Chicks get vocal on gay rights

Chicks get vocal on gay rights

With multi-million selling country outfit the Dixie Chicks currently on hiatus, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison have formed their own group, the Court Yard Hounds.

But fear not, Dixie Chicks fans — this doesn’t spell the end for the highest-selling female country group of all time.

“I think we all needed about two years off after the last album and tour,” Maguire explained to Sydney Star Observer. “That felt really good, because we were wrecked — physically and emotionally.

“After about two years, we started calling [Dixie Chicks frontwoman] Natalie [Maines], saying, ‘Don’t you want to play?’.

“We’ve done little things, and we did a tour with the Eagles this year, but it was never ‘Let’s get back in the studio and start on the two-year grind that is making and promoting a record’. That just seemed like too much for Natalie, and it still seems like too much.”

Growing restless with waiting for their bandmate, the sisters took matters into their own hands and forged ahead under a new band name until Maines is ready to rejoin the fold.

But as anyone who’s seen them live would know, Maines is the Dixie Chicks’ undisputed frontwoman. Maguire and her sister barely spoke on stage during the group’s last Australian tour.

Were they nervous about removing the security blanket that is their mouthy bandmate?

“Emily and I have been in bands since I was 12 and she was 10, so it feels comfortable to us. We were more nervous about whether people would constantly compare her voice to Natalie’s, or our softspokenness to Natalie’s feistiness. We have some pretty hardcore fans, and we didn’t know whether they’d come with us or lash back,” Maguire laughed.

Thankfully, fans have come on board, and well they should, as The Court Yard Hounds’ self-titled debut is an assured collection, continuing with the rock and alt.country sound explored on the Chicks’ last album, Taking The Long Way. There are a few curveballs though.

Take Ain’t No Son, a blistering country-rock track sung largely from the point of view of a bigoted father, furious that his son is gay. “You ain’t no son of mine — forget it girls, there ain’t no use in tryin’,” Robison spits angrily.

It’s only the track’s a cappella intro, sung from the point of view of the son, that reveals where the duo’s true allegiances lie: “I got something to say, I’m scared and so afraid, can you take me as I am? Come what may, our blood is all the same, I’m still your little man.”

“…And then the hard rock comes in, and that’s the redneck voice,” Maguire chuckled.

“We wrote it after Emily had watched a documentary about families who throw their young boys out of the house when they find out they’re gay. She was really disturbed by that mentality. She doesn’t like having to sing it from the father’s perspective, because she really has to become that person when she’s singing it.”

It’s certainly a long way from the shiny, inoffensive country-pop the Chicks peddled in the late ’90s.

The turning point undoubtedly came with Natalie Maines’ 2003 on-stage comment, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, that she was ‘ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas’. The statement — and its resulting fallout — was memorably detailed in the oustanding 2006 documentary Shut Up And Sing.

In the closing scenes of the documentary, Maguire tearfully said that despite the death threats, the cancelled tour dates and the hate mail, she was glad Maines had spoken her mind. It certainly radically shifted the Chicks’ previous conservative fan base.

Does she think, had it not happened, she would’ve been able to release a gay rights anthem like Ain’t No Son without fear of an uproar from fans?

“Probably not. I didn’t realise how polarised an industry like music can be. I mean, we grew up in the South, but in a very liberal household — both our parents are from the northeast. I was just oblivious to the fact that the country scene was socially backward and politically opposite of everything I am.

“On the whole, the country audience is very conservative,” she sighed.

“I’m just not sure we fit in there any more.”

info: Court Yard Hounds were due to play A Taste Of Lilith, Monday, October 4, Enmore Theatre, but have pulled out. The concert is still going ahead, with Sarah McLachlan, The Verses and Kate Miller-Heidke on the bill. Tickets through Ticketek.

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