On ‘Vice,’ etc.: Miranda Lambert isn’t afraid to put it all out there, in music and life

Singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert. CREDIT: Marc Nader

It has been two years since country star Miranda Lambert’s last album, “Platinum,” and a year since she announced her very public split with Blake Shelton.

That’s the more important milestone, according to the tabloids that have doggedly followed their marital strife (“NEW FIGHT OVER BLAKE,” screams one recent gossip headline).

Back on tour, Lambert is alternating her summer stops between big stadium events topped by Kenny Chesney and her own headlining dates in still-pretty-big amphitheaters.

We caught up with Lambert in, uh, Chicago (“I had to think about it for a second,” she said).

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She spoke about adjusting her performance for stage size, the persistence of vinyl, the death this year of Merle Haggard, and what she intended with “Vice,” the first single from her forthcoming album that’s being taken as nothing less than a definitive post-breakup statement.

Q: How are you adjusting to playing shows in huge stadiums and amphitheaters that are merely big?

A: I sort of kept my stage set scaled back in general because I knew I’d be going back and forth. And I had a huge set on the “Platinum” tour, so I just figured we’d do something different.

Q: What are you trying to put across in “Vice”?

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A: Just, I guess, make a strong emotion and putting it out there. That’s not something new for me as an artist. I’ve done that in every record I’ve ever made. But I got a little bit more time, a little bit more reflection and a little more honesty on this one. Because I had a time in my life that wasn’t my favorite. And I’m not afraid to share it.

I just need time to process it and go through every part of it, and I learned about every part of it. To me, life – and not only my life, everybody has a life, and maybe there are several – sometimes you run through it a little more than you should, some times of your life. But I feel like it’s pretty honest; it’s a pretty straightforward lyric about that.

Q: Do people assume all of your songs are autobiographical?

A: No. Not all of them are. But if I’m going to share something about who I am and what I’m going through, I’d rather just say it. I don’t want to hide from it. I’ve built a career from being honest. Why change that now?

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Q: It must be difficult, in the era of celebrity gossip, having people interpret every word the way they want to.

A: And they will anyway. I could write a song about sunshine and rainbows, and they would have interpreted it the way that they want to. It doesn’t matter to me.

People are like, “What’s this song about?” And it’s like, “What do you mean? What do you think it’s about?” I don’t know the answer to that question, because it’s kind of a ridiculous question. It’s about a vice. If people are going to tell me they don’t have a vice, I’m going to call them a liar, straight up. It doesn’t have to be a bad vice, either. I have seven rescue dogs; that’s a vice.

But you know, it’s like, people are going to talk (stuff). They always do. They always do. I’ve learned that, especially now, 12 years I’ve been doing this, I’m 32 years old, and I recently went through a hard time and then came out and I’m back, I’m good. I don’t need to worry about what everybody else thinks or what their opinions are. I need to worry about what makes me happy, what I believe is right and the truth. And that’s what I’m going with.

Q: Do the song’s references to vinyl – from the needle-drop sound that begins it to the mention of 33, 45 and 78 – confuse any listeners in a digital age?

A: Well, it’s interesting. Actually, somebody texted me the other day and asked me, what were those numbers? And I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” I listened to vinyl. I grew up listening to vinyl with my dad – I stole half of his collection over the years. I have a music room set up in my house where I listen to records and always buy one when I see it. So I never even thought that people wouldn’t know what those numbers were.

Q: Was there a particular song that you had in mind when you say, “When it hurts this good, you gotta play it twice”?

A: It depends on what the mood is. I’m a woman, so those change a lot. There are times when you hear a song enough and you just want to feel it. Even if it hurts, you’re like, “Play it again. I want to cry some more. Play it again.” And there’s a lot of those for me.

But I would say I’m always drawn to Merle Haggard songs for sure. But when I was in a dark day, I listened to John Moreland for my favorite artist. I would just play his record, his whole record, over and over and over and over. It was so good. It was like, “I’m going to see an artist who I know is going to hurt me.” And I would get so excited about it.

Q: Did you ever meet Merle Haggard?

A: Yes. I met him and his family – such a special moment for me to sit at the table and have dinner with him and his family and Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. It doesn’t even sound real that I’m saying that. But it was for the Kennedy Center Honors a couple of years back, and I got to sing with Kris Kristofferson to honor Merle Haggard. I would say that was probably the top highlight of my career so far.

Q: Were you aware of his health problems before he died?

A: No. I was really devastated. I’m not over it. I don’t think I will be for a long time. But I’ve got almost everything he’s ever done on vinyl and on my iPod and my Spotify list and Pandora. And I feel that if any artist’s music can live on forever, it’s his. It still sounds like the first time I heard it every time I listen.

Q: It sounds like something changed for you on “Vice.” It sounds more mature or knowing. What was your approach?

A: Yeah. Something did change even since I put “Platinum” out: I’m two years older – well, three years older from the writing for “Platinum” – and a lot more miles and a lot more emotions have happened since then. I feel like, the main approach was not to overthink it, just let the songs do the talking. I don’t need to have too much production. The songs I brought to the table this time were a step up for me. I grew as a songwriter. I grew as a woman. So I wanted that to be the lead and not let anything cover that up.

Q: What’s it like having won seven straight Academy of Country Music female vocalist of the year awards?

A: It’s encouragement, I guess, but it’s also a responsibility. Because I want to grow, and I want to know that I’m getting better, and I’m becoming a better songwriter and becoming a better artist and entertainer. But I feel like while it’s great to have those accolades and that reassurance, it’s also terrifying.

Q: Because you have to live up to it now?

A: Exactly.