Sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson reunite as the Court Yard Hounds reunite to release their second album Amelita.
We caught up with Martie to chat about the new record, building the Court Yard Hound sound and moving away from the Dixie Chicks.
- The release of your new album Amelita is now just around the corner so what can fans expect from the new tracks?
If they haven’t gotten the new Court Yards Hound record then they are going to have a very new experience (laughs). We have written most of the songs together and we tried to write about things that applied to our lives.
I think that this album is very uplifting and hopeful; I was actually going through a divorce when I was writing this album. People deal with hardships in their live and I wanted to have a positive and hopeful outlook on love and things like that, I think that that is what you get with this record.
- Would you say that the recording of the album and music helped pull you through what was a difficult time for you?
Yes it helped a lot. Ever since I was a little girl music was my escape and it was something that I did and was a huge part of me; aside from what my grades were in school. It was something that was truly mine.
I wasn’t a song-writer until later in my life and then that became a way of journaling how I was feeling and working through things.
Being with your sister all of the time while you are going through something like that was great; we would set out to write a song and instead we would talk all afternoon instead (laughs).
- This is your second album so how do you feel that it compares in sound to your debut as I read that you had taken a different approach with this record?
The first record was the result of Emily going through a divorce and she was using music and song-writing to help get out some of the things that she was feeing. She would send me the songs just wanting my opinion - it wasn’t for Dixie Chicks it was just writing for writing’s sake.
She wasn’t really speaking to me about what was going on in her marriage but I was gathering so much from the lyrics of the songs.
Every day that I got a new track from her I was like ‘what am I going to uncover now? What is she going through now?’ She is a very private person and it was her way of reaching out and saying what she was feeling.
So the first record was a lot more of her song-writing - I wrote some with her too - but the second record we really set out to write as sisters; most of the songs are written by myself and her or myself and her and Martin Strayer. So that really is the biggest difference.
It is a little more upbeat; the first record wasn’t sad either it is just that this album feels a little more happy and full of life.
- There is perhaps more of a laid back and fun feel to this album than with the debut so how conscious a choice of direction was that?
We approach our music by thinking about what fans are like when we play live - I know that a lot of bands don’t do that - as we view our album like out set list, in a way.
The way a song starts is pretty organic as it will be from a riff that Martin has written or it will be from something Emily is picking around on or a chord progression that I have come up with on the guitar with just a few lyrics and we will go from there.
It is pretty easy to write a slow for us so we did consciously… the only conscious part about it was we did focus on writing something that was a little bit more up tempo.
- So how easy or difficult a process was it changing the way that you write?
I feel like we still have the same way of writing. Some people pick a subject and then they set out to make the music and the lyrics match the subject, but we don’t really do that.
As I said we start with a riff or something - so the process hasn’t really changed. Writing together is much easier than writing alone.
Emily and I have such similar sensibilities and we are also very honest with each other; so if an idea isn’t a good on you don’t have to sit in a room and wonder whether is bad as you actually have your sister sitting right there talking you ‘nah’ (laughs). It is great.
It’s funny because we don’t fight and it is not emotional for me when she thinks an idea is bad - and I know that it is not that way for her. We know how to be that way with each other as we have been in bands together since we were little kids, so that relationship works really well.
- There may be a few weeks until the release of the album but how have you found the early response both here in the UK and in the States?
I was glad that Sony chose to release some music ahead of the release of the record because I feel that nowadays there are so many choices and so to let people get a sneak peak of the record is fair to the listener. It is important to let them get a little taste of it and let their love for it build song by song.
I was happy that that was the approach that they were taking this time instead of trying to build and build and it all comes down to a good day of sales; that is the corporate game that we try not to think about too much.
We just want people to hear our music and if it was up to us we would probably put songs up for free to let people have access to our music and then tour and make out money that way. At the end of the day you just want people to hear it.
- This record sees you reunite with producer Jim Scott so why did you choose to work with him again?
We just felt that it was such a great relationship and a great partnership with him. The reason that we worked with him in the first place was that he was the lead engineer on the Dixie Chicks record Taking The Long Way and we realised was that he really cares and he really loves us.
It is nice having that person that who knows that you can play your solo better and knows that you can sing it better. He is very old school in the way that he likes a warm sound and just the sound that he is trying to get.
Because he comes from an engineering background his producing is even more amazing because if he hears something in his head he actually knows how to turn the knobs to get that sound.
A lot of producers these days are not musicians and they are not engineers and so you wonder how they get what’s in their head and make it happen without the use of other people. He is a one stop shop for so much knowledge. We just have so much faith in him.
- Well that leads me into my next question as I was wondering what you thought he brings to your music and this record?
I felt like he brought a confidence. Making the first record was very scary as we were coming from the Dixie Chicks but he did bring a lot of confidence to that record.
This time we just wanted a consistency of sound, we are trying to establish a Court Yard Hound sound that is unique to us, so that was one piece it.
The second piece of it was the continuation of that feeling of confidence and like you have got you main cheerleader there cheering you on. And it wasn’t broken so we didn’t feel like… we wanted to maintain and develop further but also keep what we already had.
He produces acts that are so diverse - if you look at his discography it is not like he does just one thing. We know that if we go to Jim Scott he is not going to contain us as he can do anything that we want to do. There is a deep deep friendship there as well.
- You have mentioned Martin Strayer already and he is also back on board so how collaborative a process is it between you all?
It really is; he is married to Emily now. What he contributes musically is so important to our sound - I was actually very glad that they got married because on the first record I was thinking ‘what are we going to do if they break up because he is so amazing?’ (laughs).
He helps us write our songs and a lot of our song writing come from his little guitar riffs. The three of us have a chemistry in a writing room where everyone contributes something different and yet it all fits together.
It made me nervous that they were dating (laughs). But now he is on board and there is a baby too I see him being our collaborator for a long time to come.
- You have talked about the writing process already and now much you enjoy the co-writing. So what it is about the co-write that you seem to enjoy so much?
I think you first have to feel 100% comfortable with the person that you are with. I have written in sessions where I am just meeting the person for the first time and it is extremely difficult.
If they have a very strong personality they might push their ideas through and you don’t you don’t really get to push any ideas - plus you might not like their ideas.
I am a really passive person to begin with so I have written a lot of pretty crappy songs with strangers because I let it go in a direction that I didn’t feel it should have and I didn’t know them well enough to speak up. So I think that that relationship and if you feel comfortable with that person is very important.
It is hours and hours and you can spend a whole day and maybe get a great chorus - but also you get the whole song in the matter of an hour. Some songs come slow and it is tedious and some songs come fast.
I find having a good and honest relationship with the people in the room is the most important and helps me collaborate.
When I am in the room by myself I just second guess so many things; even if I write a song by myself I usually run it past Emily. Sometimes that works but sometimes she will want to change a few things.
- We know you from Dixie Chicks so how did Court Yard Hounds come about? And how daunting was it moving away from what you knew?
It came about when Emily was sending me songs and I was getting these very simple guitar vocal singer-songwriter type tracks that she had put down. I was just taken in as it was emotional for me to these songs and I thought her voice was so beautiful.
She was going to pitch those songs to other artists and I was like ‘absolutely not, these are your songs. If they reach an audience or not you have got to keep these for yourself because they are about your life and you sound so beautiful and vulnerable singing them’.
And then that evolved into ‘well why don’t we start a band? Do you think Natalie (Maines) would be mad it we started a band? No, she doesn’t really want to sing right now. In the meantime let’s start a band.’ Everybody was on board. After Emily and I had about six songs we made the call to Jim Scott.
- Was making this second album as Court Yard Hounds easier as you had established yourself as the Court Yard Hounds with the first record? Was it a slightly easier process?
It was. It took way longer, for some reason. We wrote for a really long time and then life got in the way; Emily had another baby and things like that. We took some left turns and went out and wrote with some other writers we had never written with before.
So it took a little longer but there was so much more confidence with this record. I am also more confident with myself as well as I am singing more and that has taken some of the pressure off Emily; she is glad that I am singing more.
The first time around we didn’t even know what our sound was and now I feel like we are just building on a sound and building on a core audience.
- So have you got any live shows planned and any plans to bring the Court Yard Hounds to the UK?
Well we have a plan to come to the UK maybe in the spring time of next year; we are not 100% sure and we are mapping it out right now. We need to launch the record here first and that is going to happen this summer.
We are going on tour here in the U.S. in September, October, November and part of December. So we are looking at the UK, Australia and Canada as our main stops on the world tour, if you will (laughs).
- You have been working on this record and Natalie has just put out her debut album so are we going to be seeing you getting back together any time soon? Or are solo projects very much the focus at the moment?
We have a short Canadian tour set for the beginning of July of the Dixie Chicks only, so there are no side projects involved. That is just two different weekends and two different spots in four different cities in Canada.
And we have also just played a show here in the States that was a benefit. So we still do six to seven concerts a year - maybe ten a year - but right now we are doing out individual side projects. But we are definitely haven’t broken up.
- The pair of you are very busy with Court Yard Hounds but you have also got your families as well so how difficult a balancing act is it between musician and parent?
Throughout the writing and record process it was great because I could be home a lot and I also have a recording studio at my house. Emily would bring up her kids as well and we work in the studio in my house. It is tough but we have had to juggle career and family life for so long.
When the Dixie Chicks were at the height of our career that was almost impossible. We would have family buses and we had play rooms at the venue and we would bring cases full of toys and things for them to do.
We felt very fortunate that we could afford the luxury of bringing our kids with us. It is summer know and so my kids will be coming on most of the things that we are doing. Emily also has baby that is nine months old and so she is coming everywhere. We just make it work.
Since we are heads of the company, so to speak, we can make those decisions on when we work and when we don’t work; I think that women who work for other people do have a harder time making that work. So I hat to complain.
- How great is it having your kids on board and being able to show them what mum does?
It is great. I want them to see a different world and I want them to see other countries and experience different kinds of people. Hopefully it will open their eyes and maybe one day they will appreciate the unique experience that they got to have.
We played a show a few years ago and I have a picture of my children sitting on road cases backstage and you can see Emmylou Harris is on stage. Emmylou Harris is just the biggest influence of mine musically, her and Dolly Parton.
I remember looking at that picture and thinking ‘wow, there are my offspring watching my hero. They are sitting backstage and they are totally enthralled.’ I value all of those moments when they can be out on the road with me.
But it can be exhausting as if you have a child up all night sick but you have to be on TV the next morning at 9am it can be difficult.
You don’t always function at your best as a mom or as a singer. Something has got to give. Sometimes you feel like you are giving 50% here and 50% there and never 100%, but I don’t know how else to do it.
- Finally what is next for you?
Just releasing this record and then we are going on tour. We are mainly playing music festivals and then we are doing a little Texas tour with a bunch of other country artists.
A lot of it is still getting planned out but we are hoping to visit other countries, especially the UK in 2014
Court Yard Hounds - Amelita is released 15th July