The Highwomen: No, the Name Isn’t a Pot Reference
When Amanda Shires originally had the idea to name the new musical collective the Highwomen, she wasn't making a pot reference. In fact, according to a new conversation between Maren Morris and Brandi Carlile, who are also part of the effort, the group's name is a tip of the hat to the legendary country supergroup the Highwaymen, as well as a nod to the traditional country that inspires the Highwomen's musical direction.
"[Shires] was like, 'Yeah, we can call it the Highwomen,'" Carlile recalls during a conversation on Apple Music's Beats 1, in honor of International Women's Day. "It was a joke. I was laughing, but I was like, 'Like the Highwaymen?'
"She was like, 'Yeah, but the Highwomen. And not 'high' like high,'" Carlile continues. "Like exalted. Above the fold."
The idea for the Highwomen emerged from more than just wanting to make music together; in fact, Shires originally conceived of the group as exclusively message-based.
"We were basically hanging out, got to know each other, became fast friends, fell in love," Carlile remembers. "And she said, 'We should start a political movement.'"
From there, however, the idea morphed into something more music-focused: "Like a Trojan horse of love, you know," Carlile continues. "Where we get inside the mechanism, fix it from inside. But we don't embattle it."
Carlile and Shires embraced the idea spotlighting women as a cornerstone of the project when it was in its very early stages. At that point, Morris wasn't involved just yet.
"[Shires and I] started talking about women that inspire us in American music. First word out of my mouth was Maren Morris," Carlile goes on to say. "And I think we're gonna make some really amazing things happen."
For Morris, the group also represents a chance to showcase a side of her musical identity that doesn't always get to take center stage in her solo material.
"I love the music that I've chosen for my personal project," Morris points out, "but I have so many songs in the well that maybe didn't fit my album, but deserve to be maybe living in a space that is a little rootsier."
The Highwomen, according to Carlile and Morris' conversation, will feature a rotating cast of guest performers and contributing musicians, and will be helmed by ace producer Dave Cobb. "We're calling it this pirate ship, because it's more people than can ever be in the band," Carlile adds. The group is writing with Natalie Hemby and Lori McKenna, playing with Sheryl Crow and Janelle Monae, and many more guest appearances are in the works.
In addition to a formidable cast of female artists, the collective will also collaborate with a group of men that Carlile describes as "adjacent feminists," such as Jason Isbell, Cobb, her songwriting partners and bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth and others.
"It's turning into a movement in Nashville, to very kindly but insistently say, 'Women need to be included,'" Carlile says. "Women need to experience representation in country and Western music, and Americana, and that starts in Nashville. It starts with us."
Carlile and Morris' conversation aired on Beats 1 on Apple Music on Friday (March 8). To listen on-demand, go here.
Modern Country Music's Female Trailblazers