Wynonna interview – Telling Stories and Making Music

WynonnaAs a five-time Grammy winner and New York Times best-selling author, Wynonna’s career revolves around telling stories. As one-half of the legendary duo The Judds, or on her mega-successful solo path, Wynonna reaches the heart of the human spirit through bold, unflinching honesty. Millions of fans are drawn to her music and undeniable talent. Wynonna’s rich, commanding voice, has sold over 30 million albums worldwide spanning her epic career. Countless of her singles, including 20 #1 hits have dotted the charts. The iconic performer has won over 60 industry awards and Rolling Stone once dubbed her as the greatest female country singer since Patsy Cline.

Wynonna and her band, The Big Noise, led by her husband/drummer/producer, Cactus Moser, released their debut full-length album, Wynonna & the Big Noise, in February 2016 via Curb Records to critical acclaim. The album is her eighth studio album and the first of original material since 2003, when she released What the World Needs Now Is Love. The new album is a battle cry of Wynonna with fists in the air, saying, “I will overcome,” because she and her husband have come through a tremendous ordeal and are still here, still performing. Wynonna describes the new sound as vintage, yet modern, and a return to the well. Joy is the quality that dominates. Jason Isbell, Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks, and Timothy B. Schmit of The Eagles make guest appearances adding to the album’s eclectic sound, which moves through mainstream country, incorporating smooth jazz, blues, soul, and much rock-n-roll.

Our publisher, Tim Collins, conducted an interview with Wynonna in anticipation of her performance at Mill Town Music Hall on January 21st, 2017 at 7:30pm.

Tim: Hi Wynonna, how are you? 

Wynonna: Chillin’ out.

Tim: I’m so happy to talk to you and grateful for your time. You’re on tour now, aren’t you? 

Wynonna chuckling: Yes, I actually do that to get away from all the Christmas chaos.

Tim laughing: Yeah, it’s probably more relaxing, I would think. 

Wynonna: It means more to me because honestly, I think I’m so blessed all year long. So, I love to be able to give back to the fans because I know they need music during this time. Music is always there for everything, every situation, and I think music is really, for me, a huge part of my celebration. Last night, I played Nashville and all my high school, my lawyer, my pastor, I mean just everybody was there. And I thought, I love giving back because they give so much to me. That’s just the way it is in music between the listener and the singer. There’s such a connection. My experience has been, since I started out in country music, that there is such an undeniable fellowship, and communication, and community through music. This time of year, is my chance to say, “You know what there’s still hope.” I know a lot of people are struggling. It’s just a tough time for some, and I’m aware of that. I look at it like, there’s somebody in the audience in every situation.

Tim: Yeah, really. It’s probably really cool for you to do a concert like that one in Nashville, where you see a lot of people you recognize from your lifetime. 

Wynonna: Absolutely.


Tim: You’re coming to Mill Town Music Hall in Bremen, Georgia. I think this is the first time you’ve been to this auditorium. This is a smaller venue that seats about 1000 people. It’s really a cool venue. 

Wynonna: I love that. I love that.

Tim: Is it different when you’re playing in a venue like that as opposed to somewhere like the Opry? How is it different as an artist? 

Wynonna: Totally. My first time on stage was in front of ten thousand people. That was just the beginning, then it went to the Super Bowl, the World Series. We’re talking millions. You do all that stuff - it gets pretty big. I was used to that, well I don’t say used to. I was trained to involve myself with huge productions while performing with my mom. I was trained to do the big arenas and stadiums, like Texas A&M, which is like 150,000 people. You know, honestly I get a little bit frustrated sometimes because I feel that tug between commerce and art. I admit there are times when I think it would be nice to be back in that, but then I stop myself and go, wait a minute you’ve been doing this 35 years, my dear. I read a lot, and everything I read, honestly, from the fans down to people who are writing articles about seeing bands, speaks of how people crave that intimacy and they want REAL. And I keep getting that over and over.

The message to me right now especially is, keep it real. So, for the new record, we did it live. We used vintage instruments, we chose certain microphones that were used in the forties, we did everything we could to make things authentic, with integrity. For the integrity of the sound, we did not manipulate with Pro Tools as much as we wanted. I don’t know if you have noticed, but when you listen to classic records, you can hear the room. You can actually feel yourself, you’re hearing the drums banging the sound off the walls. You can just tell there is a group of people in that room. Can you tell that?

Tim: It’s more authentic. 

Wynonna: Yes. And so, I’m honestly craving that.

Wynonna and The Big NoiseTim: As a performer, are all shows and audiences kind of the same, or is each one unique? 

Wynonna: No, each one is unique. We just did a show for 50,000 people in a large church. I love the rush of that because I can go out and pick out one fan who is dressed inappropriately and have all the audience sing “Grandpa”. All that stuff, that’s the big shows. But I also loved playing at what we called a hippie festival because people camp out for days and their feet were so dirty because they hadn’t washed them in days. There was just this great group of people who’d been camping out and it was about the most laid back thing I’ve ever performed at, more like a Bluegrass festival. I’m telling you, I still remember that day because everybody was so present. Everybody there wanted to be there. They were there because they wanted to be. It was not like this jaded, “I’m going to a movie, get in, get out.” And it meant something, it meant something to these people. That experience was really about the fellowship more so than, “We’re going to see a production, going to see a performance, we’re going to see an HBO special.” I think the smaller theaters allow me to talk to people and see the whites of their eyes and say “hey”. There was a guy sitting in the audience last night who had his arms folded the whole time and I said, “Do you even know who I am, or did your wife make you come to the concert tonight?” And he looked at me like, “Are you talking to me?” I was like, “Yeah you.” And it just gives me an opportunity to break down the barriers between the audience and the stage.

Tim: That’s so cool! You’ve done so many songs, is there one song that means the most to you or brings out an emotion more than any other song you do? 

Wynonna: Yeah - I have actually several songs like that. I think they’re just from the chapters of my career. One being “Grandpa”, of course, because that was for my Papaw, and he died and that was our first Grammy and there is a lot of emotion tied to that song. “Love Can Build A Bridge” was the very last song I sang with my mom on stage when we were together. And then the newest one from the present record is “Things I Lean On”, because it talks about healing. It talks about the struggle of trying to believe and keep going and make it through to the other side - that kind of song. When we recorded it, it was at night and I think I was even in my slippers. I was just singing from my gut and we have a studio down behind the house. It was about as honest of an interpretation of words that I’ve ever given in my career. I was literally talking to my Mamaw. It was like that scene in the movie with Loretta Lynn where they put the kids in the room so she would sing to the children. All of a sudden it was this authentic, meaningful conversation between her and her kids that they captured. That’s very similar to what happened with that song. So, that song to me means the most in terms of, “Here are my guts laid out pretty much as bare as I’ve ever been, really vulnerable.”

Tim: That’s hard to be sometimes, but I think as an artist if you’re in that feeling, you just convey that emotion to the audience. 

Wynonna: There’s a movie called, “Like Water For Chocolate”, and it’s about cooking. And when the woman cooks, maybe she is crying over something she is sad about, when the people eat her meal they start to cry. It’s a very interesting movie and it’s basically the love she puts in the meal - the people feel it when they eat it. And it’s like, “Whoa.” That’s such an interesting connection, that I try to make with my music. You can hear me breathing. You hear me literally, at the end of the song “Things I Lean On”, say “Amen”. At that point I was talking to myself as I would in a prayer. I said, “Amen”, and the producer kept it and put it on the record. I didn’t I even know I did that. It’s pretty honest, probably the most raw I’ve ever felt.

Tim: I try to do a lot of research about people when I interview them and I was looking online at some of your songs last night. One song that I saw was when you did “I Want To Know What Love Is” (by Foreigner) on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Man, that was really emotional. 

Wynonna: Oh Gosh! That was probably, definitely on the list of moments. You know you have moments, they say, when you transition, and your life passes before you. That will probably be a scene that passes before my eyes. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

Tim: When was that? Do you remember what year? 

Wynonna: It feels like another lifetime - it was probably 10, 15 years ago. It was one of those moments, because my mom and sister were there. And me standing there with nothing and I was really feeling vulnerability being between two people that I love. It was just a really heavy day. That’s okay. It was just one of those moments that was captured on TV, that I just go, “Whoa”!

Tim: It was beautiful. I like that song a lot. Have you ever thought about doing a classic rock album? I saw a video of you singing “Magic Man” with Heart, too. Do you like that kind of music a lot?

Wynonna: Sure! I grew up on eighties music. Ann Wilson is a dear friend, I mean, “Come stay at my house” kind of friend, so we’re very connected. I used to go see them as a teenager. I grew up with the classics rock-n-roll, bluegrass, and the blues. So, it’s a very interesting combination because my dad was a rocker, and my mom tended to go for Ralph Stanley and the sounds of the mountain. We lived in Appalachia, and we were always going to bluegrass festivals and always into that stripped down to acoustic instruments sound. It was very, very raw. I have a very interesting, eclectic upbringing, where I had opportunities to sing to B.B. King, and I really think about my history and just kind of sit here dazed. I got to know the Highwayman and had conversations with Johnny Cash every year. I got to know Tammy Wynette at her home in Georgetown. I mean these were people I grew up with, these are my family. These are the heroes and she-roes to many. To me they were my relatives, honestly, because I was with them more than anybody in my family. Loretta Lynn kind of raised me really, she loved on me and hugged me. I talked to her recently and she told me she loved me like four times. And I just think these people are sacred to me in way that is not even about show business. This is a very intimate story about a young girl, 18 years old who has no clue, no planning, no nothing, just chores and welfare, a single parent, and is thrust into the limelight. It’s like wait a second, I had to hold onto something. Yes, I love the classics and I probably at some point will do more. I did one, called “Sing: Chapter 1” of classics in country music. I’ll probably do another volume and maybe pick eighties rock. Who knows, I mean I’m all over the place musically. My husband the producer says, “Focus Honey.” I have musical ADD because I love so many things. When you stand on stage with the original singer of a song, and you do the second verse, you can’t even believe this is happening. You sing with Aerosmith and you get to do the stuff you get to do. And you’re talking to Bruce Springsteen, you’re like, “This is pretty great!”

Tim: That has to be surreal. One question I wanted to ask is do you remember what you were doing when you first heard yourself on the radio? 

Wynonna: Oh yeah, you never forget that. I was on my way to WSM in Nashville. We were in a car. Mom and I were in the backseat. My producer was driving. We were at a corner in Nashville, at a stoplight. All of a sudden I heard an acoustic guitar and, “Had a dream.” It’s one of those things where time stands still and the world stops. I was like, “What the heck?” Then I started crying, just started crying. Because I was so overwhelmed, it was like a kid at a birthday party and everybody starts singing and the kid is overwhelmed and starts to cry. It was very intense, and we were on the way to do the interview and they played the song. I was overcome because it was like, “This is really happening. This is real.” It’s something I will never forget in my lifetime. So yeah, you never forget that stuff. It was perfect timing because we were stopped and we were sitting in the back seat. Mom grabbed my hand and we looked at each other. There was part of me that wanted to turn around and go home and there was part of me that wanted to walk on into the light. It was kind of an interesting moment, when you’re 18 years old, you don’t know anything. Like winning the lottery and someone announces, “And the winner is.” All that stuff has always been too much for my brain. I’ve walked through it with as much grace as I can, and I am still here. With the new record, we’re getting the Millennials, we’re getting second generation Judd fans, we’re getting every walk of life at these shows, from eighty to twenty and younger. It’s really an interesting transition from where I started, to now. I’m just having the time of my life. There were times when things were more rigid and organized, and now it feels so free. So, I’m where I’m supposed to be.

Tim: That’s awesome! I bet it is a lot more enjoyable. I appreciate you taking this time so much. I’m glad I got to ask some questions that maybe you don’t get asked all the time. 

Wynonna: I just love to talk. My point is, I’m not ruled by numbers. I do get caught up in it sometimes and think I want to get more followers on Twitter, and then I think, and this is really corny, but I read something the other day that said, Hitler had millions of followers, Jesus had twelve.

Tim: Is faith becoming more important in your life as you’ve gone along? 

Wynonna: Yeah. I wouldn’t be here. I honestly really know that for a fact. There’s no Hallmark card crap going on here. No, this is absolutely me holding on for dear life kind of stuff. When you’ve had kids, and been through what I’ve been through, you just go, “I need God more than I’ve ever needed anything in my life.” I’ve tried it on my own and it didn’t work so good. So, I’ll try something else. You will see that, if you come to my show, because I’m a woman of faith, but I’m also daring. I’ll do anything for a dare, so I have to constantly work on, “Okay come back, come back.” Thank you for this and come see me if you can.

Tim: Yeah, definitely, I’m really very thankful for the opportunity to talk to you and I definitely think I will come. I am really excited to see you in person. Thank you so much. 

Wynonna: You are very welcome.

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