Amanda Shires Got Her Masters in Creative Writing to Help With Songwriting

See Amanda Shires on Jan. 24.
See Amanda Shires on Jan. 24. Elizaveta Porodina
The last year and a half have been busy for Americana recording artist Amanda Shires since she released her fourth album, My Piece of Land.

She has recorded and toured with husband Jason Isbell as a member of the 400 Unit, finished her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Sewanee University, won the Americana Association’s 2017 Emerging Artist award and recorded yet another album, To the Sunset, which has made several “Best of 2018” lists. Oh, and she’s also been raising a toddler.

Among those lists, Rolling Stone placed To the Sunset No. 41 in their top 50, an honor Shires remains humble about — if not a bit taken aback by.

“It’s a strange thing because you feel like it’s a compliment, and at the same time,” she pauses, not quite knowing how to formulate her feelings about the recognition. “I don’t know, it’s a weird feeling. It’s a good feeling when people say you did a good job at something, but it’s kind of a strange feeling more than anything.

“I’m just glad somebody liked it,” she says with a laugh, recognizing that she has let her words trail off. “It makes it easier to buy diapers and things.”

When it comes to Rolling Stone’s claim that To the Sunset was 2018’s “most adventurous, thrilling Americana release,” Shires is not so quick to accept the genre label.

“I just make music and then let the people put it into categories,” she says. “If John Fogerty is Americana, then I guess I am too.”

“I just make music and then let the people put it into categories. If John Fogerty is Americana, then I guess I am too.” – Amanda Shires

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Diving a little deeper, Shires believes she's more rock 'n' roll.

Shires’ writing style has also received high acclaim, with comparisons to Tom Waits and John Prine, which Shires takes as a high compliment.

“I try hard,” she says, “and those are folks who I’ve studied and listened to a lot. The goal, I think, is to keep progressing and say your feelings and make them rhyme and find a connection with other folks who feel similarly out there in the world.”

Shires credits her masters in creative writing with giving her a more solid foundation in the craft of songwriting.

“One of the reasons I went to get my MFA,” she says, “was because I felt I was writing only on instinct, and I had no real background in writing.”

It also helped her hone her focus from “having to write everything and see all directions a song could go before I could see the end” to “understanding how a word can change the tone of a song.”

Shires, who spent her youth between Lubbock and Mineral Wells, is excited to return to Dallas, where she played her first live performance as a solo artist. She played Sons of Hermann Hall with Todd Snider.

“Todd didn’t show up that day,” Shires says, “because his house got burglarized. ... So I had to take my six songs and just play them over and over and over.”

Shires looks around her house for a poster to remember the date of the performance.

"June 28, 2007,” she reads.

AllGood Café in Deep Ellum was another one of Shires' haunts where she was able to develop herself as an artist.

“I played there a million times,” she explains. “Mike Snider always was real nice to me and let me play there — real good memories of playing there. People like Mike Snider, who give the smaller venues a space for artists to grow — that’s the key. There are a lot of places that don’t have that.

“On top of it all,” she adds, “he always gave us breakfast."

Shires will bring On With the $hit Show tour to The Kessler on Thursday, Jan. 24.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Shires says. “I can’t wait to get back.”

Tickets are $20.
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher