Over her 20-year career, Lee Ann Womack has flown the flag of neo-traditionalism, knocked 'NSync off the charts with her pop crossover hit, "I Hope You Dance," and been welcomed into the Americana community as a real-deal roots musician. She continues the journey with The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone, a new album featuring seven of her own songs. To celebrate the album's October 27th release, she talked with Chris Shiflett for today's episode of Walking the Floor.
Taped in Nashville – her hometown for the last three decades – the episode finds Womack waxing nostalgic about her days as an intern at MCA, trading music-mom tips and diving into the unexpected success that arrived with her third album. Some highlights can be found below, along with premiere of Walking the Floor's 104th episode.
Pretty much everyone in the family plays music, although Womack says she's always prioritized being a mother – not a musical mentor – to her children.
Womack's oldest daughter Aubrie Sellers kickstarted a country career of her own with her 2016 debut New City Blues. The two have sung together on previous albums, but Womack says she never pushed Aubrie to follow in her mom's footsteps. "I never said a word," she explains. "Everybody's career, and the steps that they take to get where they are, is unique. For one thing, Aubrie and [youngest daughter] Anna know more about the business than I ever did, because they grew up in it. . .Plus, she has a manager and a producer. If I start managing and producing and doing all that kinda stuff, then who's gonna be mom?"
She still calls herself a country musician, regardless of the pop-leaning music that's currently played on country radio.
"I'm a country singer," she says proudly. "There's no doubt about that, and that's what I always aspired to be." That said, she recognizes she doesn't sound like most of country music's current hitmakers. The reason, she offers, is that most of today's country music isn't really country. "It's odd for me," she adds, "because real country has sort of been pushed out. . .What I call myself is a real country singer, and [most of] what you hear on country radio right now is not real country."
During college, she cared more about her internship at MCA Records than her classes at Belmont University.
"I just hung out at the label all the time; I never went to class," says Womack, who moved to Nashville and enrolled at Belmont during the late Eighties. During her time at MCA, the label signed a number of trailblazing artists, including Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Nancy Griffith. "It was a cool time to be there," she adds. "Conway Twitty was still on the label. Strait was making records. Loretta was on the label. It was crazy."
When Womack landed her first record deal, she was signed as a traditional country artist, not a crossover singer.
"I did a showcase, and Tony Brown and Mark Wright were at the showcase," she says of the gig that officially cemented her deal with Decca Records. "It was really hardcore, straight-up country music. Nobody else was doing it. I think they just thought, 'Well, we might not make anything outta this, but it'll sure be fun.' And that's how I got my record deal."
Ironically enough, it was "I Hope You Dance" – a crossover tune that dominated the country, pop and adult-contemporary charts during the early 2000s – that made her a star.
Womack wasn't prepared for the success that arrived in 2000, when I Hope You Dance – led by its blockbuster ballad of a title track – turned her into a Grammy-winning chart-topper. "I was the girl who was writing and singing 'Am I the Only Thing That You've Done Wrong' and 'Never Again, Again' – these really hardcore country songs," she remembers. "Then all of a sudden, I had this positive message, and I had my kids in the video, and I think that people just thought that I was something that maybe I wasn't. I told people at the time, 'I think people think I'm Billy Graham, and I'm really more like George Jones'. . .I really didn't play the role, but I think that's what people wanted. It was difficult for me to navigate those waters."
Driving is really, really good for songwriting.
"I get my ideas, a lot of times, when I'm driving on a long road, when everyone else is asleep or when there's nobody else in the car," says Womack, who wrote half of the material on her newest release, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone. "There's something about that repetition of the road!"
The couple that listens together stays together.
Lee Ann Womack married Frank Liddell, whose production credits include all six of Miranda Lambert's records, in 1999. Since then, the partners have teamed up in the studio on multiple projects. The real teamwork, though, begins long before Womack ever enters the recording studio. "Frank and I have always just gone through songs," she says. "I'll throw my own in there. It's a process for us. We are constantly listening to songs. 'Listen to what so-and-so wrote. Listen to this song I found on this record.' It just is a constant thing, and it has been for 20 years."