The Chicks are Dixie no more — and banjo player Emily Strayer says “people can either take it or leave it.”
Strayer, fiddle-playing sister Martie Maguire and singer Natalie Maines have spoken out about the controversy regarding their recent decision to change the name of their alt-country act from the Dixie Chicks to, simply, the Chicks. The trio formally distanced themselves from references to the Civil War-era South in late June, as Black Lives Matter protests gained momentum, but the Dixie drop was a long time coming. In a new interview with the Guardian, Strayer says “racist rhetoric” associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 was a red flag as they toured that year. This summer, they chose to make it official.
“Current events were the tipping point, but it wasn’t like we started thinking about it just two weeks ago,” says Strayer, who also dismisses accusations that the name change is some form of performative virtue signalling.
“You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t, so we just try and keep our own compass on all that stuff,” she says of critics who have taken the new name as a slight to the South and country fans. “The people who have hated us since the Bush comment are probably the same people saying that stuff.”
By now, the women, speaking over Zoom from their respective homes during quarantine, are used to getting heat, from outrage over their past criticism of then-President George W. Bush to being in the presence of a screaming Harvey Weinstein, who produced their 2006 documentary, Shut Up and Sing. Maines calls the Weinstein encounter “one of the scariest meetings we’ve ever had.”
“I really wish I could be back in that room and go: ‘Listen, motherf*****, don’t you talk to our directors like that,’” the singer now says. “I know first-hand how scary that man can be. He was definitely getting off on belittling them, because it was completely unnecessary and abusive.”
Divorce — including Maines’s recent split from actor Adrian Pasdar, which she and her bandmates “celebrated” with a cake and, by all accounts, pointed lyrics on their new album, Gaslighter — has also taken a toll; between the three women, there have been five marital breakups.
Any past backlash regarding their views hasn’t stopped Maines, Strayer and Maguire from being outspoken when it comes to politics and the cultural climate. Of President Trump, Maines predicts a 2020 loss: “I think coronavirus and the marches have put the nail in his coffin.”
She’s just as optimistic about the changes being wrought by the Black Lives Matter movement, including the replacement of Confederate statues.
“It’s like saying that, to remember World War II, Germans have to have Hitler statues everywhere,” Strayer says. “It’s the adulation of people who lost the war. In what culture has there ever been statues for the losers?”
Despite the band’s polarizing image, Strayer says she doesn’t shun those who disagree with her politics — “I would have to write off pretty much my whole family if that was the case,” she notes. That said, she feels confident that loyal Chicks fans will stand by the group as they speak their minds.
“Even if by being true to ourselves, we piss off half the population, there are still a lot of people who stand by what we’re saying,” she says.
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