How about your brothers? What are they doing now?
David, who is two years younger than me, lives way up in Northern California. He’s also a musician, and he’s had a band together since he was 19. He also builds these buildings called yurts. They’re sort of countercultural; you can find them in the Whole Earth Catalog. They’re based on a Mongolian structure, and they’re for people who are looking for alternative ways of building houses that are more cost-efficient. He was truly one of the first back-to-the-country people. He’s got a lot of hippies with beards working for him, and his son is named — I shouldn’t say this — Bayleaf.
My other brother, Steve, who is two years older than me, lives in Minnesota. He moved there when I did my first album. And he’s mixed sound and produced records for Willie and the Bees and the Lamont Cranston Band. But then blues went out of favor and Minneapolis turned to the Prince kind of stuff, so now he has an audio-equipment company called Pro Line, which installs state-of-the-art sound systems in people’s homes.
Did you hang out with them when you were kids?
I wish they would have hung out with me, but they didn’t!
You were still pretty much a tomboy, weren’t you?
From the time I was seven or eight, I was a tomboy with a vengeance. When you are the one girl in a family of boys, and your dad relates to the boys well — well, I just couldn’t stand the way girls got the second best of everything. They couldn’t throw as far. They weren’t paid as much. To me, it was the same as black people getting treated as second-class citizens. So I always stayed out and played longer and hit the ball farther and had tough hands and all that.
Obviously that attitude is something that’s carried over to your career. I think a lot of women really relate to you and your music, especially the new album.
Yeah, I know a lot of guys who got into my music because their girlfriends like it. And there are a lot of husbands who are sick of me this year because their wives play my songs all the time!
I think women like me because they don’t have to be jealous. I’m one of them, you know. I’m not ridiculously beautiful, and I’m not wealthy, and I’m not intimidatingly talented. I’m probably as close to a normal person as you’ll find in the music business.
But I do think with all this attention now, it’ll be interesting for 20-year-old women to be able to see me as a possible role model instead of only Madonna.
What do you think of Madonna?
Well, it’s not necessarily my kind of music; I can’t really say I’ve heard her albums. But I admire how she’s put herself across in terms of understanding how to promote herself. It’s not what I’d choose to do. Bette Midler also has an understanding of how to promote herself. On the other hand, I’m really frustrated at Joni Mitchell’s lack of being able to be commercially acceptable. And Phoebe Snow and a bunch of other people. Still, I’m amazed and happy about Anita Baker and Neneh Cherry. Just when you are going to get pissed off about the state of music, something great happens.
Were there any women you looked up to when you were younger?
I loved Joan Baez. I still do. She was a Quaker, like I was, and she was a political activist and a folk singer. And I thought she was so beautiful, and she was part Scottish, and I’m Scottish. She was my hero. And Tina Turner, the Marvelettes, Martha Reeves … Aretha Franklin was my absolute favorite. And Sippie Wallace knocked me out. And I love Katharine Hepburn. She has the same birthday I do — November 8th. So do Rickie Lee Jones and Bonnie Bramlett.
I think one thing that made Nick of Time stand out is that it’s really an adult album.
It definitely is. Every song on there is about somebody who had to have lived this long. “I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again” — I had that song for 11 years, and until this album I couldn’t really mean it. But there are some great records being made by people in my generation — Don Henley, Tom Petty.
The title song really had a big effect on people. It’s one of the few songs you’ve written. Why don’t you write more?
It’s a combination of lack of confidence, lack of trying and having really high standards. If I write a song and it doesn’t sound as good as Randy Newman, I just put it away. I mean, who wants to put a mediocre song on a record just because you wrote it? My late-night habits didn’t help, either, and I was so busy. I made a record a year for six or seven years. And I can’t write on the road. But when I got sober, I had more time. I wasn’t spending all my time getting messed up and recovering. And I had a desire to come up with something. I didn’t want to sing the same old stuff over and over.
Right before the Grammys, I went to Mendocino, which is where I wrote “Nick of Time,” and I closed myself off and didn’t go into town for five days, and I wrote four songs. I did it on purpose to see if I could come up with anything.