Back in 2003 the Dixie Chicks were the biggest selling female band in history, selling tens of millions of albums. On tour in London when the U.S. was on the brink of invading Iraq, the Dixie Chick's Natalie Maines made a comment, just 12 words, about President Bush that caused the group a great deal of professional problems.
Maines said, "We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
A new documentary, “Shut Up and Sing,” which opens this week chronicles the backlash and how this country band from Dallas still feels the heat from that 12 word remark.
Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks joined "Hardball" host Chris Matthews to discuss politics, music and media consolidation. This is a transcript of their conversation.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": I want to ask Natalie, are you glad you said it?
NATALIE MAINES, "DIXIE CHICKS" MUSICIAN: Yes, definitely. I mean, I’m glad I used my free speech and spoke out against it. And I think I didn’t know, the day after how glad I was that I said it but today I have no regrets.
MATTHEWS: Martie, was she speaking for you too or was it her own words there, her own thoughts?
MARTIE MAGUIRE, "DIXIE CHICKS" MUSICIAN: No, absolutely. I don’t think she would have said “we” unless we all agreed with her 100 percent and that’s why I felt compelled to really stick by her in the wake of all the controversy because I agreed not only that she had the right to say whatever she wanted to say, but that I agreed with what she said.
MATTHEWS: Emily, are you onboard this as well?
EMILY ROBISON, "DIXIE CHICKS" MUSICIAN: Yes. during that time that’s all we talked about, whether were on the way somewhere in the car or in the hotel rooms- the war was on our minds, that’s what we were discussing at the time and very concerned and we always share our feelings and talk with each other.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it’s fair to dump on the American president when you’re overseas?
ROBISON: Well, I think there’s a distinction here. You know, a lot of people have given us grief about that, but if we were in enemy territory, I understand that. But we were with allies, amongst allies and people who were going to war with us, so they were dealing with the same subject that Americans were. They were protesting their leader putting us into this war as well.
MATTHEWS: Natalie, would you have said that in France, which was differing with us in the war back then?
MAINES: I would have said that wherever I was when the war was about to start. We were in London that night, the deadline was the very next day. That happened to be where I was. So for people who say that I wouldn’t have said that in the States, I absolutely would have said that in the States. It never in a million years would have crossed my mind that I couldn’t question our government or not want to go to war.
MATTHEWS: Martie, I get the feeling at the time that you folks, when you made that statement and you all stood behind it and took the heat for it, that the country world out there and country musicians were definitely for the war.
I think of Toby Keith's song, “Remember How You Felt” which is basically a pitch that if you didn’t like 9/11 you had to like Iraq, that they were basically lining up and saying this was a smart thing for the U.S. to do.
It turns out most Americans all over the country think it’s not a smart thing that we did.
MAGUIRE: Yes. I think country music is unique to other forms of music. You know, you’ve just got a majority of the core of country music listening audience kind of feeling the same way about politics and we always kind of felt like the black sheep but never really used the stage to talk about politics or how we felt about important, controversial issues.
But we weren’t surprised, I guess, when that part of the population was angry with us because it is a big military group, it is a big kind of Christian fundamentalist group, that core country audience. So I wasn’t surprised we rubbed them the wrong way, I just didn’t think that it would go to the extent it did.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Natalie, who started this all because you were the voice that spoke. Who went out there and really tried to exploit this against you? Were there any commercial forces that compete with you that said, here this is a chance to bring down the Dixie Chicks and take the money they’d be getting?
I know it sounds Machiavellian but that’s the way I am. I’m thinking who is gaining by your demise.
MAINES: Well, personally, I think the right did. And I think it was originally started by the “Free Republic”. And they were very organized in calling radio stations across the country and telling them that they would never listen to their station, when they didn’t even live in that town. And we knew that. At the beginning our manager tried to explain that to some program directors and they were not willing to listen. It looked like we were grasping at straws, so we just sort of kept quiet and let it happen because they are a powerful, organized machine, and they wanted to take us down. And they did.
MATTHEWS: Were you blacklisted?
MAINES: Absolutely. They have a hate list and we were number one.
ROBISON: And you said something about corporate America, you know, it brings up another subject of the consolidation of media. Once again, these were edicts coming down from corporate headquarters, that they weren’t allowed to play our music. It wasn’t a local type of thing. But for the most part, it was coming down from the top, “You are not allowed to play the Dixie Chicks.”
And so that’s another thing you get into. And we’ve been part of the Artist Coalition even before any of this happened, trying to show the problems that exist when that happens.
MATTHEWS: So Martie, a big monopoly can have a big impact if they don’t like somebody’s politics, right?
MAGUIRE: Definitely. We found that first hand, for sure. And we know people that lost their jobs for simply playing our music.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Natalie, are you worried about this country sometimes? We all, I guess, believe in democracy as a principle, but do you ever worry that the majority could be totally wrong, and be caught up in something where they’re led to believe something about Iraq or whatever, and they just go crazy, you know- no more French fries, hating the French. I don’t want us being dog-trained into thinking certain ways.
It scares me when people who have had pretty good educations, especially, who have read history, know about how the world’s going, know that little countries don’t like being overtaken by big countries, know all the history and still start acting like they are bow-wowing to a president.
Doesn’t that scare you, public opinion now? A little bit?
MAINES: Media consolidation scares me more than anything. And I don’t blame the average person for not knowing exactly what is going on, and for believing what is on their television station.
MATTHEWS: Why are you letting them off the hook? Because if people people who have listened to a radio station, and all of a sudden somebody comes on and says, "I’m telling you, don’t like these people, they’ve made fun of our president, therefore don’t buy their albums."
Doesn’t it scare you that people would take obedience like that?
MAINES: No, it absolutely scares me. But I think the problem is media consolidation.
We as Americans should be getting the truth. I grew up in a small town, so I know what it’s like —I think that they thought they knew.
MATTHEWS: Well, Emily, tell me. Who was the corporation that went after you?
ROBISON: Cox and Cumulus were the ones who definitely had corporate bans. You know, we suspected some others.
MATTHEWS: Cox and who else?
ROBISON: Cumulus Radio.
MATTHEWS: Where are they located?
ROBISON: I’m not sure where they’re located.
MATTHEWS: Well, you don’t know where they are located, but you’ve accused them of a massive conspiracy to hurt you.
ROBISON: No. They’ve got stations all over the country that they claim are independently run stations, and they were part of the consolidation hearings. And John McCain really raked them over the coals, because they were trying to say that all the individual stations were privately owned—or individually owned, and could make their own decisions, yet there was a mandate, from corporate headquarters, wherever that may be, that they had to stop playing our music.
MATTHEWS: You know, I have to tell you. I want to share something with you. I was at a Barbra Streisand concert years ago, and she asked the audience—it was out here in Maryland, with thousands of people—and she asked how many people voted Republican last election.
And she was shocked—because I talked to her later about the fact that almost half the people in the audience—this is a Barbra Streisand concert, a very liberal woman, very opinionated, obviously— half the audience practically were Republicans, who voted Republican.
But they still liked her singing.
I love that. I love the fact people can decide, OK, you know, I don’t like Jane Fonda but I love her movies. Or, I don’t like Barbra Streisand, but she’s the best singer in fifty years.
Can people react like that to you?
MAGUIRE: Yes, I respected that a lot. You know, I think that’s common sense. I don’t care what my favorite artists think politically.
MATTHEWS: How about you, Natalie?
MAINES: I think it’s absolutely wonderful. And I think what happened to us is not the truth of what people were like or what was going on, because if people really weren’t going to listen to someone, or watch a movie or watch television because of what they thought politically, and if they really wanted to seek that out, they would not have hardly any television to watch. They would not have any movies to see, and they would not have but a handful of artists to listen to.
MATTHEWS: It’s great to hear from all of you. Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison.
Thank you very much. The Dixie Chicks, you are great. Great looking too, actually. Good luck with this movie.
ROBISON: Thank you for having us.
Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.