Shania Twain interview: 'I don't have anything to hide'
Legendary Queen of country pop on her new album ‘Now’, becoming reacquainted with fans and why this will likely be the ‘purest’ record she will ever make
The Independent - UK
By Roisin O'Connor, Music Correspondent
September 15, 2017
Shania Twain is an icon, let’s begin with that.
Top-selling female country artist of all time; an artist with five Grammy awards under her leopard print belt; 75 million records sold worldwide, and three diamond-certified albums: 1995’s The Woman In Me, 1997’s Come On Over – one of the biggest-selling albums in music history – and 2002’s Up!
When she announced that she would release a new album, Now – her first in 15 years – in September this year, it felt like the return of a long-lost, much-loved family member. It followed an eight-year battle with Lyme disease, a recovery that saw her take on a two-year Las Vegas residency in 2012, and the launch of a comeback tour in 2015: Rock This Country.
This writer was one of the many, many fans who first heard her music aged five, thanks to a parent buying her second, record-breaking album Come On Over – a parent who would later come to regret that purchase when said fan forced them to watch the 16 dance routines they had come up with for each track on the album. Especially since they played that album pretty much every day for the next 10 years.
In a room at the Langham hotel in Piccadilly, London on a Friday afternoon – two days before she performs a triumphant 30 minute set for Radio 2’s Live In Hyde Park – Twain sits and chatters excitedly about the new album, with more energy than seems fair considering she’s been awake and on press duty since 6am.
It’s only (appropriately) now, that Twain feels as though she’s had the opportunity to enjoy the impact that her career has had on herself, on her fans, and on the industry. Now, she has a clear perspective on things.
“What’s really hitting me in this last round – even some of the journalists, people in radio, so many people in the industry, and the fans, were child fans,” she says, beaming. “So it’s like there’s been some sort of time warp.
“It’s the weirdest thing, I’m telling you – I didn’t even think of it until recently. I was on my tour a year and a half ago, I was seeing all these 20- to 35-year-olds and I’m thinking, why would anybody in their 20s even know who I am?” she says laughing.
“Then I started meeting them, they’d tell me I was their first concert, their first record, and it dawned on me. Of course! So now I understand it, and it’s just so cool, it’s so much fun for me. A lot of artists don’t have that privilege, so I’m so excited that I get to talk to the people who can now speak for themselves. I missed a lot of that in the moment, and now I’m really in a different place.”
Now is by far the most brutally personal record Twain has ever made; songs such as “Poor Me” seemingly narrating some of the toughest moments in her life as though it was yesterday. Writing this album was an opportunity to create something on her own, where before she was used to working with her then-husband, producer Mutt Lange.
“I didn’t want it to be influenced,” she nods. “It will probably be the purest album, in that sense, that I ever make.
“Will I write a whole album myself again? It’s very lonely and isolating to do that. I enjoyed it, and I needed to do it. I write songs alone, I’ve done that all of my life, and my collaboration with Mutt was still a lot of time writing. So writing alone meant that I would take on all the responsibility, I would be isolated and probably lost, not really having perspective. So it was bound to be this personal - I let it be – and I needed it, I really needed the therapy of that.”
Twain has said that Now is not a divorce album, and that’s not how it sounds. There’s little in the way of resentment or bitterness – she even seems to poke fun at self-pity a little on “Poor Me” – and more about moving on and feeling a renewed sense of optimism, heard most clearly in the record’s first single: “Life’s About To Get Good”.
But in some way, perhaps Now is also a sort of closure, helping her to come to terms with the end of a relationship – personal and professional – that was dissected and commented on by the tabloid press for years.
“I think transparency and being upfront is so valuable, and that’s another reason why I wrote this album,” she says. “I don’t have anything to hide. I feel a lot lighter just responding to whatever people are curious about. I like expressing myself through music … that’s the way I express myself best.
“The timing for this album for me was very important - I don’t want to have to dodge around questions, avoid things. It’s so much easier to be open. It’s so empowering. It’s scary to take the risk, and to take on that challenge, but the reward is so great, and it was necessary for me anyway. Even if it hadn’t worked, I had to do it.”
Despite all that time away from the spotlight, and from the inner workings of the music industry, Twain hasn’t lost that uncanny ability to throw genres you’d think should never be put together onto the same track (“You should have seen the producer’s face when I said I wanted reggae on the outbeat!” she guffaws) and come out with a record that is polished, consistent, and 100 per cent Shania.
Choosing producers was a careful process that saw her whittle what began as a long list down to just four: Ron Aniello [Bruce Springsteen], Matthew Koma [Zedd], Jacquire King [Tom Waits, Kings of Leon], and Jake Gosling [Ed Sheeran, The Libertines, One Direction].
“They’re all so different from one another, but what I was looking for in all of them was that they respected the fact that I was going to be a loner on this,” she says. “I needed to go through it alone. And if that meant that they only wanted to do one song, or not at all … that was part of my decision process: who was most open to taking me as I am and taking the chance on me. And who was open enough to allow me in the production.
“I felt I needed to be a part of the direction of, sonically,” she continues. “I couldn’t just let the songs go like that. I based my list on talent, but then I had to go through the process of saying: ‘Before we go any further … this is what my involvement has to be.’”
Back when Come On Over was released – 20 years ago to the day on 4 November - Twain’s pioneering crossover from country to pop was controversial, but now US radio is brimming over with country artists who bring everything from rock to pop to reggae into their sound. Has Nashville warmed to the idea of genre-hopping?
“I don’t know,” Twain says, smiling as she considers it. “I’d have to talk to Taylor Swift about that. She was a crossover artist, between country and pop, and then was all of a sudden not country anymore. I don’t know whether that was a conscious decision on her part or the industry. But country music in America … there are a lot more pop-y sounding records on the radio, for sure.
“Some people are very protective of their genre, some artists are like: ‘I only sing jazz, that’s what I do’ and they don’t want to do anything else, even though they’re very capable. It’s different if you’re starting out, maybe, but I feel like, I write the music for my fans, and I believe in them, that they will relate to my music.”
Twain admits she isn’t sure if she would have enjoyed the same, phenomenal success if she had begun her career in 2017.
“It’s so much harder to establish longevity, I believe that,” she says. “In fairness to myself I was established over a long period of time. But it is harder to do that now, with everything moving at a different pace.
“Maybe if I was coming out now I wouldn’t have the opportunity to have that longevity, we’ll never know. But I am happy that I’ve already got a relationship with my fans, and I’m getting reacquainted with all these kids who have now grown up.”
She’s had plenty of catching up to do with popular music, as well. While she was writing she returned to the music she’d grown up on: The Eagles, George Michael, Glen Campbell, The Carpenters … Tammy Wynette’s Christmas album. So it felt good when she was able to switch back on to the Top 40.
“Around the time that I was listening again, that’s when I first heard Sia, 21 Pilots, all kinds of really wonderful things,” she exclaims. “And there was a gap. I had Rihanna, from like three years prior, but the songs I knew were so outdated by then – it was ridiculous."
She promises that it won’t be another 15 years before she puts out a follow-up to Now.
“I’m already looking forward to my next album, I had a really great experience with this one,” she says.
“After I got started I didn’t want to stop, so there are ones that I can’t wait to get back into the studio with. It’ll never be another 15-year wait. Not if I can help it.”
‘Now’, Shania Twain’s new album, is released on 29 September.