It’s a little early to think about trick-or-treaters, though Miranda Lambert‘s “Weird” is perhaps the best soundtrack for ultra-organized planners considering this year’s Halloween costume.
“It’s like a creepy carnival in a cool way,” he said with a laugh.
“Weird” is the response to the pandemic, an unbalanced period in American life that throws the population into limbo, especially when battling a terrifying new and dangerous virus in infancy. Let’s not forget how strange, Lambert and his co-authors, Luke Dick (“Burning Man”, “Don’t Come and Look”) and Natalie Hamby (“Heartache Medicine,” “Ponton”), wrote “Strange” on Lambert’s Tennessee farm in 2020, when vaccinations were a distant dream and society was close to a standstill.
“Nobody traveled back then,” Dick recalls. “Being there together was the only time we were without masks and recording with other people, and it was just a blast. We were swimming in the pond, burning up all over the place on four-wheelers, and then we were writing songs, laughing, dancing. To imagine making a record again in this situation difficult. This song feels like the embodiment of that.”
The trio held three different multi-day sessions that year to record Lambert’s main part palomino Album, each of them settled in his cabin on the property. “Times like this give me a weird feeling,” Hemby thought of the hook as he worked through the oddities of COVID-19 in his booth at their first meeting. He also came up with the opening line, “Coyotes to my left and wolves to my right,” an ominous image with shades of Halloween that captures the confusion that accompanies the misinformation surrounding the virus.
“I just felt like I didn’t know who the good guy was and the bad guy was here,” Hemby said. “Was everyone bad? I do not know. Sometimes in life when you go through things, you can only put them into words after it’s all over.”
Lambert and Dick were committed to the basic idea, but after working on it for a long time, they scrapped it and moved on to other material.
Returning for the second multi-day session, “Weird” came up again. This time something clicked. Dick produced a dark acoustic guitar riff with hard rock tones that captured the mood. They continued with contrasting, metaphorical images of the incongruities of life in a pandemic: the sun shining at night, “the city feeling around” and only elevators going down.
“Indeed one Alice in Wonderland song where you fall down a hole,” says Hemby. “There’s a Cheshire cat and a switch that doesn’t work and things that make it big and small.”
The second stanza deliberately brought in more vague imagery—”Lincoln came and Jefferson went” sounds like historical politics, but it’s actually a reference to the declining value of a dollar, and the broken Maytag’s vision addresses failing technology while subtly recalling “Everything.” Comes Out in the Wash,” a single from Lambert’s previous album, Wildcard symbol.
The meaning of the song doesn’t really open up until it reaches the chorus, taking on a brighter tone as entertainment and travel, activities that are generally discouraged during self-isolation in 2020.
“The chorus, we wanted it to be lifted and kind of anthemic and not creepy in any way,” Lambert said. “Like, ‘Have fun, get a drink, get out of here, go on vacation’—what you have to do to stay sane with all this weirdness. I wanted it to be an anthem that brought people together. The pandemic was definitely the weirdest thing we’ve all been through, but it’s just part of it.
As they neared the conclusion, they felt that “Weird” needed a bridge, but stuck together. They considered closing up shop, but Lambert suggested they each retreat to their booths, record their version of the bridge, and then get back together. Twenty or 30 minutes later, they compared notes, then grabbed a line from each version to get another twist. Finally, its verses emphasize the specifics of the times, the chorus covers the runs, and the bridge is practically a Serenity Prayer: an effort to accept the unchangeable.
“It’s fun to read and very easy to play,” says Hemby. “I just love the song. At the same time, it seems to me that it expresses everyone’s frustration without being preachy.”
Dick showcased around the original guitar riff by doubling the part to create an ethereal, almost invisible battle between the left and right speakers. These guitars later became the foundation when Lambert, Dick, and co-produced. John Randall (Dierks Bentley, Parker McCollum) assembled a small crew to cut the final version at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio.
“We kept a lot of Luke Dick’s guitars and flew them into our track because he’s so specific, his way, it’s impossible to duplicate what he does,” says Randall. “When he creates a really cool vibe in these acoustics and everything, you want to keep them, so we played on top of what he’s already put down.”
Track use a Tom Petty-sounds like a guitar pulsing and they add an eerie texture to it Rob McNally played with extended wah-wah pedal tones. “This is a Mike Campbell trick,” says Dick. “He’s trying to think like ‘Into the Great Wide Open,’ which is the beginning of the song.”
Ian Fitchuk doubled on bass and keyboards, where he laid dreamy counter-melodies in the background and filtered Wurlitzer piano to create a glassy, descending tone at the end of the first chorus, enhancing the House of Mirrors atmosphere. “The track had to go with the lyrics, so you had to follow what that vibe was,” says Randall. “That’s why there’s phase-shifting sounding guitars and all that to make it feel a little weird.”
When it came time for Lambert to do the final vocals for the album, he took her to the studio with a different driver every day to be emotionally prepared for the songs she was going to deliver. “Driving forces me to focus on driving,” he says. “I needed to be released so that I could start thinking that today I am singing the song “Strange”. Let’s go to the house of mirrors in your mind’.
Vanner/RCA released the “Weird” tone country radio via PlayMPE on June 27 and it debuted at no. 60 on the Country Airplay chart for August 6. Currently listed as the top New & Active title, it reflects the tough times and sets the scene for Lambert’s favorite holiday, Halloween.
“It’s like one of those non-shallow singalongs,” he said. “Some songs are fun and light and don’t need much to say, and some have a little more meat.”
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