September 10, 2008 12:00 PM

Make no mistake: Miranda Lambert had a happy childhood. But when her parents—both private investigators—decided to shelter domestic abuse victims in their home, the Lindale, Texas, native got a peek into a world drastically darker than her own. “I had to share my bedroom with a mother and daughter for my eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade years, and I saw firsthand what abuse does to a family,” says Lambert, now 24. The singer’s latest hit single, “Gunpowder & Lead,” which she cowrote with singer-songwriter Heather Little, was inspired by her memories of the bruised women and broken families who passed through her home. “It was me seeing what goes on in real life and putting my attitude and twist on the song,” says Lambert.

Lambert’s “twist” resulted in a female-empowerment anthem that’s heavy on spunk, defiance and shotguns. In fact, Lambert wrote the title while sitting in a concealed-handgun licensing class with her father. During the lesson, the singer leaned over and asked her dad to name some of the different parts of a gun. “Dad said, ‘Well, you’ve got your gunpowder and you’ve got your lead…’ and I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s the name of our song!’ ” recalls Lambert. Despite the gun imagery, the song isn’t meant to glorify violence, just the resiliency of women. “It’s message about being strong,” says Lambert. “A lot of women come up to me and say, ‘My husband used to beat up on me, and now I really feel empowered when I hear that song.’ ”