LeAnn Rimes talks artistic honesty, revisiting 'Blue,' the price of fame and more
Back in 1997, when 14-year-old country prodigy LeAnn Rimes became the youngest person ever to win a Grammy, who could have known that one day she’d have to remind the world that she can actually ... y’know ... sing?
But it’s now 2012, and Rimes is no longer that chimpmunk-cheeked yodeler of yesteryear. These days, many know her as a tabloid fixture famous for lawsuits, bikinis and — most salacious of all — her relationship with husband Eddie Cibrian, which began when the actor was married to another woman. In late August, she checked into rehab for “anxiety and stress,” and last month , she had to cancel shows after undergoing emergency treatment for a dental infection.
“I always joked that my last album, Family, which was five years ago, was pretty personal, and I said, 'What are we going to write about next?’” Rimes laughed recently. “I’m never going to ask that question ever again, because life threw a bunch of stuff at me to write about.”
On her new tour, which hits Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday (click here for details), Rimes will revisit ’90s hits like Blue and How Do I Live, as well as selections from Lady & Gentlemen, her recent album of classic country songs originally sung mostly by men. She’ll also preview material from forthcoming album Spitfire, which she co-wrote and is billed as her “most personal album yet.”
Calling from her home in L.A. — where she says she’s “been a little under the weather,” but is “hanging in there” — Rimes talked about cover songs, artistic honesty and the price of fame. Here are excerpts.
Is this a Lady & Gentlemen tour, or are you previewing songs from Spitfire?
Oh, we’re doing everything. It’s really fun, actually. Having 18 years of music — which is a blessing — I was like, “Wow, how do we put some of these songs together?” We’ve put a couple of medleys together, and then we’re definitely previewing a lot of the stuff off of Spitfire, and also there’s stuff off Lady and Gentlemen. You get a bit of everything, which is a lot of fun, because I’ve been blessed with that long of a career to have that problem. (laughs) It’s a good problem to have.
The press release I got said that Spitfire was your “most personal album yet.” What does that mean?
Well, I started out as a child, and I’ve gone through everything in front of the public, up and down, and my life has been quite an interesting ride in the last four years. I’ve felt like I maybe had a piece of tape over my mouth, in a lot of ways. I think it’s all coming out through my music, which is great. I have a lot to write about.
I also feel that I have come to this place where there is a transparency — I have nothing to hide. There’s nothing that I can’t say at this moment in time. Everything I’m saying on this record, I think someone can relate to. That’s really my goal at this moment in time: Not to hit a bunch of high notes and prove to people I can sing —I think we’ve proved that, hopefully (laughs) — but to really connect with people on an emotional level. One of the biggest compliments is when people say, “Thank you for writing that, because I couldn’t say it, and you said it for me.” That’s kind of what this album is all about. It was hard for me to write, hard for me to sing. I relive it a lot of the time every time I sing it. It’s basically right underneath my skin. Every emotion I think a human being feels is on there.
Do you feel an obligation as an artist to be an open book to your fans? Or is that just something you’ve realized over the past 16, 17 years — that you need to be open in your life in general?
I think it’s my life in general. Growing up in the country music industry — and especially as a kid, back in the ’90s — I was always told I couldn’t have an opinion. Every time I went to an interview, if there was an election going on, I couldn’t have an opinion about who I would vote for, because someone wouldn’t buy my album if they didn’t agree with me. Religion was a huge thing. It becomes this weird world of a child star trying to please everyone. You kind of get caught in that trap of losing yourself in a lot of ways.
This album has been exploring who I am, and who I am is honest. I think everyone has kind of laid my life out for me in the last four years, in the way that they would like to see it happen, or the way that they think it’s happened. This is my truth. It comes from my heart and soul.
Blue was your breakthrough hit, and it was already a very classic-sounded song. Then you re-recorded it for Lady & Gentlemen. How does the new version reflect your own feelings about that song over the past 16 years?
It’s the one song, I have to say, that is timeless. I haven’t gotten sick of that song, believe it or not. It’s taken on a new meaning for me every time life changes. I truly know what it’s about now, and I didn’t when I was singing it. There’s a song on Spitfire called I Do Now, which came out of a conversation about exactly that — me really not understanding what I was singing when I was 13. I would get so offended by it, because I was like, “I know what I’m singing about!” I was 13, and thought I knew everything.
But I think a lot of people can relate to that, of hearing a song when they were younger, and they really love it, and then you hear it — or in my case sing it — again, and you’re like, “Oh, okay, got it now.” The new version, to me, is more classic than the original. It’s more of that classic country sound that I love so much, that Texas swing that I grew up on.
I’m sure you can sing the hell out of any song you try, but has there ever been a cover that you just couldn’t nail?
For Lady & Gentlemen, we had like 120 songs that we whittled down to, I don’t know, 11 or 12 on the record. We whittled that 120 down to 73, 74 songs, and then Vince (Gill, who co-produced the album) and I sat in a room and he played the guitar, and I would sing a verse and a chorus for every song, and we’d see how it sounded. El Paso by Marty Robbins is one of my favorite songs ever, and it had nothing to do with the way I sounded on it, or how I was singing it; it had to do with the fact that that was the only song that lyrically, emotionally, I couldn’t break through the gender barrier. That’s about it that I can recall.
You’re pretty happy with everything else you’ve attempted?
Yeah, I think so. (laughs) I mean, I have appreciation for all different types of music. Actually, the only two voice lessons I ever took, a guy tried to get me to sing opera when I was younger, and my dad pulled me from it, because he was like, “He’s going to change your voice.” I always wanted to sing opera, since I’ve never really done it. I was like, why not? Let’s do it!
You crossed over early in your career to do more pop music and adult contemporary. What was the best advice you ever got from another artist about crossing over from country to pop?
There was none. At that time, country music was in such an interesting transition. I was actually the first person to truly cross over again. Back when Patsy (Cline) and everyone were doing it, the songs that were considered “country” had these huge Owen Bradley strings. Obviously, (Cline’s) Sweet Dreams is a pop song. And then you have Tanya (Tucker) in the ’70s and ’80s, who crossed over a little bit here and there, but it was really kind of frowned on. And I was young, I had no idea.
How Do I Live was the first thing that crossed over. The head of my label wanted to take it and get the song played. Pop radio played it. It kind of went from there. I always kind of went back and forth, and it was confusing to me.
It was also, though, an exploration of myself as an artist and as a child. As a kid, it’d be very sad if someone were to completely pigeonhole me my whole life and say, “You can only do this one thing.” Because I grew up singing everything, so from the time I was little, I just didn’t know any boundaries when it came to music. Now I have kind of my own style of country music. I think Lady & Gentlemen truly reminded me of what I love, and why I love it, because it’s simple. There’s space in the production. There’s honesty in the lyrics. There’s real life.
You’ve been in the spotlight for two thirds of your life. From your perspective, from the beginning to now, how has what it means to be famous changed?
Oh my god. It’s changed tremendously. The world when I was 13 wasn’t truly driven by tabloid magazines and social media and reality shows. I was able to have a little more of a private life. I live in L.A. now. I have two wonderful stepboys and my husband, and I’m here, and it’s part of my life. But it’s also a part that I don’t really wish on anybody. (laughs)
It’s kind of funny to me — when I signed up when I was younger, it was all about singing, all about music, and that’s what it’s all about to me today. If all the rest could go away, and I could just make music, it would be nice. But that’s not the world I live in at this moment. Maybe eventually it’ll come back to that one day. I’m hoping that I’m doing it with this record: “Hello? Over here? I sing, remember?” I am being honest and talking about what they think they know. But I guess that’s all part of making music, is to actually tell the truth.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*