With the release of her sixth album, There’s More Where That Came From, early this year, multiple Grammy winner Lee Ann Womack kissed-off her pop crossover status with a roots-based, gin-soaked, bona fide country album. The effort recently earned her six Country Music Award nominations, including Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year, and back-to-back tours: a summer stint with Toby Keith and Shooter Jennings, and a current string of solo dates.
After the thirty-ninth annual CMA’s, set for November 15th in New York, Womack — who just turned thirty-nine herself — plans to head back into the studio to record a new album. Rolling Stone caught up with the country star to talk about songwriting, politics, acting and . . . hip-hop.
There’s More Where That Came From is markedly more country than what’s heard on radio. What made you decide to walk that path?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I wanted to make music that meant something to me personally. I grew up listening to that kind of music in East Texas, and I feel like that’s what I do best. When I put music on for listening pleasure, it’s old George Jones or old Tammy [Wynette] records.
I was steeped in that kind of stuff. My dad was an on-air personality at a radio station and he played that kind of music — his collection was full of it. When I was a kid, I didn’t get to go to the record store and get any record I wanted, like my kids do now. I had what my parents had, and if I wanted to listen to music I had to go dig into their collection.
What do your kids listen to?
Over the last few years it’s been a lot of hip-hop because they’ve both been involved in dance team and cheerleading.
How do you feel about that?
There have been some things that I’ve liked, but it gets old quickly to me. I loved Nelly’s first record, [2000’s] Country Grammar, and I liked his second record [2002’s Nellyville] as well. I would have to say he’s my favorite — and I know I like Ludacris. But then again, I can’t even name most hip-hop artists.
Which cuts on There’s More Where That Came From are your personal favorites?
I love the first single, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” When it came out a lot of people said, “Oh my gosh, it’s a country booty-call song.” And it is! It’s about hooking up with your ex late at night after a couple of drinks. As country as it was, with the fiddles and steel guitar, I knew when I heard it that that message would hit home with people across the board.
My other favorite is “Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago.” My assistant was asking me a question in the office one day about a picture she found of me. She asked, “When was this taken?” And I said “Oh Lord, honey, I don’t remember. That was twenty years and two husbands ago.” Immediately, I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s my next big hit.”
Do you carry around a notebook with you in case inspiration strikes?
I have tons of notebooks, and I’ve written things down on cocktail napkins, of course. It seems like when you have a couple of beers, the ideas flow a little more freely. The next day it might be a big bunch of shit, but it sounded good at the time. I keep them all in what I call my “Willie bag,” which is actually a kind of purse made out of an old Willie Nelson shirt. But every time I say “my Willie bag,” everybody’s like “Yeah, man, roll me one.” [laughs]
I heard you had some crazy times touring with Shooter Jennings.
Shooter and I had a blast all summer. We would add to our party atmosphere until it just got completely out of hand. We had a bubble machine going in the front lounge of my bus, loud music playing, silly string, cap guns, cowboy hats and handcuffs. You just wouldn’t believe how out of control this thing got.
It was just hysterical all the way through my birthday in August, which we celebrated in Vegas. We went completely nuts. We had this huge party backstage. I don’t remember the end of the evening, of course, but I had a couple of girlfriends with me and we were running around between the buses. The bus driver said it was like trying to round up cats, because when he would get one on the bus the others would go off running around. I promised myself I would have a good time.
I hear you’re interested in doing more acting, perhaps on Broadway . . .
Broadway is something I’ve always thought would be fun. I could definitely do Dolly [Parton] or Tammy [Wynette]. Being a mother, a country singer and that whole thing, I have a lot in common with Tammy.
I know you’re from Jacksonville, Texas. Have you heard from family or anyone in your hometown about taking in refugees from Hurricane Katrina?
I actually happened to be [in Jacksonville] the day after the hurricane, and it was in the newspapers that they would be housing evacuees. The mayor was warning businesses not to jack prices up, and I know a lot of universities and churches were housing people. Even Nashville is doing that.
Do you have any ties to New Orleans? Musician friends?
Harry Connick, Jr. is a friend of mine. I’m just devastated for him. I know how I feel about Texas, and I know he feels that same way about Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular. I know it has to be heartbreaking for him.
Brad Arnold from 3 Doors Down is a friend of mine, too. A couple of those guys lost their houses. A lot of people keep forgetting about further east. I had played at the Grand Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, with Willie, and I saw on the news that the parking lot was completely full of debris and the boat was out of the water. It was just terrible.
Toby Keith is well known for his politics. Were you worried about your beliefs being aligned with his when you agreed to tour together?
I did think that people might consider me totally in alignment with him. I didn’t even realize how — I won’t say political — but how patriotic his show is. But after all, it was a country tour and I am a country artist. I do admire his support of the troops.
Do you choose not to talk about your own political beliefs and affiliations?
I did a thing for the Bush campaign trail this last time around. We’re both from Texas. I did some things for him even before I moved to Nashville and got a record deal. But I don’t talk too much about it. I get sick of hearing celebrities talk about political issues [laughs]. Most of the time, if I turn the television on and I see a celebrity talking about politics, the first thing that crosses my mind is, “Who the hell cares what you think?” I’m sure they’d think the same thing about me.
How hard is it to switch from Lee Ann, sexy country star, to Lee Ann, wife and mother?
It’s difficult. There are times when I’ve changed a diaper, handed the baby to somebody, then walked onstage. It’s supposed to be hard. Sometimes I have trouble seeing myself that way more than anything.
Have you heard any song recently that you wish you had sung first?
Of all time, [Eddy Arnold’s] “You Don’t Know Me.” But more recently, “Don’t Cha,” [by the Pussycat Dolls] [laughs]. When I first heard it, I thought it would make a good country song.
When you debuted, there was another Lee Ann entering the music scene, LeAnn Rimes. Did you think of changing your name?
I worried about it in the beginning. I knew she was thirteen years old at the time, and I was kind of like, “Oh my gosh, how ridiculous. I cannot believe I’m going to have the same name as this kid.” But we couldn’t be any more different.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about country music?
It’s so hard to say, because there are two different parts of country music. There’s what country music really is, and there’s what you hear on country radio. A lot of the times, when people think they don’t like country music, they haven’t heard real country music.