Martina McBride Enjoys Songwriting, Isn’t Afraid Of Tough Topics, And Is A Bit Of A ‘Badass’ [Interview]
How did Martina McBride‘s new duet, “Marry Me,” come about? What led the vocal superstar to focus on songwriting in recent years? And does she consider herself, as Sheryl Crow recently called her, a “badass”?
US99.5’s Trish Biondo recently had the chance to talk with Martina about these and other topics. Together they covered a lot of territory including her dedication to serious issues, her love of Twitter, and what it means to be a country music artist. And throughout the interview Martina proved yet again that’s she’s a class act — graceful, funny, dedicated, and entirely personable.
Martina’s current single is “Marry Me,” a duet with Train’s Pat Monahan that appears on her recent album Eleven. Martina is also currently on a national tour that includes dates in theaters and smaller venues.
TRISH: At what point did you realize you wanted to record “Marry Me” for your own album?
MARTINA: It was after we did a rehearsal for CMT Crossroads. It was just…magic. Pat might have said something like, ‘You’re making an album, right? You should think about putting that song on your record.’ And I said, ‘I will if you’ll come sing it with me.’ I just knew that I wanted it to be a duet.
And we put together an arrangement that’s a little bit different. Most duets will have the artists singing together throughout the song. [But] this song is about two people who are trying to get the nerve to talk to each other. So I thought it was interesting to keep us apart until the very end.
I love the line, ‘Marry me today, and every day,’ because it’s not just about the wedding day, or even 50 years together, it’s about every single day, living that love, and wanting to be married.
TRISH: And singing it live on the ACM Awards last month?
MARTINA: It was awesome! When we were singing on stage, our saving grace was that they put them behind us so we couldn’t see. Because I think Pat and I both would have been crying, it was so emotional.
Performing on the ACMs with Pat was so much fun because I felt like I had a comrade up there. I was so much less nervous than I am when I’m singing by myself on an award show. You feel like you’re in this together.
TRISH: “I’m Going to Love You Through It” was a song that really resonated with so many fans. Do you criteria for picking songs? Do have to get goosebumps?
MARTINA: It has to make me feel something. And I felt like that song, ‘I’m Going To Love You Through It,’ was the kind of song that would make a difference to somebody. Even though I haven’t gone through that situation personally, I love to tell that story. Because, when I played the demo for my husband, he said, ‘That’s what I would say to you.’ And I thought, ‘That’s what I would want to hear.’ And I knew at that moment it was something that was universal. Even if you haven’t been through that, you feel compassion for the people in the song.
TRISH: Songwriting is taking a bigger role in your life. Did you do it before?
MARTINA: I’ve always written songs. But I just put it away for a really long time. I moved to Nashville, and there are so many great writers here I just didn’t think I could be a part of that.
The [artists] I idolized growing up were people like Reba, Linda Ronstadt — [singers] who didn’t necessarily write their own songs. So, I didn’t grow up thinking I had to be a singer-songwriter. I just really wanted to be a singer, an interpreter of songs. So it just wasn’t high on my priority list, and it got shelved.
And then, about five or six years ago, people kept saying, ‘You need to write.’ And I kind of got dragged kicking and screaming through that door by the Warren Brothers. They sang me a little bit of ‘Anyway’ — they were touring with me. And I said, ‘That’s great, I will totally record that, go and finish it.’ And they said, ‘No, you need to finish it with us.’ And so, [in the dressing room], we finished the song in an hour.
And it was the first time I thought, ‘I can this. I do have something to say.’ And this last record, I just made a conscious decision to take the time to do it. Because, that’s part of it, you have to be dedicated to setting aside time to write.
What I learned was, it’s really liberating. I still love to find a great song by a great songwriter. But there’s something about being able to say what you want to say – and not have to wait for someone else [to say it] – that’s really been wonderful.
And I feel like this is my most personal record because of that.
TRISH: You like to include songs that teach strength and confidence in children, especially girls. Do you hope that your music is an inspiration?
MARTINA: Music is such a powerful thing, we all know that. It can make you feel something you’ve never felt before. It can say the words you can’t figure out how to say. It’s so powerful. And to have a song that is a good touchpoint for a young girl, or any young person — or anybody — is a privilege, and is really cool.
As an artist, you want people to be affected by what you do. You want your art to make them feel something. And so when I hear from a 16-year-old girl about how a song of mine has made a difference to her, I just think, that’s my little way of making a difference in the world.
TRISH: You’ve never shied away from tough topics. Have there been any role models in this regard? Who inspired you growing up?
MARTINA: I don’t know that it was any one particular person. I was raised in a very rural, very small town. And raised with a kind of accountability. When you’re from a small town like that, one thing is, you can’t get away with anything, because everybody knows everything that you’re doing. I’m talking about a town of about 150 people. I had ten people in my graduating class. There’s no anonymity.
So there’s an accountability that comes with that. And just sort of a strength — you know who you are and what you stand for. I was just really lucky I was raised with those kind of values. So, I think a lot of it came from there.
TRISH: Do you enjoy the business side of your career?
MARTINA: I love it. I love every aspect of the music business, everything from making day to day decisions, to coming up with new ideas, to writing songs, to producing records. I love it all. It’s so exciting, it’s my dream literally come true.
And I think it’s important for an artist to be involved in that stuff, because it is a representation of you. It’s important to be honest with your fans, and that comes from being involved. That’s my perspective.
TRISH: If you had to define a country artist, what would you say?
MARTINA: One of the things that’s great about country music is that there is a real connection with the fans that is a true relationship, and I love that a lot. I also feel it’s music about real life done in a very simple way that people can understand. It’s very honest and real, and that’s what I love about it.
TRISH: What would you call the perfect country song?
MARTINA: The perfect country song? There are different kinds of country songs. But the basic, bottom line of it, it has to make you feel something. It’s not [superficial]. For me a great country song is not glossed over. You can take ownership of in some way shape or form in your own life.
TRISH: At Stagecoach, Sheryl Crow called you a “badass.” Would you consider yourself a badass?
MARTINA: [Laughs.] Well, I’ve got my badass moments, yeah.
TRISH: And then you sang together on a Linda Ronstadt song. Who’s idea was that?
MARTINA: That was her idea. She called a couple days before and asked if I’d come on stage and sing with her. She’s amazing. She’s not only a great artist, but a great person. So I was happy to do it. It’s fun when other acts will have you come and share part of their show. I think it’s a very generous, beautiful thing to do.
TRISH: You’ve sung for presidents, at award shows, all over the world. Is there a show or moment that really stands out for you?
MARTINA: One of my favorite things to do is sing the National Anthem. And one of my favorite times I sang it was in Green Bay after 9/11. It was the first Monday Night Football game after 9/11. Remembering how stunned and how raw everything was at that moment, to be able to sing our National Anthem, I felt the words in a whole different way than I’ve ever felt them before. There was such a palpable pride in the stadium, everyone was singing along, chanting ‘USA! USA!’ It was emotional, I’ll never forget that.
TRISH: What do you like about Twitter?
MARTINA: At first I was freaked out by it. We come from a generation that’s all about mystique and privacy. Who wants to read what I had for breakfast? It just seemed weird to me.
But I love it now. I think it’s made me more open as a person. And I feel closer to my fans. [Twitter offers] a sort of day to day sharing that you do that keeps you in constant connection, which is really cool. It also gives me an opportunity to show more of my personality, more of my life. In interviews, there’s [often] a lot of serious stuff to talk about. So [Twitter is] a great way to lighten up and show some humor, and have fun with it.
Listen below to an audio podcast of the full Martina McBride interview.
– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local