When “Gaslighter” was released, in March, it sent fans scrambling to decode its seemingly autobiographical clues. One particularly evocative line — “Boy, you know exactly what you did on my boat” — instantly converted Chicks supporters into a squad of maritime sleuths. They noted that the Chicks had written the album, also called “Gaslighter,” as Maines weathered a stormy divorce from her estranged husband — an estranged husband who just so happened to have possessed a boat, the Nautalee, named after his wife.
Last summer, Maines’s ex petitioned a court to hand over the songs, arguing that they could violate a confidentiality clause in the couple’s prenuptial agreement. The music was saved — “Gaslighter” will be released on July 17 — but since the divorce was settled in December, the Chicks have been markedly silent on any real-life sources of inspiration for the album. Their lyrics, however, are talking. On a salty bop called “Tights on My Boat,” Maines further clarifies the ship situation: “You can tell the girl who left her tights on my boat that she can have you now.”
Before “Gaslighter,” Maines was mired in an uninspiring songwriting period — “Mother” was mostly covers — but suddenly she had much to say. “I was going through a lot of things personally, so I had a lot to write about,” she said. The Chicks had envisioned making the album with a kitchen-sink approach, using a rotating cast of producers, but “I was raw,” Maines said. “It was too hard for me to reveal myself to a lot of different people.” Once the Chicks invited Antonoff into the studio, he so disarmed the three of them that they asked him to shepherd the rest of the album.
Maines first encountered Antonoff years earlier, at Howard Stern’s star-bloated 60th birthday party. Antonoff, a fixture of indie-guy bands like Steel Train, fun. and Bleachers, has also become an unlikely collaborator to pop’s biggest female artists, including Lorde and Lana Del Rey. At the party, as Barbara Walters mingled with Robert Downey Jr., Antonoff was most excited “to see a Dixie Chick in the wild,” he said in a phone interview.
Maines visited Antonoff’s studio a couple of times, and in 2018, she introduced him to the other Chicks over breakfast in the restaurant of the Sunset Tower Hotel. “He was a nerd,” Maguire, 50, said. “Is he fashionable because he’s willing to go so retro ’80s? Or is he just really out of touch? It was cute.” Antonoff possessed a little-brother energy that fit easily into the sisterhood. With Antonoff, Maguire said, “we felt comfortable sharing our dirty laundry.”