In the spring of 2003 the Dixie Chicks went from country musics sweethearts to outcasts. While performing in London, their lead vocalist, Natalie Maines, told the audience, Just so you know, were on the good side with yall. We do not want this war, this violence, and were ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas. Mainess words sent shock waves through the conservative country music community. Instantly, the Dixie Chicks music was boycotted, sponsors dropped them, and fellow artists turned their noses up at the mention of their name. In the process, however, the Dixie Chicks gained a whole new fan base, including the LGBT community who admired their moxie and echoed Mainess sentiments about President Bush and the war.
The Dixie Chicks bounced back and scored big at the Grammy Awards, winning album, record, and song of the year for "Taking the Long Way Home." Then the music stopped. Maines had had enough and wanted to take a break. Her band mates, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, stood by in the wings waiting for Maines to return. Eventually the months turned into years and Robison and Maguire felt an aching in their creative souls. Enter the Court Yard Hounds, a brand new band that consists of only Robison and Maguire. The name was inspired by a novel Robison was reading called City of Thieves. Within the book there is another book called The Courtyard Hound. Their self-titled debut album, released earlier this month, debuted at number 7 on the Billboard charts.
Although they have a new name, in true Dixie Chicks fashion, they are already creating controversy. This time its with a song called Aint No Son, which tells the story of a teenage boy who comes out to this father and then is disowned. The inspiration came from a TV special Robison was watching about teenage kids who are thrown out of their homes because of their sexuality. As Robison says, How can you have kids and love them so much and one day decide not to? It just boggled my mind.
Out caught up with Maguire, who talked about that song, her thoughts on Sarah Palin, and why she thinks she is the "chick" that all the women want.
Out: Before we talk about anything else, we need to talk about the song Aint No Son. Were you concerned about releasing a song about a gay teenager? How do you think country music fans are going to respond?
Martie Maguire: I really dont have a gauge on what the country music industry is anymore. After we had our controversy with them, I guess I just felt like I was the redheaded stepchild and kicked out of the inner family of that genre.
What are your thoughts on the country music community?
When I hear that country music is so racist or that its so intolerant, I know it frustrates the hell of my friends who are embedded in the business. So, I know a lot of people who would say that its not all like that. Obviously you try to stay away from generalizations about anything, but the fact that its news that Chely Wright is gay, in this day and age, is that really news? I just dont understand.
Do you think country music is still conservative?
I think if I were to generalize, I would say, yes. I dont think what happened, even to us, wouldve happened without a pretty conservative base. They tend to be Republican. They tend to be antigay.
Looking back now, how do you feel country music insiders responded to Natalies comment about President Bush and the war?
After the documentary [Shut Up & Sing] came out and the Grammys, you could almost look out into the audience and see the country faces that so wished you hadnt won the Grammy.
Reba McEntire. She wouldnt even clap. Then the camera panned to her, so she mustered a little applause for the camera. That was actually captured on the telecast. Shes been outwardly critical of us. Some of it has been poking fun and thats fine, because we have been the butt of jokes. However, some of it, and not just Reba in particular, was pretty harsh. I think Natalie, as strong as she is, was really affected. She just got tired of everyone being in her face. It really haunted her for a while, and she feels free from that now.
Where does that experience sit with you today?
I feel like we gained so many fans just based on one little sentence, which is the greatest publicity stunt you could ever ask for, without it being a stunt. You say one thing and win tens of thousands of fans, and I really think we did.
Since the Dixie Chicks are not afraid to speak about politics, lets talk about a political figure. What do you think of Sarah Palin?
I dont agree with her beliefs or politics at all. But, the girl has got balls. I dont think all the criticism is well-founded. I think shes attacked pretty harshly. In that respect I feel for her; especially as a woman. I still feel like its not an equal playing field in politics. Look at whats happening with our Supreme Court justice nominee [Elena Kagan]. I dont know if she would be so scrutinized if she was a male nominee.
The Court Yard Hounds are being treated as a brand-new group and not just two members of the Dixie Chicks who are making new music. Why was it important to go with a new name?
Thats so funny you say that. The Dixie Chicks are myself, Emily, and Natalie and that will forever be. We didnt have a career before Natalie. We may have been a band, but we had no success. We attribute our success to Natalie. The three of us have a very tight bond. We also didnt want to dismantle the Dixie Chicks. I dont know when Natalie is going to want to be back in the public eye. I know shes really enjoying being out of the scrutiny.
How is the Court Yard Hounds music different from the Dixie Chicks?
I feel like I know a Court Yard Hounds song, as opposed to a Dixie Chicks song. When Emily was writing the songs [for the album] she didnt feel like they were Dixie Chicks songs. I think thats because when we write for the Dixie Chicks, its Emily, Natalie, and myself in the room. Emily and I were constantly trying to adjust our writing to make it something Natalie could sing and own. Even when we were writing Not Ready to Make Nice, we were always thinking, Does this sound like something Natalie would say? Now, Im thinking, Can Emily own it?
When Natalie said she wanted to take time off, you were nervous, saying, This is what I know. What will I do? I dont have a college degree! What were you afraid of?
I was fearful on a lot of levels. Not that I would have to sell everything and move into government housing, or anything.
Then what was it?
First of all, I turned 40 last year. Thats frightening on so many levels as a woman. Then, I just did not have an outlet for creativity. In this industry, success can be so fleeting. At the end of the day what we desire the most is longevity. We dont feel like we need to constantly be in the public eye or winning awards, but we definitely want to be relevant on some level in the music industry. If youre not playing music, you just feel like time is ticking away.
Didnt Cher help you overcome your worries about turning 40?
She almost brought me to tears. My birthday wish was to go see her in Vegas. Ive got a few connections, so I was able to go back and meet her. Ive been a fan for so long. Meeting her face to face was such a thrill. She could tell I was kind of down and when she said, OK, who is turning 40? I said, A reluctant me. She took me by the hand and walked me into the back hallway. She talked to me for about five minutes, which seemed like an hour, about how she felt a psychic premonition that I was going to have the best year of my life. She said it was the best year of her life. She referred to meeting the love of her life and making two of her favorite movies she ever made. That was life-changing for me. I felt like I had a whole new outlook after that.
So, Cher saved the day?
She totally did!
How concerned were you about the Court Yard Hounds having a successful album?
I felt like we were coming off of so much success that it almost leveled the playing field. We thought people would say, Theyve got a lot of guts to start over and maybe see that we really were doing it for the love of playing music. I think it is a gutsy move.
First of all, its a gutsy move on Emilys part because she knows that shes going to be compared to Natalie as a singer. Natalie is a powerhouse singer. Its almost like you cant even touch that. So, you just do what you love and hope people will like it. We were really happy to start over and know that we were going to be playing in smoky clubs. Our manager kept trying to scare us out of doing it. He kept telling us how it really does mean starting over.
Any other advice you were given?
Get another singer. Kick Natalie to the curb. Theyd say, Get rid of her, she was always trouble anyway. Emily and I would just laugh. That was never on our minds.
What has been the reaction to the Court Yard Hounds so far?
Im surprised at the lack of negativity thats been out there.
Theres a song on the album called Fairytale. What is your idea of a fairy tale?
Oh, this is so clich. Basically its my husband. Hes proven to be my fairytale. Weve been together for 11 years. This is my second marriage. I keep telling all my first-time married friends who are going through divorces or having trouble, Its all about the second marriage. You get another chance. Thats whats great. Fairy tales can happen the second time around.
In terms of music, whats on your iPod?
Im trying to seek out music thats not mainstream. Somebody turned me on to Ana Egge. Shes a singer/songwriter from Brooklyn, and her music is awesome. At some point she wants to collaborate with me, and I just feel so honored. I also like Bob Snyder from Austin. My kids do too. And Augustana. I just love them.
Emily always says that you get all the girls? Why do you think youre a chick magnet?
I always say that I wink at them. Maybe I appeal. I dont know. It would just turn out that I would have the female, gay following migrate to my side of the stage.
Is she jealous?
This summer the Dixie Chicks are touring with the Eagles? How will the Court Yard Hounds fit into that mix? Are you just going to tell Natalie its time for her to leave the stage?
Wed more than likely be opening for the Dixie Chicks. I dont think we want to go on after the Dixie Chicks. Its really two distinct shows. We play an hour before the Eagles. We have the same core band, so thats great. They just have to learn extra material.
What else is in store?
Were doing the Lilith Fair tour. The Chicks arent, but we are. Were a totally different paycheck. But, you know what, Im happy with that. Im really hoping that Chicks fans dont feel like they have to choose. They can be Chicks fans and Hounds fans. The reality is Natalie is so happy for us.
For more information about the Court Yard Hounds, visit their official website.