While Amanda Shires may be best known as the fiddler player and harmony singer in her husband Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit, the petite 36 year old is an accomplished musician in her own right.
In August, she’ll release her fifth solo album, “To the Sunset,” the follow-up to 2016’s excellent “My Piece of Land.” She wrote her last album when she was pregnant with 2 1/2 year old daughter Mercy, ruminating over the unknown of impending motherhood, reconciling the past and establishing her own home.
For “To the Sunset,” Shires hid out in her closet.
“I started out in my office, but after a while it became where Mercy wanted to play harmonica or trumpet. I had to relocate to our clothes closet where I wrote the entire album,” Shires says on a short break at home in Nashville between shows. “There’s a window, but it’s not one of those California, Kardashian closets. I took my paper shredder, my violin and my ukulele, wrote songs and taped them on the wall so I’d have more space to work. (Mercy) forgot I was in there.”
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“It made me hyper-focused,” adds Shires, who graduated with her MFA in poetry in spring 2017. While some writers are characterizing “Sunset” as a more rocking departure, Shires says it’s not out of left field.
“I was trying to buck the trends. A lot of times women artists are expected to sing ballads and have needier subject matter. I was consciously trying not to do anything slow-tempo,” she says. “I noticed that on country radio, when you have the two spots where the woman artist is, it’s usually a slow song about needing some lame-a-- dude. I didn’t want that.”
“To the Sunset” is a sort of toast to the feminist climate that’s taken off with the #MeToo movement.
“It’s a good time for it. We wanted to try and rock n’ roll our way through some of this,” she says.
“My mom moved up to Tennessee where we live, and ever since I had Mercy, I feel like my mom’s shared a lot more about her mom and her childhood. Things you can’t really talk to your child about when your 10, 16 or 18, and for them to understand all the choices you made,” she explains of one source of inspiration for the songs “Charms” and “Eve’s Dauhter.”
The song “Wasn’t Paying Attention” drew on an experience her dad had in November.
Sonically, she incorporated pedals for the first time.
“Everybody I saw that played through pedals seemed sort of cheesy, but we did it in a way I like and made it fit,” she says.
“I don’t think it’s far off from what I’ve done in the past. “Down Fell the Doves” (her third album) you could say had some departures or different sounds. With this one, I feel like I learned how to accept my songs and the process of writing them and be fearless in the way I was hearing them,” Shires explains. “I shouldn’t abandon the things that are in my head. It’d be dishonest.”
The cover photo is different for Shires as well, who looks more exotic and stylized with flowers adorning her hair. It’s more Carmen Miranda than the Texas country girl who likes tending to her garden.
“The idea of growing and blooming and cyclic nature of things is what I was trying to capture — light and dark and opposite kind of things. All of our experiences make us the person we are in the present. While it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, I did those things in the past and try to forget about them,’ it’s good to accept the things that made them who you are,” she says. “You need to experience life and make mistakes. Self-acceptance is important, especially when you’re a parent. It’s already a guilt-ridden role.”
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: On the Green at First Ward Park, 301 E. 7th St.