On her fourth album, Carrying Lightning (Silver Knife), the 29-year-old singer, fiddler, and songwriter makes good on her apprenticeship with the legendary western swing outfit the Texas Playboys and the Tom Waits and Dolly Parton comparisons that have lately followed her around. Shires, who was raised in Lubbock and Mineral Wells, lives in Nashville.
I believe you’re the only person I’ve ever interviewed who has been a character in Hi and Lois. [A fiddler named Amanda appeared in the February 19, 2010, edition of the comic strip.] How’d that happen?
Greg Walker, who writes the strip, was at a show and he didn’t have money for a CD, so I just gave him one. A few months later he wrote me an e-mail saying, “I really apologize. I just lost track of it and totally skipped on sending you your money. But I got you one better. Check the newspaper on February 19.”
Are you planning to appear in any other comic strips? A Hägar the Horrible cameo might do wonders for your career.
I’m thinking Marmaduke.
You play the fiddle in Gwyneth Paltrow’s band in the movie Country Strong. How did that come about?
I don’t tour in the winter, because it snows and I’m not a good driver. So I was basically on break, and I saw they were having auditions for the movie. I tried out and I didn’t get it at first, which was fine. Then they called me back a week later and said they’d like to have me in it.
What was it like?
It was amazing! They fed us three times a day. In the morning we had this omelet guy who would make you an omelet or French toast or whatever you wanted. And craft services gave us Pop-Tarts and soda pop. I stuffed my fiddle case full of Pop-Tarts and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. When the movie was done, I ate Pop-Tarts for a month.
Forgive me, I haven’t seen the film—
A lot of people haven’t seen it!
But is it a speaking part?
No. After we were done with the filming, they did call me back for a speaking line, but I couldn’t get away because I was playing in Spain, which I thought was sad. But then I was like, “I’m in Spain. That’s not so sad.” I don’t come from a wealthy background, so anytime I get to go anywhere outside of Lubbock or Nashville I feel blessed, and the only reason I get to is because I play the damn fiddle.
You started playing when you were ten years old, after you saw a fiddle in a pawn shop and begged your dad to buy it. Did you have any interest in playing music before that?
Yeah, like kids do—I had a xylophone, a guitar that played “You Are My Sunshine” when you pushed a button. When I saw that fiddle, I said to my dad, “You have to get me this! I need it!” I didn’t think he would, because my parents never said, “Okay, I’ll get you whatever you want.” But for some reason he did. A couple of weeks later my mom said, “I guess we’ll get you lessons.” And it started from there.
You began playing with the Texas Playboys when you were fifteen. What was it like being a young girl among so many old men?
It was awesome—they bought me Jell-O at dinner. It was like hanging out with eight granddads.
On one website, you list a bunch of your influences, and there’s Bob Wills, George Jones, Faron Young, and . . . the rapper Method Man. Was that a joke?
No! When I was in high school I listened to rap music. I used to dream that someday I’d play fiddle with Method Man. Now I’m like, “How is that going to work?”
What prompted your move from Lubbock to Nashville three years ago?
I’d come to this place in my life where I just wanted to write songs and sing them, and I didn’t want to play fiddle in other people’s bands. So I went from making a living playing fiddle as a side person in Lubbock to waiting tables in Nashville.
You can make a living as a side person in Lubbock?
If you have a car and you can drive, yes. I would take anything that was offered, and I would drive nine hours if I had to.
Do you want to come back to Texas someday?