"As a country artist, you can really keep your audience for 20 or 30 years," muses Chely Wright. "That's how I was with the country music artists that I liked. They didn't have to still be on the radio for me to buy their records. If they had me at any point, they had me for life."
That good karma is coming back to Wright as she preps her next album. The singer-songwriter took the increasingly popular step of funding the project through a Kickstarter campaign. Soliciting donations from her loyal fan base not only guarantees contributors a copy of the record once it's available, but it also means Wright is able to properly promote the album upon its release, effectively becoming her very own record label. It's a method that allowed Jo Dee Messina, one of Wright's country contemporaries, to release her own most recent album, Me, earlier this year.
For Wright, the 45-day campaign, which ended earlier this month, raised $250,000 — an amount which will also allow her to produce a music video in conjunction with the album.
"It went gangbusters," she tells Rolling Stone Country. "It was the sixth most successful music campaign in Kickstarter's history and the Number One most successful campaign in country music in Kickstarter history. I say that, really, to just brag on my fans and the enthusiasm they have."
Still, Wright had plenty to wonder about when it came to the last four years of her life. Eleven years after hitting Number One on the country charts with "Single White Female," the Missouri-born beauty publicly came out as a lesbian in 2010, also releasing her autobiography, Like Me, and critically-acclaimed documentary about her coming-out process, Wish Me Away. She married Sony Music Entertainment's Director of Marketing, Lauren Blitzer in 2011 and gave birth to their twin sons in 2013. Living life publicly as a gay country singer, she knew she'd both lose old fans and gain new ones. But the question was whether fan support would show itself in the form of music sales.
"I knew I had new LGBT fans or straight-ally fans after I came out," she says. "But those people don't always translate into people who want to buy your records. They'll hit the 'like' button your Facebook page because they like that you're living an authentic life, but a lot of them will say, 'But I hate country music. I'm not going to buy her record, but it's cool that she came out.' I wasn't sure who I had left. I was blown away."
And, as it turns out, "reduced to tears on a daily basis," by the number of private notes people sent to her not only to thank her for the support her book and film had offered them in their own coming-out experiences but also to reconnect with a favorite artist.
"Some of them were letters [about coming out] but some of them were, 'I saw you in Albuquerque in 1998' or, 'I talked to you in a truck stop in Arizona in '96.' These were letters from fans who know who I am and they still want a record from me. It was pretty great."
With about half of the record already written, Wright looks to mid-2015 as the potential release date for the new project. And in spite of her having moved to New York City and becoming a wife, mother and prominent activist for the LGBT community, the record will remain rooted in country music.
"I had somebody ask me, 'Why don't you just go pop?' I said, 'That's not me. I don't want to be a pop artist. I want to be an artist that can be 60 years old sitting on stage at the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame telling stories and singing songs that would be appropriate for a 60-year-old woman. I mean, we all want to be Emmylou Harris or Loretta Lynn, don't we?"
Having also been asked the rather odd question, "Will this record be gay," Wright says she has explained that "it will be gay by nature that I am gay. But I won't be singing about anything different than I've ever sung about before. The way I made records and wrote songs was perhaps the only way I ever felt authentic in my life. Even through being closeted, when I sang 'Single White Female'… I'm trying to tell a great story."
As an example, Wright points to a song on her first album, 1994's Woman in the Moon, called "The Last Supper," about a woman who prepares one final meal for her husband before she walks out on him. "Everyone knew I hadn't been married before, but everyone took it on good authority that I was singing a song about a man and a wife. As I've said many times, I'm pretty sure Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. So, all of my pronouns in my songs won't be 'she' and 'her.' I'm going to be singing songs about stories that American people can relate to. Most of us in America in country music, whether we're gay, straight or bisexual, we really are about family and faith and country."