Interview: Martina McBride goes organic

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS, United Press International  |  Oct. 6, 2003 at 2:01 PM
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NASHVILLE, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Martina McBride is sitting in the control room at Blackbird Studio, which she and husband, John, recently bought and are refurbishing in Music City's quaint Berry Hill community. McBride's latest CD, "Martina," which was released Sept. 30, is the debut project for Blackbird Studio and the eighth release from the diminutive singer with the powerhouse voice.

The RCA record already has yielded a hit single, "This One's for the Girls," which featured background vocals by Faith Hill, Carolyn Dawn Johnson and McBride's young daughters, Delaney and Emma.

Hill, Johnson and the McBride girls are not the only star power on "Martina." Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Skaggs' wife, Sharon White, who has a successful career singing gospel music, also are featured on the project.

Gathering impressive Nashville talents to sing on her record is just one more item on McBridge's "to do" -- a list that also will include driving her daughters to school, cooking her family dinner and picking up an industry award or two. And definitely in that order.

McBride's journey to stardom began long before the Kansas native moved to Nashville and got a job selling T-shirts for Garth Brooks in 1991. As a child, McBride toured with her family "The Schiffters," where she, undoubtedly, showcased her impressive soprano voice. A decade and 10 million albums sold later, McBride, 37, commands respect from both fans and the music industry as one of Nashville's top-selling artists.

Unafraid of criticism, McBride's riskiest choices have resulted in her biggest hits -- such as "Independence Day," "Concrete Angel" and "Love's the Only House" -- singles that tackled the social issues of domestic violence, child abuse and alcoholism. Poignant videos typically have accompanied the songs, further driving home the message of the music.

McBride has been just as vocal about her No. 1 priority of being mom and wife, making choices regarding touring and business based on her family's needs. For this, she has no apologies or regrets.

United Press International's Crystal Caviness recently sat down and talked with McBride at Blackbird Studio on a day when the singer tackled back-to-back media interviews, picking up her daughters at school and an orthodontist's office -- a schedule she called "juggling with some multi-tasking thrown in so you can juggle it all."

UPI: How did having your own studio affect making this record?

MB: Tremendously. We had a lot of freedom. Your two enemies when you're in the studio are time and money, lots of time, lots of money. And with this situation, I knew if we went over time, I knew I could say "just don't charge me that." I wasn't on somebody else's time schedule. I could come down after supper if I felt like singing. John and the girls and I could come down here for a couple of hours and then we could run right back home and I didn't feel like I was holding anybody up. I didn't feel like it was tightly scheduled time, which I think affects the whole mindset of the project. It felt freer, like we had more time to create. Everybody felt that, even the musicians.

UPI: When I listened to the record, the songs don't sound like anybody else's songs. They sound like Martina's songs. Through the years as you've recorded songs, you've found songs that are distinct. Tell me about choosing the songs for your projects.

MB: People bring me songs that they think I would cut. It doesn't matter what other people think, it's a personal decision. I listen to thousands of songs and pass on a lot of great songs, songs that I know are great songs. But for me it has to fit. It has to fit like if you have a rack of beautiful dresses and they're all beautiful dresses, but when you put that one on and you know it's the right one, it's kind of the same. It's a gut reaction, an instinct that I have. I've never cut a song because somebody else thought it was right for me.

UPI: And you've cut songs that have raised some eyebrows, either because of the topic or because of the sound. When you first came out, you were recording a different sound for the time. As a new artist in the early '90s that took a lot of courage.

MB: Courage is an interesting thing. People describe it that way, but I never thought consciously that I was being courageous. I was only doing what I thought was right for me. By recording "Independence Day" or "Broken Wing," I never thought about the consequences. I don't analyze things like that. I don't think "Boy, this is a brave thing to do." Other people do that about me, but I'm just out there doing what I'm doing.

Sonically, production-wise, what you said about having a different sound, it's the same thing. It was not a conscious decision. (For this record) I had a sound in my head that I heard and relentlessly followed that until I got the desired result. And that meant going to three different mixing engineers, really good ones. It was nothing to do with them, it was pursuing this sound that I had and wanted to go for and I think it sounds really different.

UPI: This is your seventh studio album. Is it getting harder to do something different?

MB: I don't know if I can answer that, because I don't know when I'll know if it runs out. It's not a conscious decision. I guess one day I'll say, well, I can't think of anything new to do, so let's go back and do some of the old stuff. Now, no, it's not getting hard to come up with new music.

UPI: You said there was a sound that you were relentlessly pursuing on this record. Tell me about that process for you.

MB: My records up to this point have been very pristine and there's been a lot of clarity in the vocal. The mixing and the processing that we've used, they've sounded clear and clean. I've loved that. But this time, I wanted it to sound less digital, more like vinyl, like old vinyl, more analog. More like the band is over there in the corner. Not like I'm listening to a record, but like I'm listening to music. A little messier and fatter, more low-end. The vocal is not so processed, more organic.

UPI: Several songs on this album had strong imagery. Even before you get to a video stage, the listener has already painted those pictures in their minds. Is that something you're looking for when you talk about a song fit you?

MB: I think it's something I'm drawn to, yes. I love strong visual images. I see music. I see the songs. I love it when writers find new ways to do that. One thing that really turns me off in a song is cliches. (On the single "So Magical"), I can see Mrs. Mayo in her garden and I can see those tomatoes and I can see her. I can see this woman walking down the street in her barefeet. I love that. The imagery in that is magical. Yes, I'm drawn to that, definitely.

UPI: The career that you've built finds you in a seemingly enviable position now, whether that means for your music or for your family. It is an industry and a business and I've seen you make decisions that run counter to what may be expected. How does that affect you in the music business? And do you feel like a role model for other female singers?

MB: I guess in a way. I would love for everybody to feel like they aren't consumed by this industry, that who they are doesn't get lost. Because it can. I've seen it happen. You get into a situation with lots of people who have lots of experience and things are done a certain way. And that may work great. But, I think you have to take it all on a case-by-case basis and tailor-make some of these things. Having a strong sense of yourself and being able to stand up and say, "You know, that's really not working for me. I'm not trying to be a diva or nothin', but that's not working for me, for this reason." And once you can explain why and have a conviction about it ... having passion about why you want to try things a different way is really important. It's been very important for me. I think it's really shaped my career and taken things on my own terms. It's made me a very happy, stable individual. I see other people struggling with touring schedules and record company demands and people trying to tell them what kind of music to make and what to wear. I see that. I wish for everyone that they could find a way to listen to their own voice and make decisions that are right for them.

UPI: How did you escape that trap?

MB: I just ... don't know. I think it's just who I am. I just saw a different way for me. It's not to say that I won't do the work or do things. It's just that I won't be gone for three weeks at a time ... I can't do that. I have children. It just doesn't work for me. And I run into resistance for that. (They say) "this is the way we do it; it worked great for so-and-so. Look at it. They sold a lot of records, had big hits. This is the way we do things." And I've had to say, "Well, I'm sorry, but I can't do it that way. I have other obligations to what makes me me. So, we're all going to have to embrace that and work with it." I find much less resistance now. It's still sometimes a struggle."

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