dick and the Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby — pits the immediacy of Jay Joyce’s inventive production against a relatable theme of ignoring one’s instincts.
“It’s not too deep, it’s not too heavy — you don’t have to think too hard when you hear it,” says Lambert, calling from the video shoot for her current single “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” which she cryptically says involves “mud.”
We spoke to Lambert about “Mess With My Head” and the sonic shifts of her as-yet-untitled new album, along with her ongoing search for a “rock & roll vibe.”
“Mess With My Head” strikes me as one of the more progressive things you’ve done. What kind of conversations did you guys have about how the finished product would sound?
It was a little stretch for me. I wrote it and I loved it, but I wasn’t necessarily positive — could I pull it off and would it sound like me? Not every song you write fits in your wheelhouse. And this one was a little different, but I love it. It’s got the rock & roll vibe that I crave. I find myself doing cover songs sometimes in my shows with that vibe because I love that vibe and I feel like now I have one of my own songs where it fits in the set. And Jay Joyce is the exact person to execute something like this especially, not just the whole record, but this song.
I certainly hear some of Jay’s studio trickery, particularly with the chopped-up pedal steel after the second chorus. What made you want to switch things up and work with him?
It was not an easy decision. It never is when you’re gonna make a record, but I have made every record I’ve ever made with Frank Liddell and he’s one of my favorite people on this planet. And we’re still great friends. We just had a conversation like, we thought maybe we could use some space and go get re-inspired in other ways and come back together another time. Jay is somebody I’ve always respected, and he’s played on several of my records. I met Jay through Frank. I just thought I needed a fresh sound and start from The Weight of These Wings. I wanted to be pushed. And sometimes when you work with somebody new, there’s this energy where you both want to bring your A-game because it’s new. I was willing to go a little farther than I ever have, with Jay, because I trusted him.
What do you mean, a little farther?
Like you just called it, “trickery,” that bridge part. Letting the music breathe a little more than maybe I have before. And also having this rock & roll feel. I have in the past, but it’s been more of a Steve Earle rock & roll versus a Pink rock & roll sound.
“Mess With My Head” at first sounded like a kiss-off song to me, but the more I play it, the more it sounds like this person is glad about the encounter being described, or maybe relishes the memory. How does that square with what you had in mind when you wrote it?
I feel like that too. At first it’s like, “I don’t like this,” but the whole thing is a little bit of reverse psychology, the entire song. Kind of going with something that you’re not sure is bad for you or not. Or maybe it was bad for you, you thought, and it ended up good for you.
You alluded to the fact that this album sounds a lot different from The Weight of These Wings. What did you want to achieve this time around?
I always have a little bit of cheeky sarcasm in my songs and records. I feel like I missed that a little bit on The Weight of These Wings. And I also needed to have fun. There were some fun moments on The Weight of These Wings, but just that whole portion of my life and art was not the funnest time. With this one I just wanted to cut loose a little bit and get back to the me that was willing to have fun with it and make fun of myself.