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Shelby Lynne on Her Life and Career As an Outlaw

Shelby Lynne’s such a country outlaw, she won’t even let you call her “country” anymore. That Grammy she won for 2000’s I Am Shelby Lynne might’ve been the last sign of any Nashville sweetheart in her: On her raw new folk-rock set Tears, Lies, and Alibis, she’d rather fans see her as just another old-fashioned liquor-gargling, trailer-hitching singer-songwriter, thank you very much. And yet, when we talked with the California desert drifter, she gushed over the same things Waylon Jennings might’ve gotten misty-eyed over: Airstream trailers, Jack Daniels, and Willie Nelson. Guess the outlaw part’s still true.

You’ve said your new album came out of a conversation you had with a guy friend about how musicians can’t have lasting relationships, especially with women.
Yeah, we were talking about how girls get with guys because those guys are cool musicians and they love that whole freedom vibe of being a rock-and-roller, but eventually the girl always wants to settle down and have babies. So the guy’s gonna say, “No, remember? That’s why you fell in love with me. Because no one could tie me down.” It’s the same way for me. You have to find somebody who understands this world, because being with a musician means always having guys come by your living room at midnight to spill whiskey on the floor.

Have you had relationships with women who’ve tried to tie you down?
I don’t talk about my personal life. But the relationships I’ve had have usually been with other musicians. It’s just easier that way.

“Something to Be Said” is about your obsession with Airstream trailers. Where did that love start?
It’s a childhood love. To me, they’re a never-changing piece of Americana. They’re as classic as a Tiffany’s box. They make ‘em brand-new, and they’re still in the classic style of the original [prewar] models. I love what they represent about our country: that whenever we want to, we can pack up our Airstreams and hitch ‘em to our Cadillacs and go wherever we want to go. That freedom is what I love about being an American.

On “Old #7,” you sing about another of your great loves: Jack Daniels.
Whiskey used to be my drink of choice, but it’s not as often now. I’ve always said I write songs about what I knew at the time, and this time, I knew a lot about Jack Daniels. You’re either a whiskey drinker or a wine drinker, you’re not both, and I’m a whiskey drinker, because I hang out with the boys and I drink to get drunk. But if you’re in a mean mood, that brown liquid’s not gonna be your friend.

You’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with the good-ol’-boys in Nashville, and now you’ve finally left the Nashville label Lost Highway to start your own Everso Records. What was the final straw?
I started making the record when I was still on the label and they cut the budget in half. And then they wanted me to work with a famous producer, but I wanted to produce everything myself. So I worked on the record from January till July, and then Lost Highway passed on it. The only reason I went with Lost Highway to begin with was that they weren’t a mainstream Nashville thing, and now it turns out they’re not a lot different. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to have my own label. For the first time in my career, I have total control. It’s time for artists to take their music back.

I heard that listening to Willie Nelson’s Willie and Family as a kid made you want to be an outlaw. Are you still an outlaw?
Well, I think that’s one of the best live albums ever recorded. But I was an outlaw way before I heard that record; it’s just something in your blood. I’m not big on law enforcement; I look good in leather; and now I’m going up against the corporate man with my own label. So you bet I’m still an outlaw. Now more than ever. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lynne plays the the Concert Hall at New York Society for Ethical Culture Monday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images