Confessions of a Nashville Power Couple

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires at Bonnaroo in 2013 (David McClister)

Jason Isbell was performing in bars before he could drink in them. By his early 30s, he’d played the Grand Ole Opry, joined the Drive-By Truckers, and gotten married and divorced. And when he found himself drunk one morning in a McDonald’s parking lot, he was lucky enough to have just the right person to call: Amanda Shires, a musician he’d chased for years who finally gave him a chance and helped him get clean.

Now they’re more than a year into their marriage, and Jason, a self-described “philanderer in a past life,” is two years sober. But this new life doesn't come without its challenges. Jason's still an Alabama boy learning to be a feminist husband, while Amanda is figuring out where her own career fits in amid his success and their plans to raise a family. 

I went down to Nashville on the day Jason and Amanda were going house hunting, and I spoke to them about love, liquor, trust, and staying connected when everything in your lives is changing.


On Building Trust in Early Marriage:

Jason: We didn’t know each other very well, and I was a philanderer in a past life, so it was hard for her to trust me, you know . . . I wasn’t an easy person to trust, because I hadn’t been sober very long, and I felt like I hadn’t been a grown-up at that point.

Co-parenting and Family Planning:

Amanda: Generally when a woman has a child, the child is always left to the woman. The guy can go off touring or gallivanting around the world. I understand there’s sacrifice and everything, but I’m still a selfish person. I still want my own career and freedom and time. I want the — and I don’t know how this is gonna work, I guess I’ll see. I feel like if I do have a child, it’s something I’d be very involved in.

Jason: I’ll be there until the baby — or I’m — gone from the earth. I’ll take care of it. I’m not gonna screw up on that responsibility. But at the same time, that motherly instinct when it’s combating the desire to be your own individual person for a woman, I can’t even weigh in on that. That’s just incredibly difficult for me to even wrap my head around. 

Cheating Is Lose-Lose:

Jason: We don’t ignore it, the fact that there are other people vying for our attention. And that when you’re on the road, it makes it easier to think you can get away with stuff like that. We discuss it. If somebody’s worried, we talk about it. And usually if you name something, it becomes a lot less difficult to defeat.

Amanda: Some days, I’m like, whatever he does, I have no control over his actions. Whatever he does or does not do, it’s no reflection on me. . . . Sometimes it helps me to say it right out, or say it in my brain, I’ll feel so bad for you if you f*** this up. I say it all the time.

Read a full transcript of the interview.

Jason and Amanda performing “Cover Me Up” on APM's Wits:

Jason and Amanda playing "Traveling Alone" on WNRN:

You can also hear Jason and Amanda performing songs off "Southeastern" on Soundcheck.

Jason and Amanda have also been into The National and The War on Drugs lately.

The National performing "Pink Rabbits" on 89.3 The Current:

The War on Drugs, "Red Eyes":

    Music Playlist
  1. Take a Ride - Death, Sex & Money Theme
    Artist: The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis
  2. Stockholm
    Artist: Jason Isbell
    Album: Southeastern
  3. Different Days
    Artist: Jason Isbell
    Album: Southeastern
  4. Bulletproof
    Artist: Amanda Shires
    Album: Down Fell the Doves
  5. Super 8
    Artist: Jason Isbell
    Album: Southeastern
  6. Outfit
    Artist: Jason Isbell
    Album: Live from Alabama
  7. Look Like a Bird
    Artist: Amanda Shires
    Album: Down Fell the Doves
  8. Cover Me Up
    Artist: Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires
    Album: Southeastern


Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires

Hosted by:

Anna Sale

Comments [8]

Julie from NYC

You missed a great opportunity to ask some real questions about money. Sweet stories are not enough to hold my interest. Aren't the hard questions the point of this show?

Aug. 28 2014 11:16 AM
Lara Brown from Massachusetts

Love the podcast, and loved this story. Thank you, especially, for introducing me to their music. I'm downloading Amanda's album right now.

Jun. 06 2014 10:54 AM
L.L. from East Village

Loved this story, but Jason really dominates the conversation... to the point of dominating the narrative. Maybe, I'm doing the same thing as Jason and PROJECTING, but I don't trust a guy who wants to spell out all the terms and barely give his Missus a word in edgewise.

It sounds like they are fine with this dynamic, this imbalance. Or maybe the way the show was edited made it seem like Jason dominated, but I'm not entirely sure that Jason is as reformed as he says. I know I hide info and one of the ways I hide is by overwhelming the other person with OTHER info.

Wishing them well though.

May. 22 2014 12:38 PM
Megan from Missoula, MT

I have really enjoyed all of the podcasts so far! I am originally from Charleston, WV and read about Death, Sex and Money on the Gazette website. Downloaded it right away and have been listening to it on my commute to work. I wish I could listen to a new one every day. I really enjoyed listening to Jason and Amanda talk about their relationship - I always enjoy hearing others' perspectives and getting new ideas about how to make my own relationship work better. Really enjoyed hearing about your own relationship experience, Anna. I would love to hear from couples who have completely different educational backgrounds and how they navigate that - especially in situations where the woman is more educated than the man. That would be potentially a discussion about Sex and Money!
Thank you for the great topics so far!

May. 21 2014 06:22 PM
Steve from The Dirty South

I've been following Jason's career for some time now. His struggles and successes through the Truckers, addiction, sobriety and a enormously successful solo album.

I remember watching Jason on stage this spring and thinking to myself how different his life must be now. I mean, the Drive By Truckers would party before, during, and after their shows. Alcohol seemed to fuel to their music. And now, for Jason to beat his addiction and return night after night to the environment where that addiction flourished for so long. He astounds me. They astound me. It's clear that he couldn't have done it without Amanda.

It's really great to hear a couple talk so intimately about their struggles, fears, and confessions.

Thanks for this story. I would love to hear a follow-up.

May. 21 2014 12:08 PM

This story is very sweet and geniune. Both Jason and Amanda seem so human and realistic in their struggles as individuals and as a couple. It's refreshing to know that we're all in the same boat when it comes to achieving life, love, and happiness in our lives. Thank you for sharing this story.

May. 21 2014 09:54 AM
Lauren from Florida

I was instantly hooked when I first heard your story on This American Life, so I got so crazy excited to hear that some of my favorite musicians were going to be on the show this week.

Thanks so much for sharing these stories!

May. 21 2014 09:39 AM
gina ballinger from graz austria

sure am glad all these topics are out there, through your program for people now! anna sale : )hopeful! i look forward to the LBTG (womens stories) and not heavily leaning heterole stories. Thank You : )

May. 21 2014 09:05 AM

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