The Chicks Talk Divorce, Songwriting, and Finding Universal Experiences in the Very Specific

by Lauren Boisvert
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I’ve said before that Carrie Underwood is one of the best revenge songwriters in country music today, but how could I say that when we have certified revenge bop “Goodbye Earl” from The Chicks just out there for us to listen to with our ears for free? “Goodbye Earl” is one of those songs that shapes a generation. My mom once caught me doing a whole live performance of the album Fly in my bedroom when I was a teenager, for crying out loud. Safe to say, The Chicks have influenced me all my life.

21 years later, in 2020, The Chicks came out with Gaslighter, which on first glance is like a grown-up “Goodbye Earl.” They’re also going on a subsequent tour for the first time in 5 years. Lead singer Natalie Maines took inspiration from her very raw and recent divorce in 2019 for the record; both bandmates Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire have gone through divorces as well, so they knew the drill. The funny thing about it (in hindsight) is that Maines and Maguire were actually going through divorces at the same time.

Gaslighter is lyrically bruised, an open wound; it’s so tender and vulnerable and relatable in a really empowering way. Recently, on the Kelly Clarkson Show, The Chicks spoke about the writing process for the album, staying genuine, and how the more specific you get, the more relatable your songs are.

The Chicks Discuss Rawness of 2020 Album ‘Gaslighter’

“There’s no way around it. When you write falsely, it doesn’t work,” said Emily Strayer, who usually takes up the banjo in the band. “You have to be real. It’s weird: The more specific you are, the more it’s universal to other people.”

That’s a very true thing about writing: songs, poetry, fiction, what have you. The more you funnel your imagery and themes down to a rice grain, the more people you’re going to find who relate to those specific feelings and images. For me, at least, that’s what’s the most fun about writing.

Maines worried about her son, who is in the band, hearing those vulnerable lyrics while on tour. “I wasn’t beyond all the emotion like I am now,” said Maines. “And then there’s the stress of, ‘Oh my gosh, now my kids are gonna hear this.’ Now my son is on tour with us. He’s in the band. And I’m like, ‘This is kinda weird!’ I’m always checking, ‘Are you okay? Are you alright?'”

‘Gaslighter’ is a Study in Tenderness, Raw Vulnerability, and Writing From Real Life

Gaslighter is very real and very detailed; “My husband’s girlfriend’s husband just called me up / How messed up is that?” Maines sings on “Sleep At Night,” the immediately in-your-face second track. “But then I think about our two boys trying to become men / There’s nothing funny about that,” she continues.

“Sleep At Night” is just one of the songs that puts you in your place as you listen. The other is the title track, “Gaslighter.” Both of these songs are tender like a raw nerve, and they’re anything but the fun, girl-power revenge track “Goodbye Earl.” Gaslighter is an album of true heartache and the healing that comes from sharing your experiences with others. The Chicks go on tour starting June 14, and this is a show you’re not going to want to miss.

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