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Sunday, October 1, 2023
Oct. 1, 2023

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20 years after controversy, Chicks have no regrets

‘It set us free’ group says of cancellation by country music


When the Chicks aren’t working, the three members keep a group text going to stay in touch about band matters and about one another’s families — and to trade jokes, “the more inappropriate the better,” says lead singer Natalie Maines.

If people could read what they write, the 48-year-old adds with a laugh, “we’d be canceled 10 times over already.”

This summer, the Grammy-winning pop-country trio — which also includes sisters Martie Maguire, 53, and Emily Strayer, 50 — are on the road, touring behind their most recent studio album, 2020’s Jack Antonoff-produced “ Gaslighter,” which addressed Maines’ messy divorce from actor Adrian Pasdar in brutally specific songs set on her boat and at the Hollywood Bowl. (Though the Chicks formed in Dallas, these days Maines lives in Los Angeles, Maguire in Austin and Strayer in San Antonio.)

First on the itinerary: a six-night residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas that kicked off last week. It’s a long way from the tiny bluegrass gigs the group — then known as the Dixie Chicks — started out playing before blowing up with 1998’s “Wide Open Spaces” and its 1999 follow-up, “Fly,” both of which have sold more than 10 million copies; it wasn’t long after that that the Chicks were famously booted from country radio after Maines told an audience in England that they were ashamed to share a home state with President George W. Bush.

Between rehearsals at Planet Hollywood, the women gathered on Zoom to discuss the new show, their history of cancellation and the state of the Chicks’ next LP.

“Gaslighter” came out at the beginning of the pandemic — not exactly an opportune time to draw a bunch of attention. Do you think it got its due?

Maines: Our fans love it. They know every word to that album at the shows. We got used to not being played on the radio and stuff like that a long time ago.

Natalie, you really went into detail in the songs about the end of your marriage. What’s it been like to get some distance and look back at that?

Maines: The thing that I always contemplate is that my kids have to live with this. I knew that when we wrote it and when we put it out. But as artists, that’s what we do. It’s part of the therapy and it’s part of the survival. Kids are doing good, but ask me in 20 years. I might regret it.

Maguire: You know Natalie’s son Slade is in the band? Sometimes I’ll look over at him like, What’s he thinking? He’s played this album so many times. What a trouper.

For years you’ve sung Fleetwood Mac’s “ Landslide,” which Stevie Nicks is on tour now performing as a tribute to the late Christine McVie. Are there Chicks songs whose meanings have changed for you over time?

Maguire: “Cowboy Take Me Away “ was written about Emily’s ex-husband, and I doubt any of us think about him during that song.

Strayer: “Gaslighter” we wrote more as a relationship song, but it definitely got very political very fast. It became the word of the year (in 2022).

Maines: I don’t feel the same way singing “ Not Ready to Make Nice “ as before. I used to feel that s—, and for probably a lot longer than I should have. Now it’s just a song.

Strayer: I almost feel like we’ve given that song to our fans. When they’re singing it, you know they’re singing about something they went through.

Do you feel like the Bush incident, which took place 20 years ago, is still a defining episode in the Chicks’ story?

Maines: It’s defining in the way it set us free. It got us out of this box of country music, which we never wanted to be in and never felt like that’s who we were. We didn’t have to do any of that bulls— anymore.