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There are songs that are born of a melody. Other, a hook or chorus.
Rare is the song that begins with its title.
And yet, that’s exactly where Miranda Lambert‘s “It All Comes Out in the Wash” came from.
The track, released in July 2019 as the lead single from the country star’s seventh studio album Wildcard, gave Lambert her best opening on the Billboard Country Airplay chart (where it debuted at No. 19) in three years and climbed from No. 36 to 15 on the Hot Country Songs chart. And by year’s end, the uplifting little slice of sing-along honky-tonk country pop had caught the ear of the Recording Academy, earning Lambert and her co-writers Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose (known collectively as the Love Junkies) a nomination for Best Country Song at the 62nd Grammy Awards, held in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 26.
While Rose shared a writing credit with Lambert on her previous album, 2016’s two-disc The Weight of These Wings, Wildcard marks the first time that the Love Junkies have appeared in the liner notes on one of the singer’s albums. And from the way McKenna describes the writing sessions that “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” as well as “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” “Fire Escape” and “Track Record,” sprung from, we have a feeling it won’t be the last.
“I’ve known Miranda for years. I think as soon as I started coming to Nashville, I met her early on and just was always just a huge fan, you know, like before her first record. And I just love what he does. And I remember like so many times, trying to get like, ‘Oh man, I want to write a song with Miranda Lambert,'” the songwriter told E! News exclusively. “When the Love Junkies sort of grew out of writing all the time together, Liz was like, ‘We should have Miranda come and join the Love Junkies,’ which is kind of a lot of people. It’s four people in the room. And Miranda doesn’t really need anybody to write with because she’s such a brilliant writer. But it’s just fun, having the four of us.”
“We just had a ball writing all of us together and talking about our husbands and our families and our craziness or, you know, whatever is going on,” she continued. “Just girl talk, you know? Just having a blast together. But she’s a badass writer. I think everybody knows that about her. She doesn’t really need anybody to help her in the process, but she enjoys co-writing. She enjoys the process of that sort of collaboration.”
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As for the day “It All Comes Out in the Wash” was written, McKenna confirmed it all began with those seven words. “I’m pretty sure this one started with the title,” she explained. “It was an expression she sort of grew up with…I mean, I’ve definitely heard it over the years but it wasn’t something I’d heard a ton of. And I’ve definitely never heard a song about that. And to put it in an emotional—like obviously the expression works with, like, literal stains and also emotional messiness. So I thought it was really clever that she had that idea to sort of make it a list of all different things. Really, it started with the title.”
Of course, a title alone doesn’t a song make. “Usually, when someone has a great title like that, Hillary will hear something and she’ll she’ll start tapping on her guitar or table because Hillary’s real percussive,” she continued. “What we’ll do normally like, ‘Oh, that’s a great title. What does that feel like to you? Does it feel like a ballad? That’s really not a title that feels like a ballad.’ You know? So it’s sort of felt funner. And then Liz and I sort of take on the role of helping with lyric and sort of letting—Hillary and Miranda work super well together in that melodic state and those melodic stages of building the song because they’re both so melody-oriented.”
“Then we all just had, you know, stories and whatever and the crawfish thing is like—or whatever they call it, that is such a Southern thing. I live in Boston,” McKenna said with a laugh. “So I was listening to all these stories of having the literal messes along with the emotional messes. It was just like, let’s just make a list. There’s so many ways to do this at this point.
One of the song’s highlights is its bridge, where the beat drops out as Lambert rattles off a laundry list of things that’ll all benefit from a good rinse, punctuated by her declaration, “That’s why the good Lord made bleach.” When she offered up that line while writing, it was enough to make McKenna, who admitted that bridges are “tricky,” sit up and say, as she told us, “Oh, holy moly.”
“When you have a moment like that, it’s just fun, you know?” she said. “That was just like, I think, a percussive kind of breakdown moment that seemed right in that song because Hillary especially, she’s not a huge fan of bridges. So they have to be really right in order for them to make the song.”
All told, the song, which McKenna admitted is “hard to even sing” if you’re not Lambert, came together rather quickly. “This one was a day. Miranda is pretty fast. Like I said, I don’t live in Nashville. I live in in Boston. I’m always amazed by the work ethic and how speedy a lot of Nashville writers really are,” she revealed. “And I won’t lie to you, there’s some wine drinking involved. It pretty much just takes us a day. We eat cheese, we drink wine and we write. We eat a lot, we definitely eat a lot. [Laughs].”
“We’ve never had a song with Miranda that we had to go back to. She lives in the moment with the song,” she continued. “And she’s super—she’s very dedicated to the song when she’s in it. It’s not like she’s on her phone or distracted. She’s not a person that gets distracted by other things when she’s writing, which is great because I, like most of us, do tend to get distracted by other things, but she really doesn’t. She lives in the writing moment when she’s there.”
While Lambert’s been nominated in the Best Country Song three times before—and come up short each time—McKenna’s won twice, once in 2016 with Little Big Town‘s “Girl Crush” and then a year later with Tim McGraw‘s “Humble and Kind.” When asked if she might be a bit of a good luck charm for the song this year, she’s hesitant to take that on. “I don’t know,” she told us. “To be honest, you’re always just honored to be nominated for [a] Grammy. It is like the best thing in the whole world. It’s just amazing that I even could say those words. It’s just shocking to me.”
She was working with Rose the day the nominations were announced, taking them both by surprise. “I have to say, I didn’t know the nominations were coming out the day that they were,” she said. “You’re always honored, but, in a way, it was kind of, like, more so because it was a surprise and we didn’t wonder if it would happen or not. It just didn’t cross our minds. The song was still climbing the chart. So it wasn’t like, you know, ‘Oh, this is a hit.’ You know what I mean? We didn’t know. So to have the nomination, I think it says a lot about Miranda and how respected she is as an artist.”
The morning got even more hectic when it was revealed that “Always Remember Us This Way,” the track she and Lindsey co-wrote with Natalie Hemby and Lady Gaga for the A Star Is Born soundtrack earned a nomination for the all-genre Song of the Year, her second ever following “Girl Crush” in 2016. “I was on the phone with Hillary and we were both talking about Miranda and the Miranda nomination, but I knew about the other one. And she didn’t yet…I’m like, ‘And we’re gonna have such good seats.’ And were going back and forth. And she’s like, ‘I know.’ And then her husband tells her about the Lady Gaga song and she’s like, ‘What? And then she went on to get nominated another time for ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ for [Best Song Written for Visual Media.] I was on the phone with her through the whole process. And she was like, ‘Am I still sleeping? This is wild. How is this happening?’ We were thoroughly surprised, just overly thankful.”
As for the big night on Sunday, McKenna’s got a lot to look forward to. “It’s always just fun for us to all be there,” she said. “You know, usually the country folks all stay together at the same hotel and just see everybody. And to be able to see Lady Gaga again, because we haven’t seen her since we worked on that movie—or I haven’t anyway—and she was so good to us and so dear to us during that whole process. It will be just wonderful to get an excuse to see her.”
“And it’s so fun to just do all this with your friends, you know what I mean? Because we’re all really close,” she continued. “Liz and Hillary are my best friends, and Natalie’s like my sister. And, of course, Miranda, it’s just been—we wrote all the songs for this record, and it’s just been, I don’t know, it’s just so great be friends, to know somebody like that, that you get to create with and then get to go to a big party with.”
Watch E!’s Live From the Red Carpet 2020 Grammy Awards coverage Sunday, Jan. 26 starting at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT followed by the Grammys telecast at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS. And for a recap of music’s biggest night immediately following the show, don’t miss the E! After Party special at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT, only on E!