“I like the idea of having a living record as you go,” says Shires, who dropped the swirling, indie-rock-influenced single “Deciphering Dreams” last week. “Sometimes you write songs that don’t all fit together. What do you, just throw them away? This might be a chance for growth and learning. It could be a horrible fall-on-your-face kind of experiment. But you know, I can always stop at any point.”
Anyone who has been following Shires’s career in recent years knows that kind of failure is unlikely. The 37-year-old has hit career-high marks of late, beginning with 2018’s eclectic “To the Sunset,” in which she experimented with filtering her fiddle through an effects pedal, adding a new texture that complemented the quivery vibrato of her voice.
In September, the Highwomen, which she formed as a response to the lack of female representation on mainstream country radio, released its self-titled debut album. Produced by Dave Cobb, who encouraged Shires to approach Carlile about the project, the record has a classic country sound, with all four women trading lead vocals and harmonizing on songs that are comedic, poignant and celebratory.
“Any room we can make for women — the ripple effect — has been really positive,” Shires says of the Highwomen. “We’re making steps in the right direction.”
Because of their solo careers, the Highwomen have performed live together only a few times, though a tour is in the works. Shires envisions the quartet staging intimate multi-night residencies in different cities, rather than a massive arena tour.
“That way would we get to bring our families which is important to me because I don’t ever get to do that,” says Shires, who has a 4-year-old daughter, Mercy, with her husband and frequent collaborator Jason Isbell. “A smaller room also makes us all feel more together and more connected.”
In the meantime, Shires is working some of the Highwomen’s songs into her current Atmosphereless tour. The group’s namesake track, a reimagining of Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman,” has particular reverence for Shires.
“It goes past the part of women and into the lines of racial inequalities,” Shires says. “You can take the meaning however you want [of the lyric] ‘we carry the sons you can only hold.’ That song, it’s our mission statement. If the album was a tree, that would be the d--- trunk and all the other ones are branches.”
Show: Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Sixth and I, 600 I St. NW. sixthandi.org. $29.50-$35.