Amanda Shires’ Empathetic ‘Our Problem’ Unites Her Female Friends and Heroes [LISTEN]
When Amanda Shires first conceived of her song "The Problem," it was not a conversation between a couple, but a discussion among women. Upon the release of the duet version, which features her husband, fellow singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, in 2020, Shires mentioned that she planned to share the song with its original lyrics down the line -- and on Friday (Jan. 22), she kept that promise, and then some.
Shires' newly released "Our Problem" sports an altered second verse, and an all-star group of performers. She trades lines throughout the song -- which now follows a woman as she discusses her decision to seek an abortion with friends -- with a diverse group: legends Angie Stone, Cyndi Lauper, Linda Perry, Nona Hendryx and Peaches, as well as indie hip-hop artist K. Flay and Tennessee-based artists Lilly Hiatt, Morgane Stapleton and Valerie June. Isbell still plays guitar on this version of the song, but he's joined by Sheryl Crow on bass.
"I think that it's important to folks -- or, most folks -- that we be able to make decisions about our body for ourselves," Shires tells The Boot in a phone interview. Years ago, she had an abortion and saw how unduly difficult the process can be when it includes mandatory counseling and other requirements that delay the procedure.
"I think we all know, as women, how hard that choice is ... and then adding more stress and problems and requirements in order to facilitate what you're trying to get done," she notes. "I just think that there's a lot of undue stress and controls in place that are actually crueler to women than people even realize."
Some of her collaborators are friends, but others are simply artists Shires admires. The group recorded their parts separately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stapleton added her part at the last minute, going so far as to ask Shires to hold on releasing the song so she could sing on it.
"We just had to trust each other that if we sang with passion and with purpose, that it would translate," Shires reflects. "Collaboration with women is the divine feminine, and I think that experience was really good. It was neat to see that we could still do it remotely."
The idea for "Our Problem," Shires says, came from the support she received from a friend when she had her abortion. "I knew her stance and she knew mine," the singer remembers, and despite their ideological differences, "she drove me and went with me and supported me." To this day, they're still friends.
"You know, it's easy to say, 'Hey, I'm for this or against this,' until you're in close proximity or going through this yourself," Shires points out. "In some folks' minds, it's a different thing: that you're gonna go [get an abortion] because you didn't plan properly, you didn't use a condom or whatever, but none of those things were true. Not that it matters -- it's nobody's business -- but you know the ideas some folks have versus what real life is.
"The compassion during that experience, and the friendship, was really amazing," she continues. "It just struck me so much that somebody could have that much love as a friend and support against what they thought, or used to think, was just the worst, and that's the whole reason this song came to be alive."
The Friday release of "Our Problem" coincides with the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that abortion must remain legal and accessible throughout out the United States. Forty-eight years later, Shires points out, "we're still fighting the same fight."
"When I was young and going to college, I went to Planned Parenthood to get my [routine annual] screening every year," Shires shares. "It's about health, firstly, and everyone should have access to that. I don't think that's too far socialist -- I just thought that's what we were gonna have in America. That's what I was taught we were gonna have in, like, third grade.
"Turns out my third-grade teachers were just selling me some s--t," she adds with a laugh.
Nonetheless, Shires has been heartened by the support she's received, and the appreciation she's been shown, since releasing "The Problem." "There was, of course, the folks that had a lot of s--t-talking to do," she admits, "but that was minimal compared to the outpouring of folks that, I think, felt the same as me ... and also the sharing of stories."
"It felt kind of healing, in a way, to me, to be able to interact with folks and share," Shires says. "It was kind of a bright spot in the moment of 2020, when there were so few."
Shires will mark the release of "Our Problem" with a performance of "The Problem" with Isbell on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Friday night.
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