10 Questions with ... Martina McBride
April 3, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
One of Country music's most powerful voices, Martina McBride had her humble beginnings in the early 90s selling souvenirs at Garth Brooks' shows. Her husband John was hired as Brooks' production manager, and Brooks offered Martina the opening slot on his tour if she could land a record deal. In 1991 she signed with RCA, and in 1992 released her debut album, "The Time Has Come." She has released twelve studio albums, ten of which are RIAA certified gold or higher. She is known for hits such as "Independence Day," "A Broken Wing," "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," and many more. Martina has won the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award four times and ACM Female Vocalist of the Year award three times. In December 2014, she signed a record deal with Big Machine Label Group's Nash Icon imprint, and she recently released a single, "Reckless," from her forthcoming album of the same name. Martina sat down with All Access to discuss her new album, her daughters' influence on her music, and what advice she would give herself if she could go back.
1. How did you get together with Nash Icon? How did that partnership come together?
I just got a phone call and I went and had a meeting with Jim Weatherson and talked to Scott Borchetta. I had worked with Scott before on Republic, and we always said if we got the chance to work together again and it was the right opportunity, we would love to. I just love working with that team and his whole staff and working with him. He's just a great record person. I got a call and went and had a meeting and heard what it was all about, and it just seemed like it was a perfect fit. And I was ready to make some new music.
2. Can you tell us about working with Dann Huff and Nathan Chapman together on this project?
So the song "Reckless" I heard, and immediately it was one that I immediately felt like, I don't care what I have to do, I have to have that song. It's MY song. I related to it on a personal level. I felt like it was so well written and has such heart. It's such a cool combination of substantive lyrics with a lot of hope, and I felt like a lot of people would be able to relate to it. All of that was rolling around in my head, but the basic thing was that I love that song so much and I want to sing that song for the rest of my life. My dream team production team is Dann Huff and Nathan Chapman, who I went to separately and said, "Dan I want you to produce five songs on the record, and I want Nathan to produce five songs on the record," and they both said I wish we could just do it together. So that's what we're doing, and it's just been a dream. You have two of the most gifted, talented producers and musicians and singers. They're both great singers, so for a singer to be able to be produced by a great singer is always great. They give great ideas and you just kind of speak the same language. It's been so much fun in the studio. It's been inspiring. I've had a great time.
How relieved were you when they both said the same thing?
Yeah, I know I was! I would never have asked them to do that together, but the fact that they came up with the idea on their own. They have such respect for each other too. It's just a really healthy, creative environment to be in. They're both just about getting the work done and making the best music they can make. Nathan kind of approaches things more as spur of the moment, and Dan is more methodical. They really complement each other.
3. So the past few years we've had kind of an absence of females on Country radio - it's getting better, I think, because Kelsea Ballerini just got her second consecutive #1 - and we want to know, what do you think the key is to getting more women integrated back onto the radio?
I think the fans are going to have to speak up. I think the fans want to hear women on the radio and you know, with the whole Tomatogate thing. I put that article on my Facebook page and just asked people, what do you think about this? Because here's somebody who is saying females do not like to hear females on the radio. Is that how y'all feel? I just kind of put it out there for a response, and it was like very obvious that that is not how they feel. I think it is going to take listening - listening to the listeners, and women just keeping at it and putting out great music. It's never been easy.
There was a time when it was Martina and Faith and Shania and Trisha, and people want to aspire to females dominating, but there was always a good mix. So with Kelsea and Cam, what other females are you hearing right now that you think could be on her way?
Well, I love Ashley Monroe's record. I think it's a great record. And I'm trying to think of really new artists. [Maren Morris?] Yeah, yeah, she's great... I think she's one to watch. [Brandy Clark?] Yeah I love Brandy Clark. It's really great. When people say there are no women making good music, that's just not true.
4. So in 2016 where do you think your music fits on the spectrum that is Country radio right now?
To be completely honest, I tried to put that out of my mind when I was recording this record. I tried to just make a record without thinking about those boundaries or how it would fit in with anything. Honestly, the biggest records that I've had in my career were records that came out and didn't sound like anything else on the radio. They were really unique sounding for the time, and we took a lot of chances with songs. We didn't play the safest song on the record, and so I just kind of tried to think in that mindset. I'm not really going to try to change my sound or fit into any particular trend, so as far as where it fits, I don't know. I feel like it's compelling. I feel like it's going to jump off the radio and people are going to want to hear it again. It's exciting and different, and it reminds me of the biggest records I've had. Like I said, it sounds so different from everything else on the radio, but I think it's a really friendly, engaging kind of sound.
5. You've been around the format for a while, and you've seen a lot of phases and microclimates come in and out of the format. As someone who lives here in town and listens to radio, what's your take on the, as I like to call it, "Wild West" climate of the format right now, where it's like Pop and R&B and elements of Hip Hop? Do you see a swing back to traditional sounds in music and more ballads?
I feel like it's a transition, turning a corner sonically and song-wise. I felt it in the writing community, when I was out looking for songs for this record. People are trying to figure out what to do next, in a way. The encouraging thing for me is I hear people starting to write not for radio specifically, but songwriting from their hearts, which is how it was when I moved here. It's encouraging to me. So I think in a climate where you can hear Chris Stapleton and a Justin Timberlake and Country artists that are embracing those sounds as well, I think it's healthy. I think it will eventually settle into somewhere, and I do feel like we always typically go back to go forward, in everything. So I feel like it will kind of go back and get back to more lyric-oriented songs, because that's what Country music is at its core.
6. That must be a unique perspective. So you're saying that you're seeing the songwriting community go back to songwriting values instead of writing commercially?
But I think it's going to take artists that specifically look for those kinds of songs and record those kinds of songs and have success with those kinds of songs before we really turn the corner, because at the end of the day, songwriters have to make a living. They have to put food on the table. They are driven a bit by that, but if we start to get some success with songs like "Girl Crush" or like "Burning House" or more lyric based songs, I think then that's even going to help the songwriters have more confidence. When I said I felt a transition, I feel they're a little straddling the fence right now. So I feel that the more success lyric-based songs have, I think that'll help everybody have the confidence to write more like that.
7. What kind of feel is the album going to have?
Well it's interesting, because "Reckless" really is not indicative of the rest of the record. I kind of went into this record with a specific idea of wanting to do a record that is very rootsy and organic and a little more Country. We have all of that on the record. When "Reckless" came along it was like well this isn't like the rest of the record, but it's so awesome. My husband John reminded me, you know you don't have to have a record where every song sounds the same. On "Evolution" there were so many kinds of sounds. It was seven singles, so it reminds me of that record in a way. Some of the songs even feel to me like they could've been on "Evolution." It's an interesting thing that's happened that I feel like the songs and the way we're producing them and the way I'm singing them is very reminiscent of some of the stuff I've done in the past. I feel like the fans are going to hear it and will be very excited, because it's probably a throwback to their favorite time that I made music. I think it feels familiar in that way. It's not retro by any means, but it just has that familiarity. We all make records and we all create and try to... sometimes. You know you've heard artists and you're like, can't you go back to making that record that you made like what are you doing? And it's hard we can't sometimes. We would if we could I'm sure, but you are a creative individual.
8. So we know family is important to you. As a mother, how do you find balance? And with the release of your next album, how do you plan to juggle that with your family life?
It's easier now in a way. There are two times it's easy: when they're little, because they're portable and they do whatever you tell them to do, and you can just bring them with you. That's how I always did it - we were always together on the bus and touring. And then it's easier now, because I've got one that's out of the house on her own, and I've got a daughter that's going to be graduating and she'll be off to college. I do still have a ten-year-old, but she's not in high school yet, so I can still fudge and get her out of school here and there and bring her with us a lot. People ask about balance-it's like any other working mom. You just do the best you can and try to have your priorities straight. They know that when I have a record release that I'm going to be really busy, and they're so supportive and excited about it. They really understand what I do now, too, but you just do the best you can. I used to say it was easy. I've had this question for twenty one years, and I would say, "It's easy!" And then I realize as I get older when I look back, it's not easy. Sometimes it's really hard to make everything fit and to be everything to everybody, which we all try to do. So you just do the best you can, and so far it's been okay. I haven't missed any major life events or anything.
9. How much of an influence are your three daughters on music that you're discovering through them?
I hear a lot of music through them. My middle daughter, particularly, has wide-ranging musical taste. She loves everything from Billie Holiday to the Beatles to these new indie acts that I've never heard of. My ten-year-old is absolutely obsessed with Ariana Grande, so you know, I've heard that record many, many, many times. And it's interesting, because the guy that mixed most of the Ariana Grande record and did a whole bunch of other big hits for Pop people -I listened to that Ariana Grande record and said, "I love what he does with the vocal. I love the way it sounds." So when it came time to mix ["Reckless"] I said to Nathan and Dann, "Well who do we want to mix it?" And they said, "I think we should have Serban [Ghenea] mix it," which is the same guy that does the Ariana Grande record, so it was kind of a weird. Ava was over the moon. She was so excited that the same person that worked on the Ari records was working on my record.
Does that make you cool?
We were putting out these teasers for the single on social media, and I showed the first one to them. I had Emma and Ava here, and Ava said, "Yes! Queen that slays," and Emma said, "That's so hype!" And I was like, "I think that's good, right?"
10. You recently launched Band Against Cancer with Sarah Cannon. Can you tell us about that?
They started a cancer hospital, and it's here in [Nashville]. The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness. Sometimes if you're diagnosed with cancer, I don't think anybody knows what to do, where to go, and who to talk to. There's tons of information and misinformation, so what they're trying to say is you don't have to go somewhere far away. You can stay in your own community with your family where you're comfortable, and there's a world class cancer hospital right here in Nashville, so you can come from Atlanta, you know regionally. They're doing all kinds of experimental treatments and having all kinds of success. You know, I personally know people that have gone there. It's a really good thing.
If you could go back to the early part of your career, when you first started out, what would you tell yourself?
Wow. I don't know. I wouldn't trade how I was then for anything. You know, I probably would have said relax a little. You know, it's all going to be okay. But at the same time, there's something about having that kind of drive and passion when you're first starting out, and I feel like I still have that, but it comes from a different sort of energy. But I don't know, what I always do tell myself is to follow your instincts and trust your gut. You know that little voice that talks to you? I've learned to listen to it, and I've really never regretted listening to it. I have regretted a few times when I haven't.