The barn-turned-studio space at Amanda Shires’ home outside Nashville, Tennessee, feels like creativity come to life.
Gig posters dot the walls, colorful rugs line the floor, and the candle count clears double digits. The room is filled with instruments, including a guitar once owned by Leonard Cohen (bought by Shires, a self-described “disciple”) and an antique piano she admits could use tuning. There’s the stage, of course, backdropped by faux stained glass windows that were tour props for her husband, the musician Jason Isbell. The disco balls on the ceiling come with a dozen different light settings—“We’re halfway there, don’t worry,” she says, flipping through them all—and tiny black boxes are stuffed with notecards covered in lines and lyrics.
There’s a makeshift painting studio, with easels set up next to windows that overlook the porch and the house Shires, 37, shares with Isbell and their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy. Somewhere, there’s an almost completed book of poetry that she’s been working on for the past two or so years. (She’s not putting pressure on herself to finish it, though. “I’m not like that person saying, ‘I’ve got a book that I’m releasing.’”)
The space is moody and atmospheric, the sort of place you picture inspiration striking. And throughout Shires’ decades-long career, inspiration hasn’t typically been in short supply.
Since getting her start in the music industry as a 15-year-old playing fiddle with the Texas Playboys and then with Billy Joe Shaver, she’s released five solo albums and recorded and toured with the Grammy Award–winning Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit. She’s also played alongside the legendary John Prine, who’s become a friend and mentor. “He is one of those people who is the same person onstage as he is offstage, and I identify with that a lot,” Shires says. “Because, you know, a lot of people put on a mask for the work that they do. If he has one, I’ve never seen it.”
In 2018, the native Texan released To the Sunset, which earned a nod for Best Album at the Americana Music Honors & Awards (she lost to Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness) and marked a departure in sound from her earlier work.
Shires had written her previous album, My Piece of Land, while pregnant with her daughter. A reflection on home, the collection of songs has a quieter feeling, with a more stripped-down sound.