Trisha Yearwood On Family, Food, 'PrizeFight'-ing, and Touring With Garth

Trisha Yearwood’s new album, PrizeFighter, might be the result of a seven-year itch. It’s been that long since her previous project came out, and there are several reasons for that: The singer suddenly found herself full-time in Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, her hit Food Network show, as well as dealing with the bestselling cookbooks (and, now, personal cutlery line!) that developed. A death in the family also took center stage for a while. But mostly, she was riding out husband Garth Brooks’ designated retirement time with him in Oklahoma, enjoying the last years of having her stepchildren at home.
 
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So it’s no coincidence that she’s stepping back into the spotlight the same year Garth is. Although she’s done some small-scale solo touring in recent years, Yearwood is having a ball doing a mid-show set on her husband’s tour. And, keeping it all in the family, she’s signed with Sony Nashville, just like he has, in order to give tour-goers a souvenir in the form of PrizeFighter, which mixes greatest hits with new material. Yearwood came by the Yahoo studios in Los Angeles to perform acoustic versions of several of the album’s tracks… and to tell us about this (don’t call it a?) comeback.

So are you a singer who moonlights as a food personality now, or a food personality who moonlights as a singer?

I don’t know if I’m a singer who moonlights as a cook or a cook who moonlights as a singer. I’m kind of all of it. The thing about food is that it’s something that we all have in common, and we all have to eat. And so I live that life anyway; it just so happens that I turned it into a second career, truly by accident. Now that music is kind of back on the front burner, I’m trying to figure out how to do it all. I don’t think I’ve ever been busier. Even [compared to] the very beginning of my career when I was going 90 mph, I think I’m now going 100. Or maybe I’m not going 100 now but because I’m older it feels like it.

You’ve had developments in your personal life as well as the cooking show and cookbooks that might have put music on the back burner. But can you believe it’s been seven years?

I don’t think when you make an album you say to yourself “Okay, I’m turning in this album and I’m gonna wait seven years and then I’m gonna release another album.” You know, life happens, and for me a lot of that was moving to Oklahoma, marrying Garth, being a stepmom — a bonus mom — to these three girls, and really being involved in that life. And that is a fulltime job. And that started right after I finished the album before this. And then most people know that my mom got ill and I went and lived with her and she passed away from cancer, and I spent time with her that I am so glad that I spent. I moved in with her for the last few months; it was a fantastic-good time that I’m so glad that I did… And then the cooking show came along out of doing these cookbooks, which really I did because I love to cook. I mean, it really wasn’t a calculated “Someday I’d like to have a cooking show” —it just happened, and it really was a fulltime job. So any time anything went to the back of the stack, it was music. Living in Oklahoma, I knew I wasn’t going to be touring heavily any time soon. So when Garth and I decided that when our youngest graduated we would talk about going back out on the road, I knew I wanted to have new music — and here it is, finally.

The new album, PrizeFighter, is kind of an unusual hybrid. It’s not a greatest hits project with a couple of new songs tagged on, but it’s not an all-new studio project either — it’s close to half-and-half, which we don’t see very often.

Having been off the road for a while, having not made a record for a while … I certainly wanted to have new music, and after seven years I wanted to not just say “Here’s your two new songs, that’s all you get.” I wanted to give more than that, so there are six new cuts. But at the same time, “She’s In Love with the Boy” came out in 1991, and there are people coming to our shows that weren’t even born when that song was released. So I started thinking about, if you were coming to a live show and you heard “She’s in Love With the Boy” and “XXX’s and OOO’s” and those songs that you came to hear, and you also hear “PrizeFighter,” you want to walk out of there with a CD that has everything on it. So I love it, because it’s kind of the best of everything for me. It’s got all the hits on there that I can’t imagine doing a live show and not singing, plus new things.

When I heard the album title and saw the cover photo, it was a little bit surprising, because I thought, “Trisha doesn’t really seem that combative.”

You don’t know me that well!

But of course “PrizeFighter” is really not that pugilistic a song.

“PrizeFighter” was a song that really just picked me. I mean, I’m not that girl who is really known for singing kind of anthem-like songs. When I heard the lyrics to “PrizeFighter,” it would be cliché to say that it knocked me out, but it really did… It’s not about one particular struggle. It’s about all the different struggles that people have. Especially doing it live, I’m seeing and hearing people’s stories of why they latch on to it. And of course it’s everything from someone who’s struggling with cancer or survived cancer… Yesterday I met a young man who had a tragic accident and was paralyzed and he’s made it his anthem, that I’m not gonna give up, I’m gonna fight. I could see the fight in his eyes. So there’s so many levels that it resonates with different people, depending on what your particular battle is.

Your sister sings with you on “I Remember You,” which would seem to touch on your mother’s death.

“I Remember You” is a song that really hit home for me. Most people that know anything about me know that I’m a family girl, and I was super close to both my parents; now I’ve lost both of them. There’s something about losing one parent, it changes (your relationship with) the other parent. But then when you lose the second parent you really truly feel like, “Okay, I’m really on my own now. I really have to grow up now.” It’s a dynamic that you can’t explain to anybody until they experience it, and you don’t want to be in that club until you have to be in that club. My mom’s passing is fresher, so I really think about her a lot when I sing this song. But it’s not a sad song to me. It’s an emotional song. It’s a hopeful song. And one of the things that my husband did for me for my 50th birthday was, he surprised me and he flew my sister Beth into Nashville from Georgia to sing harmony on the song. I didn’t even know — he flew her in, she sang it, she went back home. I came in to listen to the mix and I heard this angelic, beautiful voice that I knew well, and I knew it was my sister, but I couldn’t figure out how it was my sister. And so it was probably one of the most amazing gifts anybody could’ve ever given me. I dissolved into a puddle, of course, and then talked to her and found out she dissolved into a puddle pretty much when she was trying to sing it. I really didn’t know she was on the track at all until I heard the playback. You know how you get emotional, and then there’s the ugly cry? I went right to the ugly cry.

What’s the show you’re doing every night on tour with Garth now like? Do you sing “In Another’s Eyes” together?

The live show will evolve, so every night’s not exactly the same. We are in the beginning of the tour right now, so we’re kind of sticking to the same songs just until we get all the bells and whistles and the bugs worked out. We’re getting there; we’re not quite there yet. But one of things we talked about is that I really like the dynamic of coming out in his show and doing my show. It’s just better for me. It’s cool that he’s been on stage for a while and then I walk out and I’m kind of the shiny quarter and it gets a nice response, and then I do my set within a set. So I really do my show in the middle of his show. We are doing “In Another’s Eyes” right now and probably will continue to do that, but we have a few things to change it up with. It’s really fun for me. I opened for Garth in 1991 and again in 1998, but we didn’t ever do anything together on stage. I didn’t sing back up for him or anything like that. And it was only when he did a few of these benefit shows in retirement that I would come out and sing a song with him, and it was the first time I had been in front of those kind of audiences like that with him, and it’s pretty unbelievable.

A lot of people look at the current climate for country music, when women have a hard time getting a shake and radio is filled with nothing but male partying songs, and look back to the 1990s as a golden era, even though no one realized it at the time. And your name comes up a lot as an example of the artistry that was possible then, in combination with huge hits. Do you think there’s a chance for the kind of songwriting you stood for to come back?

Everything changes, you know. The music industry changes. When I got my record deal in 1990, we were talking about “Man, I wish I had been here in the ‘70s.” So everybody always kind of looks back at the time before them and thinks, “I wonder what that was like; it must’ve been really cool.” I think a lot of us knew in the ‘90s that we were living in a golden era. I really do, and I don’t sound like I can be partial because I’m married to him, but I really attribute a lot of that to Garth. Because he came along in the ‘90s and he made people look at country music — people who had never listened to country music before — because his live show was so dynamic. They wanted to go see it and they realized, “Oh, I like this. I wonder if I’ll like Dwight Yoakam, and maybe if I like Dwight Yoakam, I’ll go listen to Steve Earle.” So I really think people discovered country music in a way that they hadn’t. And during the ‘90s if you were making records, you were selling records. It was a good time for everybody. Reba McEntire had come along and really paved the way for the modern generation of female country singers. She would say Patsy Cline paved the way for her, but Reba paved the way for us by producing her own records and choosing her own songs and really getting in there and selling hard tickets and making people want to go to shows. And it was just wonderful.

And then I don’t really know what happened. I mean, I’ve kind of been off the scene for seven years, and I really didn’t realize they weren’t playing that many female artists until I started to kind of count in my head and go “Oh you’re right, there really aren’t that many.” But I can tell you that the songs are there. I can tell you from listening to songs and choosing songs for this album, there is some really great songwriting being done in Nashville. They’re not always the songs that get recorded. And so I hope radio plays me, and then, you know, the artists just have to find those songs and record them. They’re there. They are. I know they are.