Behind the Lyrics: Miranda Lambert - Waxahachie
Updated: Nov 9, 2022
In this new series of ‘Behind the lyrics’ I’ll be taking a closer look at what makes certain songs have the ability to take us deeper than just enjoying the bop! I’ll be looking at top 10 hit country artists, but also other artists where I feel the lyrics are something special, or doing something unique and generally making me say “I wish I’d written that!”.
This month I’ve dived back into the Palomino album from Miranda Lambert. The song Waxahachie was actually first on the famous Marfa tapes in 2021, which was almost barely no more than songwriter work tapes, recorded live next to a camp-fire over in west Texas. The version linked is a complete studio remake of that original. There are a couple of lyrical changes too since that first version, which I’ll get into later.
One of the things I generally admire and enjoy about Miranda’s writing is that she is always able to access her emotions and express something deeper even if at the same time she is playing with imagery like; a heap of trouble coming ‘out in the wash’ or being too ‘pretty for prison!’ Her natural humour allows her to tackle deeper subjects without dumbing down the message.
So why choose ‘Waxahachie’ over ‘If I was a cowboy’ (it’s track buddy with over 60M streams!) I’ve chosen it because it demonstrates a great song-writing technique; personification, in this case a town is described as if it was a living breathing person. The whole chorus is like a fond memory of a ‘long-lost friend’ she knows she can depend on. Some people have said it was written about her breakup from Blake Shelton, but Miranda hasn’t ever specifically confirmed that’s what this song is about.
In verse 1 it is pretty clear she is angry, and I love that image of the message scrawled on a mirror in angry red lipstick - classic. This is a song about getting away from bad things so she places the starting point clearly right on the map in New Orleans. For me the two locations represent new and old lives. Miranda, being born in Texas, becomes the perfect destination to escape back to. It’s a great moment in verse 1 when these two feuding people can at least agree that it was ‘about as bad as it gets’. The image of the rumble strips speaks of a wake up call when you are asleep at the wheel. We are being told a lot about the relationship without being told details!
Verse 2 continues the confirmation that she is running from ‘the demons’ and she doesn’t need any help thank you very much; full tank and plenty of cigarettes. This verse has a beautifully simple sting in its tail; with the last two words “and you”, leaving us in no doubt again who caused all the trouble.
The chorus is the heart of this song like it should be in all songs. If she was truely singing about the place, it would make no sense to ask if it was still on Interstate 35 and if it was still the all night drive (the 500+ miles from New Orleans to Waxahachie takes around 8 hours according to Google!) Of course it is!
Choosing to set the song late at night is a classic way to reflect the general mood. People don’t storm out at midday and get there by dinnertime. You drive all night because you have no choice and nowhere better to be.
We don’t know why Waxahachie is chosen either, but being a fan of American town names myself, I reckon it’s because it’s in her home state of Texas and it’s a fab name to say and sing. It has a melody and interesting metre of its own just saying it out loud. In this song it represents a familiar safe place, somewhere that has always been on the map and will be forever; reliable and dependable.
On the Marfa tape version we don’t have the fully rewritten second half of the last chorus as we do in this version. Time has moved on and it’s now nearly 4am, she is more reflective and the anger has subsided. I noticed between versions she swapped out ‘need’ to ‘wanna’ in the line “I wanna be in your arms again’. We have the new last line alongside the minor chord - ‘Just like I’ve always been’. It’s been both a physical and emotional trip to Waxahachie. If you like this idea of personification, then another great example from the vault is ‘I am a town’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Search for the acoustic version in ‘The Essential…’ collection.
If you are a songwriter yourself, think about places and how they make you feel being there. Maybe you have your own Waxahachie you like to visit when times are tough?
Drop a comment or share this blog post, and describe the place you go to and how it makes you feel. Until next time, the engine’s running, gotta go!
Hugh has over 20 years experience as a songwriter and creative collaborator. Personally mentored by Kinks frontman Ray Davies, and a year at the London Songwriting Academy. Find out more here.