'The Only Way is Up !'
Emerging in the mid-'90s, Shania Twain (pronounced shu-NYE-uh) became the most popular country music artist since Garth Brooks. Skillfully fusing mainstream, AOR rock production with country-pop, Twain and her producer/husband Robert John "Mutt" Lange created a commercial juggernaut with her second album, The Woman In Me. The record became a multi-platinum phenomenon, peaking at number five on the pop charts and eventually selling over nine million copies in America alone. Twain might have sold a lot of records, but like other mega-selling acts before her, she earned few good reviews — most critics accused her of diluting country with bland, anthemic hard rock techniques and with shamelessly selling her records with sexy videos. Fans ignored such complaints, mainly because her audience was comprised of many listeners that had grown accustomed to such marketing strategies by constant exposure to MTV. And Twain, in many ways, was the first country artist to fully exploit MTV's style. She created a sexy, video-oriented image — she didn't even tour during the year when The Woman In Me was on the top of the country charts — that appealed not only to the country audience, but also to pop fans. In turn, she became a country music phenomenon.
What inspired you to start singing and at what age did you begin? "My first memories of singing were from the age of three years old. It was nothing public, just singing to myself. I guess you could say I discovered my voice at that age. By the time I was eight years old I was singing in clubs. '
Were you one of those children who was a bit of a show-off ? "No. The opposite, I didn't want to get up on stage at all !"
Really? Are you still shy? "I'm very much that way. I have to get into the right frame of mind. It's OK in concerts, I'm very comfortable there. But with TV it's different because it's so rigid. Webchats are different because they're casual. But TV is more restrictive for me and I get a little awkward.'
Where do you get the inspiration from for you lyrics ? "I draw from everything. From people I meet, from travelling. I love going to museums. I love listening to all kinds of music, you know, very different styles to my own, classical, rock. Movies too. Thoughts just come to when you get inspired. When you see a painting or think about a person that you've met, it's your emotions that get stirred and then you just get creative."
Do you carry around a little notebook and jot down ideas? "I do have a couple of books and a little cassette recorder I carry around and everything goes in there."
In 'That Don't Impress Me Much', you said Brad Pitt doesn't impress you. Is that true or purely for the song? "This is so misunderstood because what I'm really saying in the song is 'who do you think you are?' Brad Pitt totally impresses me. I'm sure if I ever met him I would get totally red-faced. I think he's beautiful. Some guys think they look as good as Brad Pitt but in fact they don't, so that is the point of the line."
So, what can we expect from your new album, Up ! ? "Lots of music ! I think you will hear a natural progression but you will still recognise me from where I left off. Hopefully it'll be a great listen."
Tell me about the first single, 'I'm Gonna Get You Good' "It's a got a bit of a rocky kick to it. It's a confident woman speaking and getting her guy. It's got some interesting musical changes to it. My favourite part of it is the chorus where it breaks down instrumentally. I enjoy doing live and on television."
Has your husband, Mutt, worked with you on this new album? "Yes. It's our third album together."
Where did you write most of the songs in the new album? "Everywhere ! We do a lot of travelling, so I write in the car, on the plane. At dinner, just sitting around, ideas just come.'
Do you ever go into the studio with no songs whatsoever? "I've never written a song in the studio but I have re-written in the studio. You get into the studio and realise it's not what you thought it was and then you tweak it."
Do you find the studio a creative place? "Not particularly, no. I tend to find corners off by myself and that's where I'm most creative. Somewhere really isolated."
What do you miss the most about Canada? "I miss the people - they're very warm but not so overly friendly that you feel uncomfortable. I love the wilderness, the lakes. I guess the outdoors is what I miss the most."
Where is your home at the moment? "Switzerland. It's beautiful, it's a good option outside of Canada because we have four seasons there and we have snow which I love."
How has being famous affected your life? "Being famous isn't all that great or anything to aspire too, personally. I always pursued music and was lucky enough to become successful. If I could do what I do without being famous, that would be me choice. Ideally, I would have become a back-up singer and have other stars sing my songs. That would be my dream scenario. It's changed my life in a big way because I don't get a lot of privacy and I'm naturally a fairly withdrawn person, so it's challenging for me to get out there and be a star."
On the internet the majority of your fans want you to duet with Bryan Adams. Do you think you will ever write or record a song with him? "There may be a chance of that. We're very good friends. I'm totally in love with his voice. You never know."
There seem to be Canadian stars everywhere at the moment from Nelly Furtado, yourself and Bryan. Do you feel that movement? "I think it's been fairly consistent over many years. The ratio of artistic talent is very high in Canada."
Who would like to duet with? "Probably Etta James. Stevie Wonder is always the voice the wanted to harmonise with. And other than that there are million voices, including Bryan Adams.'
Do you think if you were to duet you could write a song specifically for it or would that be difficult? "No, I think I could do that.'
It was once said that you and Rod Stewart have done more for leopard print than anyone else. How do you feel about that? "It has been a bit of a signature print for me but it's certainly been around in fashion for a long time. I guess it made an impression in the video for 'It Don't Impress Me Much' so it's stuck.'
You always have great lyrics. Do you have any advice for upcoming singer/songwriters? "Thank you. Try to be as original as possible because when I'm writing songs I try and stop listening to everything else. I don't want to know what other people are doing or what's on the radio because it influences me too much, it influences everyone. So I isolate myself and then I end up with something original. That's the way you will stand out. It's all in the way you put it together. There are only so many chords so there will be times when something sounds similar but it's all in the way you put it together. Our job is try and get it across in our own unique way.'
What's the most emotional thing you have ever written into your lyrics? "Probably 'God Bless The Child'. I'm not particularly religious but after my parents died I wrote a melody that put itself around the lyric 'Hallelujah' and that melody ended up on the 'Woman On Me' album at the very end. It turned into a song for charity. That's the most intimate and personal thing I have ever done.'
Has motherhood changed you at all in terms of your work? "It's changed my priorities in life which ultimately affects everything. The time was right to have him, so it hasn't turned my life upside down. It's all come very naturally and I'm managing it very well so I can't say life has changed all that drastically."
If you were a guy for a day what would you do? "I would take advantage of shaving all my hair off, letting all my other hair grow and farting and burping whenever I felt like it !"
You could do that anyway ! "Yeah, but that's not a very feminine thing to do. You would really stand out if you did that as a girl."
When you did the video for 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman', did it feel strange to be dressed in men's clothes? "Underneath those men's clothes there was a woman. I don't think it came across as being manly, just more a strong woman."
Interviewed by Katie Clapp for Excluisve Magazine
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