Country star Miranda Lambert just wants to be herself, and she’ll keep fighting for that

MIRANDA LAMBERT

There’s something about the way Miranda Lambert talks.

The breezy way she says, “Hey, it’s Miranda,” on the phone, as if the whole world doesn’t know her name and her songs and at least some of her story. The way her Texas drawl makes everything sound like a classic from the jukebox. The way she asks, “You know what I mean?” to a complete stranger on the other end of the line.

It’s a voice that knows what it wants to say.

Maybe that’s no surprise coming from the singer-songwriter, who has proven herself to be one of country music’s more formidable and distinct figures.

She released her seventh album, “Wildcard,” in November and is circling the country on yet another headlining tour, which includes a stop next weekend in Denver. She’s up for two Grammy awards Sunday (and already has two to her name).

It took time, of course, for Lambert to reach this level.

But back when Lambert was starting out — back when she was 17 and got her first gig at a dive bar — she still said whatever was on her mind. It just wasn’t a given that people were going to listen.

Lighting a fire

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Lambert made her formal entrance to the country music world in a “Mama Tried” tank top.

Just how she wanted.

Two years before Lambert lit that match in the 2005 music video for “Kerosene,” her first big break happened on the reality TV show “Nashville Star.” But she prayed she wouldn’t win. She hoped to build a career her way and not according to the rules of a singing competition. She finished third.

Months later, at 19, Lambert was signed. With that came expectations, from record execs and beyond, of what kind of country singer Lambert would be.

“I’d go to radio stations and there’d be 10 or 11 8-by-10s on these desks and they were all blond girls,” Lambert said. “There was a whole bunch of us fighting for a few spots at the time.”

Lambert didn’t fight to be another pretty blond girl. She fought to be herself, something she has done over and over at different curves in her career.

“I was really just wanting to wear my ripped-up jeans and my vintage Merle shirts and sing my honky-tonk songs,” she said. “I kind of just wanted to make sure everybody knew that, because a lot of the stories back then were about people trying to change these images, especially in women.”

She heard the critics: Look a little sexier; sing a pop-country song; if you want to make it, do this.

“And I just wasn’t willing to do whatever that was,” Lambert said. “I just wanted to be me.”

She told them so.

“I felt like at that time I had nothing to lose, but say, ‘Hey, I just want to be me or I’m going home,’’’ she said. “When that signing happens, if you start changing then and start doubting yourself, that’s where you get lost.”

And so Lambert made her debut with “Kerosene” and blew up any conventional path that might have been outlined for her. At the end of the music video, Lambert saunters toward the screen with a blaze — one her character started — raging behind her.

“I look back now and I’m surprised at myself and also thankful that I was that savvy,” she said. “And just that set in my ways.”

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Having fun again
At 36, Lambert has been making music for more than half of her life.

She’s released records nearly every two years since 2005, creating a diverse catalog of hits such as “Gunpowder and Lead,” “White Liar,” “The House That Built Me” and “Tin Man.” She’s also made a point in sticking up for women, forming the Pistol Annies in 2011 with songwriters Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe.

But a lot of people just want to know the deal with her and fellow music superstar Blake Shelton. The two announced their divorce in 2015.

While Lambert didn’t do many interviews after the public breakup, she did relay her feelings through “The Weight of These Wings,” a 24-song album.

With “Wildcard,” though, it seems Lambert has moved on.

“I guess going through something hard and kind of coming out on the other side gave me a new energy and a new drive,” she said. “I had fun writing happy songs (on ‘Wildcard’). I mean I had come off of ‘The Weight of These Wings,’ which was very introspective and personal. I dug really deep in the songwriting on that one. So, you know, this one I was ready to sing something like ‘Pretty Bitchin’’ or ‘White Trash.’”

The name of the album, Lambert said, was inspired by lyrics from one of her favorite songs, “Easy from Now On.” Lambert covered the Emmylou Harris tune on her album “Crazy Ex Girlfriend.” In October, Lambert got a tattoo inspired by the lyrics, which say: “When the morning comes, and it’s time for me to leave, don’t worry about me. I got a wildcard up my sleeve.”

“Sometimes my mom would say, ‘Sometimes you gotta pull a rabbit out of a hat,’” Lambert said. “It’s the same sentiment. You know, to get through something in your life, to get yourself in a different place.”

The singer also found new energy from falling in love. A year ago, she married New York City police officer Brendan McLoughlin.

“Meeting my husband and finding happiness again was a wildcard for me because I wasn’t expecting it,” Lambert said. “But I knew I had it hidden there, somewhere deep down.”

The album, fittingly, begins with another song inspired by a Mama Lambert phrase: “It All Comes Out in the Wash.” The song is up for a Grammy.

Lambert says the phrase is “kind of like a ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ kind of thing.”

“And I’ve figured that out the hard way as an adult,” Lambert said. “Even in my early 20s and just making such a big deal out of everything and putting too much pressure on situations and being too hard on myself or other people. Finally I realized at the end of the day it’s somehow all OK.”

Still fighting
Lambert still sings “Kerosene” during her live shows, but she’s no longer writing lyrics such as “I’m giving up on love ‘cause love’s given up on me.”

That’s not true for her, anymore.

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“I started out with this sort of chip-on-my-shoulder vibe and that’s what got me here,” she said. “And I tried to keep that a little bit. I really want people to see me now as someone with a lot of sides, you know, and still a lot of story to tell.”

She’ll keep telling those stories, even if they don’t make for surefire hits on the radio.

Yes, even Lambert is fighting for her songs to get played.

“I feel like I’m fighting for my spot in general. But I have been since Day One,” she said. “I found a niche place and I feel like I have gained respect from my peers and people in the industry and fans, most importantly, just by really being honest and sticking to the music I really believe in. And some of those times, even now being one of them, it wasn’t that popular.”

So far, “It All Comes Out in The Wash” is the highest performing song off “Wildcard.” It peaked at No. 12.

“That’s better than I’ve done in a while,” she said. “So I’ll take it.”

But satisfied? No way. Lambert remains hungry for more.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m just starting and some days I feel like I’ve been doing it for 300 years,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m still so driven. I just want to play shows and write country songs.”

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She still wants to be like Merle Haggard and wear T-shirts adorned with his song titles and write songs “you can hear the pain in.”

She still wants her fans to see and hear the real Miranda.

Really, when Lambert talks, there’s one word she wants to come to mind: honest.

Good or bad.

“Sometimes the truth is ugly,” she says, “but I’m always going to tell it.”

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