Last week, Tanya Tucker released her first album of new material in seventeen years, While I’m Livin’. Brandi Carlile, who co-produced the album with Shooter Jennings, writes in an introductory note, “Tanya Tucker is the original female outlaw … She’s chaos and human. She’s learning, and she still wants to. There would be no Miranda, no Brandi, no Gretchen, no Maren without Tanya Tucker. That’s where we found our piss and vinegar.”
Born in the small West Texas town of Seminole, Tucker had her first country hit, “Delta Dawn,” at the age of 13 in 1972. She went on to rack up 23 Top 40 albums and 56 Top 40 country singles, ten of of which topped Billboard’s country chart. While I’m Livin’, which she prefers to call a “re-launch” rather than a comeback, is already being hailed by the New Yorker as perhaps the best record of her career and “certainly one of the albums of the year.” In a freewheeling conversation recorded on Sunday in our Austin studio, we spoke with Tucker about how the album has already begun changing people’s long-held impressions, her consistent (and dangerous) desire to be loved, and the ways While I’m Livin’ may be her most Texas-centric record yet.
Three takeaways from her appearance on the National Podcast of Texas:
1. Mostly because they’d never met, Tucker was initially wary of turning over too much of the project to Carlile, who wound up writing the bulk of the songs for the record with her longtime bandmates and collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth.
“How do people I don’t know go in room and say, ‘Okay, this is what Tanya is gonna want to sing?’ How does someone do that? How does someone get in my head like that. And it just kind of freaks me out that they could write my feelings down, but they did. And I’ve never been so glad to be wrong in all my days.”
2. Tucker believes much of her reputation as an “outlaw”—or, less charitably put, “difficult”— stems from a double standard.
“When a girl is late for a gig, promoters are calling each other, and it’s part of your reputation. But then Hank Jr. does it, and nobody cares. He’s an hour late, and they say, ‘Okay, good. Thank God you’re here.’ It’s a totally different thing. And I just try not to let it affect me as much as it used to. There have been a lot of things that had been said about me that I think were overstated. And I see what male performers get away with. It’s a double standard, but this is the way it is, and it’s going to be that way for a while. Don’t mean I have to like it.”
3. Tucker says the biggest through-line between the 13-year-old who hit the charts with “Delta Dawn” and the artist she is today is a deep desire to be loved. But she’s also come to believe there have been times she’s tried too hard to please all the people all the time.
“We all try to cover up our confidence issues, and the more we try to cover it up, the more we look cocky and overly confident. It’s a fence you’re always straddling. Some people are gonna like you, some people aren’t. But I want everybody to like me. That’s just something I want. Or, at the minimum, just give me a chance to be liked?”