Feature Stories

Violinist Amanda Shires on Tour with Husband Jason Isbell While Looking After a Newborn

Texas native songwriter Amanda Shires had a handful of anxiety-inducing and hormone-driven questions while she was pregnant with her daughter just over a year ago.

They’re questions any expectant new parent recognizes: Can I do this? Are we ready? What will change?
But among the biggest for the 34-year-old singer and violin player was how to create a home for Mercy Rose, whose parents — Shires and husband, Grammy winner Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive-by Truckers — spend most of their lives on the road.

It would be so different from the singer’s own childhood, growing up in cozy Mineral Wells, Shires knew.
“Her home, I decided, is going to be anywhere we are all there together,” she told the Dallas Observer in a phone interview.

This week, they were all three together at home in Nashville, on a short family break from touring. Shires, supporting her new album My Piece of Land, is set to bring her lively, melodic Americana-influenced music to the Kessler Theater in Dallas on Dec. 7. Her album was released on Sept. 16.

Shires wrote and recorded the songs on the album while she was home alone in the final weeks of her pregnancy, after she’d finished all the familiar nesting rituals while Isbell was out on tour: Decorating the nursery, cleaning out drawers and other slightly more unusual late-pregnancy activities.

“I hung up paintings in the garage because everybody knows that the baby needs to be welcomed with a gallery in the garage,” she said, laughing. “I picked all my weeds and my neighbor’s weeds …

“And after I did all I could think to do, that’s when I started writing.”

In the song “You Are My Home,” she dealt with one of the central questions of her pregnancy:

“Walls are just walls/You are my home/You are my home, wherever you go/ Anywhere you stand is my piece of land.”

“I wrote that trying to solve the puzzle of where it was that I truly felt at home, I guess,” she said. “It really came about because I was trying to figure out, you know, ‘Where is it, exactly?’ And it came to be not a physical location at all.”

The song “Nursery Rhyme” is a love song to the child she’s waiting for: “If you aren’t tip-toeing, then you’re stomping across my mind/I know it’s time, I know it’s way past time.”

To Shires, the album doesn’t reflect only her new role as mother, though it certainly pays tribute to that. It also encapsulates other parts of herself: The self-assured woman, the friend, the partner.

After Mercy was born in September 2015, Shires waited just two weeks before doing her first show — a local show with her husband — but elected to hold off on touring so she could stay close to home to nurse and nurture her new baby.

About eight months in, she hit the road again, mostly one-offs and weekend runs on tour with Isbell, declining to leave the baby home with a sitter for days or weeks at a time — and bringing her on the tour bus with her instead.

In August 2016, Shires went back out on the road full on, in support of the album she’d written during pregnancy a year earlier, My Piece of Land.

And since Isbell’s bus is a lot more comfortable than Shires’ 15-person van, Mercy Rose tours with Isbell when the family isn’t home together.

“I just did the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I went three weeks without seeing her,” Shires said. “I learned a little bit about my limits and boundaries. Three weeks might be a little long. But I survived, and she survived. Jason’s a great co-parent.”

Shires has one more three-week leg of her tour coming up next month, but after that, she said, she has worked out a way to keep the trips shorter so that she doesn’t have to spend such large chunks of time away from her daughter.

Shires gets through the ache of missing her by looking at the bigger picture.

“It’s the idea of making a good future for her and being a good example for her,” she said.

Shires also draws strength from her energetic shows and looks forward to her date with Dallas.

“It’s all about connecting with people, because there’s all kinds of songs, but it is a lot of awesome rock-and-roll, and awesome folk-type music and then fiddle-shredding,” she said. “But I think that I’m going to go out there and be with people that are like me in the same room together, and we’re all going to experience life together and not feel so alone in the world.”
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