Interview: Gretchen Wilson

Interview: Gretchen Wilson
May 30, 2007 12:05 AM
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LiveDaily Contributor

Self-proclaimed redneck country woman Gretchen Wilson prides herself on being open with her fans.

"I've always kind of been that girl that tells it like it is whether you like it or not," Wilson told LiveDaily.

"I've found in life that just being open and honest and just approaching everything like that is the way to go. You know the old saying: 'Honesty is the best policy.' It really holds a lot of truth. I used to go to bed every night with regrets and wake up every morning wondering about things. I'm a very comfortable woman nowadays. I'm really comfortable with myself and a lot of that came from writing that book [2006's 'Redneck Woman: Stories From My Life']. And a lot of it came from being able to be so personal with all of my fans and be so open."

Fans can see more of that on her latest album, "One of the Boys," which hit stores earlier this month. Once again, she teamed up with John Rich, of Big and Rich, to pen a few songs for the album, including the sultry "Come to Bed."

She's come a long way since the weekly Muzik Mafia nights in Nashville with members Big and Rich, Cowboy Troy and a rotating group of others. Her first single, "Redneck Woman," spent six weeks at No. 1; her debut album, "Here for the Party," sold more than five million copies; and she won across-the-board awards including a Grammy and ACM, CMA and AMA nods for best female vocalist. Her second CD, "All Jacked Up," shot to platinum.

LiveDaily: I saw you recently at Country Thunder in Florence, AZ. That was a great set.

Gretchen Wilson: Is that the one with Big and Rich? That was fun. That's the first time, believe it or not, in all the years we've been playing music, that I went on stage with John and Kenny [Alphin] and broke a guitar with them. I never shot one of those T-shirt guns before, either. That was fun. It was so much fun, I went and bought one for my show this year.

Did you really?

Yeah. You got to give up a few T-shirts.

Tell me about your new album. Why did you decide to call it "One of the Boys"?

There were a few different title ideas I think that could have come off the record. There were three songs off the record that would have made good album titles. "One of the Boys" seemed to embody the entire CD, I think, better than the other two songs did. This record, for me, is very personal, probably because I wrote nine out of the 11 songs, I produced this record, I mixed this record. I was just very hands-on and very involved from beginning to end. I feel like this is the best record I've made so far. I feel like I've gotten a lot more personal than I have before, if that's possible.

I think your fans are very appreciative of your openness and honesty.

I think people look at me like their friend. They don't put me on some kind of a pedestal. I think maybe a lot of artists want that separation. They want to be up there and held in that kind of regard. But to me, from the first word that I wrote, I've been trying to tell everyone I'm the same as them. I'm not any different. I hope when people meet me and they shake my hand backstage at a meet and greet, I hope they feel really comfortable with me and not intimidated.

Why did you decide to be so hands-on with this album? Was it intimidating?

I've been involved in all the records I've made, to some extent. I didn't have the amount of trust from my co-producers and my record label that I have now. I think I needed to get a couple of records under my belt with some help from people like Mark Wright, who's produced so many amazing records, and my buddy John Rich, who's really been my right-hand guy through this entire process. He taught me how to handle the music business, not only how to make a record. I learned a whole lot watching those guys work together on the first record. And I learned a lot more on the second record, when they allowed me to work some by myself. It really prepped me to go in there for this third record and really do it my way and produce it the way I've heard it. I can't say that I didn't get some help from them. But I'm really honored that they trusted me enough to leave the majority up to me.

What was the most important thing you learned from John Rich?

Oh, god. I learned so much from him. I don't think I could really pinpoint any one particular thing. He's given me so many pointers about different aspects of this business. I think his spirit and his fighting side, and I've never seen him fail at anything. He can do anything that he sets his mind to, as far as I'm concerned. A lot of that has rubbed off on me, I guess. We're kind of the same. We're like brothers and sisters. We fight all the time, and then we make up and then we fight some more. He's my best friend and he's my biggest critic as well, and I think that's really important.

Does that echo the relationship that you have with the rest of the Muzik Mafia?

Absolutely. John and I formed a really special bond. I connected with John more than I did with anybody else in the mafia. We're a lot the same. We grew up kind of the same. We're both country boys, if you know what I mean. I latched on to him right away. I understand him--his way of thinking, his way of life, as crazy as that may sound. I get him and I think he gets me too. If I were going to be a guy, I'd be John Rich and if he was going to be girl, he'd be me, that's for sure.

Where did you write the songs for the album? On the road, in the studio, at home, all of the above?

I wrote the majority of these nine songs out on the road last year because I toured pretty much constantly. For a few of the songs, I was able to get John Rich and Vicky McGehee to come to my house. We wrote three songs over dinner one night. We had one songwriting session and we managed to get three of them.

That's really prolific.

It probably is. I hadn't thought about that. But we're just so close and such good friends that we can almost complete each other's sentences. John and I wrote "California Girls" in about 10 minutes. That's the quickest song I've ever written. That's why I don't write with too many people any more. I kind of found my little songwriting thing with the people I click with the most, the people that I'm the closest to as far as being my friends. Songwriting is a really intimate thing and I really feel like you have to feel free to say anything whether it's ridiculous or hurtful or whatever but you have to be able to feel comfortable enough to say anything in a songwriting session. If you're not with people who know you, you're probably not going to write your best song. You're going to be afraid to voice your opinion.

I read that that fabulous song "Pain Killer" almost didn't make the album.

There's a couple of them that almost didn't make the record. "If You Want a Mother" almost didn't make the record. I thought it was just too corny. I can say that because I wrote it. I would never criticize somebody else's song. I hope my co-writers on this song don't get offended. We wrote a comedy song. There's nothing wrong with comedy. But this one was just almost too tongue in cheek for me. I actually went back in and rerecorded the music. I thought if I could toughen up the music a little more, then maybe I would like it better. That's exactly what happened. Lyrically, it's still the same song it always was. Musically, I had to bring it more into a Waylon groove and toughen it up a little bit. In contrast, it made it not so corny for me. I'm finding out a lot of people are really digging that song, so I'm really glad it made it on there.

"Pain Killer." Huh. I had written another song with Dean Hall that had exactly the same groove but a totally different topic. And they're kind of waltzes. You can't have two of the same grooves on the same record. It can get a little monotonous. So I had to choose between the two. I had the other one on my track list for the longest time. I decided at the very last moment--I mean, like, when they called me from the record label and they asked if there was anything else I wanted to change because it's going to print. They're getting ready to make a whole bunch of these. "Is there anything else you want to switch?" I said, "Yep, put 'Pain Killer' in and pull out 'Wastin' Whiskey.'" So that's what we did. If nothing else, just the title of the song alone will make you buy the record to see what that's about. That was inspired by Merle Haggard. I was sitting in a dressing room on the road backstage after soundcheck listening to a Merle Haggard CD and a couple of different songs went by that just brought this hurt and this pain into me. I started just going over different memories of my life, and I heard him use the term 'pain killer.' It was a line in the song that he was singing but it wasn't the title line. I never heard anyone refer to that as a pain killer before. I hate giving away too much away, but the pain killer in this song has nothing to do with drugs at all. But it's still a remedy, if you will, for something that somebody has to get over. It's a lot of hurt and pain. Regardless of whether we're supposed to say it or not, women also have to go out there and take drastic measures to get over somebody that's broke their heart.

"The Girl I Am" is one of the more emotional songs.

I wrote that on the road, too. That's when I was touring with Kenny [Chesney], toward the end of the last year. I wrote that song with my guitar payer. We started writing it before my show. We got really intensely involved in it. Then we had to go to work and do our show, and we were so involved with it that, as soon as we stepped off stage, we went directly in the dressing room and finished the song. Kenny Chesney was having a luau, a party, in the backstage, and he had a whole bunch of people were back there. Everybody was having fun. My co-writer and I were just stuffed into this little tiny room, frantically trying to finish this song. Kenny finally came in there and got me. He said, "What's wrong with you? You're being very unsocial; get out here and entertain with me." We grabbed our guitars and our sheet of paper, jumped on stage and sang the song that we just finished writing for a whole bunch of Kenny's fans. When I broke into the chorus and those girls just went crazy, I knew I had something there that was for keeping.

I noticed on the tour itinerary that you're playing a lot of different festivals. How important is it to play those festivals, as opposed to playing headlining gigs.

I sort of kind of feel that playing country music festivals are headlining gigs. In fact, I kind of like the spot before last the best, especially on those things where they have seven bands playing all day. People are drunk, tired, sunburned and worn out by the time the last act goes on. So I really like playing that spot before that. Plus, you get out quicker. Plus, you can pack up and you can sit down and have a beer and watch the closing act, which doesn't happen to me very often. Usually, everybody else goes home and leaves me there. It's cool for me to be able to stay. Saturday night, I never get to stand there and watch my buddies play. Hopefully, I'll be able to watch Montgomery Gentry and a few of my other friends play this year.

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