The Dixie Chicks rambunctious new ”Fly” has been the No. 1 album in the land for the past two weeks, even as its predecessor, 1998’s sextuple-platinum ”Wide Open Spaces,” continues to sell briskly at No. 30. Singer Natalie Maines and the two sisters who cofounded the group, fiddler Emily Robison and banjo/dobro picker Martie Seidel — winners of three Country Music Awards Wednesday night — sat down with EW Online in Los Angeles to talk about their crossover success, getting Dennis Franz to play a wife-beater in their next video, and why you shouldn’t confuse them with the Spice Girls.
What do you say to people who don’t listen to your albums because ”they don’t like country music”?
Seidel I’ve always wondered about people who say, ”I don’t like country music” or ”I don’t like rock and roll music.” That’s like saying you don’t like a whole country or something: ”I don’t like Europe!” How can you really be a music lover and not tap into different kinds of music? Natalie just bought ”Monster Ballads” off TV because she loves glam-rock, and it’s just so funny that she would have that in her CD case next to Buck Owens, which is next to Patty Griffin.
The new album seems to reveal a lot more of your personality as a group than the last one.
Seidel ”Wide Open Spaces” was the first album we made together, so when I listen back, I hear some things that were a little timid maybe, not quite congealed. And this time, we’re like, ”We don’t care what anybody thinks — ‘Sin Wagon’ is our favorite song, it’s going on the album!” And Sony was really good about staying out of the studio. They didn’t come in and bug us with, ”How many singles do we have? How many radio songs?” And I remember the first time around, they were a little bit like that.
What kind of reaction do you get when you perform your new song ”Goodbye Earl,” which is about two women who murder a wife-beater and get away with it?
Maines It’s not a man-hating song, it’s a wife beater-hating song. So even the men love it, because if you’re not a wife-beater, you’re not a wife-beater.
Still, the song does put a light spin on murder. Are you expecting any controversy?
Maines That’s what’s so funny: Our label is so scared about ”Sin Wagon” because it says ”mattress dancing.” They’re scared to death about that song, and they won’t talk about it in interviews. And our manager jokes, ”You can’t say mattress dancing, but they love the song about premeditated first degree murder! This is okay?” [laughs] So it’s funny to us that mattress dancing is out and murder is in! And ”Goodbye Earl” is gonna be our third single, probably, and Dennis Franz said he’d be Earl in our video.
And ”Sin Wagon” probably won’t be as controversial as the label imagines.
Maines I don’t think mattress dancing’s anything bad. I mean, my mom laughs and says, ”When you were 5, you were walking around singing ‘Like a Virgin.”’ You know, there’s no difference, every kid grows up singing something. I’ve looked at the pop stars out there — Britney Spears and some others who have songs that are totally sexy. And I think ours is okay because we’re being tongue-in-cheek and it’s more funny; we’re not really saying ”Ooh baby, do it to me all night long,” we’re joking about it.
One tune that Emily and Martie wrote together, ”You Were Mine,” is a poignant song about your parents’ divorce. Did you get much of a reaction from your family about that one?
Robison Both our parents are very sweep-it-under-the-carpet. They know it’s about them, but [whispers] we never talk about it. [laughs] They don’t want to bring it up because they’re still weird around each other. My dad doesn’t want to think it’s about him, because it doesn’t make him look very good, and my mom thinks she’s moved on. She’ll say something like, ”You know, I really like that song,” but we don’t talk about a lot of things.
Is Natalie’s divorce and Emily’s marriage reflected in the choice of material on the record?
Maines ”Cowboy Take Me Away” is one of my favorite songs on the record, and Marty had Emily and Charlie [Robison, her new husband] in mind when she wrote that. My divorce wasn’t hard on me, as far as the decision. I felt like I finally took a breath when I told him. He hasn’t crossed my mind… It’s solely about money, and I think that’s sad. So the divorce didn’t occupy my mind at all during the making of the album. There’s no sappy songs about leaving.
Seidel I hate to think which songs we would have picked if two or three of us were going through a divorce! We’d probably only have sad songs. But I think there are happy songs, and there’s happiness through the sadness, like a ”Ready to Run.” That’s kind of a depressing thought, when you think about it, that marriage isn’t the end-all, be-all, let’s just have some fun.
All those years that Martie and Emily played in the previous, campy, lineup of the Chicks, before Natalie joined, and had local success in Dallas, were you content thinking of yourselves as a niche band, or did you always have star aspirations?
Seidel I think we did, but it didn’t gnaw at us. Emily and I never felt that time wasn’t on our side, because we were so young. We started the group when I was 19. We were schlepping our own gear, taking the RV in for tuneups, and booking our own gigs. We thought, ”Keep plugging away — it’s not like we’re getting old or anything.” We’d have people come up to us from other bands and say, ”How are you doing this? How are you not waiting tables and just playing music?” Because they were playing the same club circuit we were, but we had the novelty, the niche. We’d put on all the cowgirl clothes and go stand at the end of the buffet line at another gig where people could care less who you are.
For a while there, I know, you had a fear that people were going to think you were manufactured as Nashville’s answer to the Spice Girls.
Robison I don’t think we’re so much living down the Spice Girls thing anymore. I remember when we first started making [”Wide Open Spaces”] , I was more concerned with people calling us the Mandrell Sisters than the Spice Girls!