Emily Strayer, from left, Natalie Maines, and Martie Maguire, of...

Emily Strayer, from left, Natalie Maines, and Martie Maguire, of The Chicks, perform on  June 15, 2022, at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. Credit: Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP/Rob Grabowski

Don't mess with The Chicks.  This country trio has removed the “Dixie” from its name and dug in deep on its latest album, “Gaslighter,” which dropped in the heart of the pandemic. From the scorching title track to the tough but tender closer, “Set Me Free,” the band’s 8th studio album is a rollercoaster of raw emotion fueled by heartbreak. 

It hasn’t been an easy flight for The Chicks. Sisters Emily Strayer (banjo, dobro, guitar, backing vocals) and Martie Maguire (fiddle, mandolin, backing vocals) started the band in 1989 but they didn’t achieve massive success until lead singer/guitarist Natalie Maines came on board in 1995.

The band ran into some controversy in 2003 when Maines told a London crowd that the band didn’t support the United States’ invasion of Iraq and was “ashamed” that then president George W. Bush was from Texas. This created a backlash in the U.S. and caused radio stations to blacklist them.

In 2020, the trio changed its name from The Dixie Chicks to simply The Chicks as a way to disassociate themselves with the Confederate-era South. 

Newsday’s David J. Criblez spoke with The Chicks, prior to their July 2 gig at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, about their critically-acclaimed album from 2020, working with writer/producer Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, fun.) and finally returning to the concert stage.

How have all the different social movements in recent years affected your songwriting?

 Maguire: It affected our lives deeply, especially Emily and I living in Texas and watching how reproductive rights are deteriorating. We are just people who are writing about things that affect us and the world. It’s just us kind of processing.  Even rehearsing for this tour, some of the imagery that’s going up on “March March” conjures all that up again. That’s us living our lives as authentically as we can and putting forth what we care about.

Maines: “March March” was mainly inspired by the March For Our Lives in [Washington] D.C. and there’s been so many more movements and marches since then that it kind of took on a whole new life and meaning.

The song “For Her” is dedicated to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What do you want people to take away from that particular track?

Strayer: I wish I could go back and not care so much about some of the things that I cared about as a young woman. It’s us trying to impart that wisdom to our daughters, nieces and younger girls. You just have to not care so much about the stuff that doesn’t matter.
Maines: It’s also about telling boys and men in society how to treat women.

What did writer/producer Jack Antonoff bring to “Gaslighter” and how did he come into the fold?

Maines: I met him at the Howard Stern birthday bash years ago and I went the next day to a studio he was working at to see his process. He put out a female version of the first Bleachers album and I sang a track on that. When we initially thought we were going to approach the production of this album like a pop record these days where you work with a lot of different producers and writers, Jack was on that list. What was going on in my life was still very fresh [Maines got divorced in 2019] so I found it hard to purge in front of total strangers constantly. Jack was the coolest and easiest person to talk to. He’s smart, funny and totally gets our warped sense of humor.

Strayer: The first time we wrote with him was “Gaslighter” [the title track] and it just kind of set this template for the rest of the album. He’s a ball of energy and he plays everything. We’d throw out ideas and he’d say, “Let’s go try it out!” It was just a really quick, inspiring way to write and record. He’s just awesome.

You released this album in the thick of the pandemic. How did that affect your promotion plans?

Maguire: The label did want to delay it but we didn’t want to overthink it. We just felt like everybody was home and we had worked so hard on this record so why not just get it out there. We all knew this could go on and on. Nobody could predict how long we’d have to wait and we didn’t want to keep kicking the can down the road. We were willing to make a sacrifice. It didn’t get as much publicity and we didn’t get to tour with it right away. I’m glad we made that decision. The real fans went and got it. Now they’ve had so much time to learn the lyrics I think the energy at the show for the new material is going to be just as exciting as the old material.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of your cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Did you ever get any feedback from Stevie Nicks on it?

Maines: Several of Stevie’s past band members are on tour with us. They told us at rehearsal that she says this is the best version of “Landslide.” That was very flattering and nice to hear. She’s always been very complimentary. I got to sing it with her several times. I had just had a baby and the song hit me differently because “I’m getting older too…

What do you have in store for fans with the new tour?

Maines: We like to take you on an emotional ride but also our shows are a lot of fun. There are always big sing-alongs, which is fun for us. I see it as really highlighting the musicianship in our band. A lot of tours don’t do solos, but we add solos. There’s a lot of jamming and playing.

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