They say motherhood changes everything. When you’re a singing, songwriting, fiddle-playing artist married to a Grammy-winning musician, motherhood might just help you produce your most lyrically-driven album to date.
At least, that’s what happened with Amanda Shires, wife of two-time Grammy winning singer-songwriter Jason Isbell and new mom to baby Mercy. Amanda released her fifth solo album, My Piece of Land, in September of this year—and we want to know how she did it.
Between writing her 10-track album, hitting the tour road with her husband, and attending Sewanee University to earn an MFA in creative writing, Amanda Shires has also been figuring out motherhood, which is a lifelong career in itself. Oh yeah, and she’s been touring for her solo career, too.
So what inspired one person to do tackle so many monumental endeavors in one year? We sat down with Amanda to talk about her music, motherhood, and what she has planned next.
SL: This album comes three years after your last solo project, Down Fell the Doves in 2013. What prompted you to start work on this solo album?
AS: I had been touring up until I was 33, 34 weeks pregnant. The doctor visits were becoming more frequent, and going home for the end of my pregnancy was the best thing to do. When I got home, I arranged our daughter's nursery, packed hospital bags, cleaned cabinets, made an art gallery in the garage, picked our weeds and even our neighbor's weeds... anything you can think of cleaning, I cleaned it. That's how “nesting” works, I suppose. I eventually ran out of self-assigned chores, and was left to face the reality that is bringing a child into the world. I began questioning myself: Would I be a good mother? Could my husband and I remain best friends, and also be decent parents? How does touring fit in? How do I keep this baby safe and happy and make her more comfortable in the world? I could list questions forever. But I think that in questioning myself, I steered myself towards writing of this record. I had half of the song "Harmless" written before I knew I was writing an entire album. The next song I wrote was either "Slippin'" or "Nursery Rhyme," which works through my struggle to maintain and preserve my own identity. How do I keep myself in tact and also be a wife, mother, songwriter, and fiddle-shredder? In hindsight, I think I was writing to answer my own questions, and also, I wrote this record to ensure that I would be able to continue my work after having my baby.
SL: Are there any songs on the album that are especially meaningful to you?
AS: "You Are My Home" is especially meaningful to me because I discovered that for me, home is wherever Jason is and wherever Mercy is. Home is a fluid state, a state of being with the ones you love.
SL: How did you overcome the struggles you faced while writing this album?
AS: I wrote through them.
SL: Can you speak a little about how you’re managing to balance this tour with your husband’s tour?
AS: Jason is incredible. He takes Mercy with him on the tour bus. She can sleep on the bunk at night while they travel, and then has the freedom to move about wildly in the daytime. When I have days off, I fly to wherever they are, and meet them. It's tough to be apart, but I'm hoping to build a great future for Mercy; I'm hoping to lead by example. I want her to know that being a woman, someone's wife, and/or a mother doesn't handicap your rock 'n' roll...it is rock 'n' roll.
SL: What’s it like to be raising Mercy while on tour? How does Mercy inspire your work?
AS: She makes me more observant. For example, I used to walk into a room and see chairs and tables. Now, I see her shadow and mine, outlets, the heights of windows and various textures of upholstery and knick-knacks. She is obsessed with shadows, meeting people, rocks and textured fabrics.
SL: Let’s turn to you. Why did you decide to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing?
AS: I am fascinated by words, down to the letters that make them up. I wanted to learn more about poetics and how to get better at writing. I spend most of my touring time in the van, sitting down for 6-9 hours a day. It's not mentally stimulating; I needed more. Before attending Sewanee, I was writing from instinct alone. Now, I have reasons for word choices and reasons that I go one way or another with phrasing. It makes editing quicker.
SL: Can you share something of particular interest that you’ve learned while pursuing the Masters degree that has influenced your writing?
AS: I learned that there's no such thing as writer's block. If writer's block really existed, no one would ever graduate or pass classes. Writer's block is an excuse. If you are not writing anything good at the moment, that's something different and something you have to work through.
SL: Tell us all you can about your plans for the future – career wise, and family wise.
AS: My plans are to keep on getting better at writing. I also plan to keep rocking and enjoying my family. I'd like all three of us to tour together sometime, too.