As Gretchen Wilson waits for the interview to begin, she muses on possible questions, including one she hears a lot: “What’s it like being a redneck woman?”
Fortunately, it’s not on my list; there’s a lot more to the country singer than her biggest hit. True, she calls her indie label Redneck Records, so the moniker is close by. But beyond her million-selling 2004 debut, Wilson’s successes include Grammy nominations for a duet with Merle Haggard (“Politically Uncorrect”) and “I’d Love to be Your Last,” a ballad from her first independent release, 2010’s I Got Your Country Right Here.
A new single called “One Good Friend” arrives soon on iTunes. “You could call it a rock blues ballad,” she says.
Though unabashedly “raised country,” Wilson’s rocker side is on display these days as she prepares to embark on a tour with ZZ Top and Three Doors Down. Dubbed Gang of Outlaws, it arrives at Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Center on May 25. The singer will open the show with a half-hour set.
Wilson spoke to the Hippo by phone from her home outside Nashville.
You name-check ZZ Top in the title track of your last album. Talk about touring with them.
I just feel so lucky and blessed … it’s one of the coolest tours that I’m ever going to be part of. Not that I haven’t done some really amazing tours, but since I’ve started my own record label, I’ve really tried to transition a little bit and not just be known as a country artist. There’s a lot of different kinds and styles of music that I’ve always been interested in, and now that I have the complete creative freedom to do what I want, it’s really cool to not have to worry about whether it’s radio-friendly or all of those things that you have to think about when you’re trying to just be a country artist.
The lines between genres have blurred; are you a country artist because of the material you chose to record?
Yeah, and probably more a consequence of the songs I wrote in the very beginning. When I went to Nashville, I didn’t consider myself to be a songwriter, [but people said] from the stories I’ve heard you tell and the way you grew up and just the way you are in general, I can’t believe you’re not a songwriter — I know you’ve got something to say. Then I really started sitting down and writing about my life and the way I was raised and who I am — and there’s no doubt about it; I was raised country and I lived out on a farm or a trailer park my whole life. I was just a country kid. I guess redneck is fine to say, but that’s kind of how I was raised, and so when I sat down and started writing, that’s just how it came out. Absolutely. I was raised on the music that my Uncle Vern had in his bedroom. And when he would leave, I would sneak in there because it was off limits — and I would play his records, so it was everything from Charlie Daniels and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Hank Williams and stuff like that to AC/DC and Three Dog Night and Loverboy and Guess Who … I pretty much learned everything I know about music all the way around from sneaking in Uncle Vern’s room.
You fit the “Outlaw” description pretty well. From your first days in Nashville, you’ve stuck to your guns.
I didn’t get here when I was 18; I wasn’t pliable … I was already 27 years old when things started happening for me down here and I was pretty much set. I am who I am, and I pretty much learned right away when they would say, ‘Oh, you need training’ or ‘You need to learn how to talk to people’ and “What’s your story” and ‘That’s no good,’ I immediately said, look, I don’t want to start lying and fabricating who I am or where I come from or what I’m about, because then I’m going to have to remember what kind of crap story I told in the last interview to be sure it matches this one. I would rather just be who I am. I really don’t have any regrets. Everybody makes mistakes throughout their life. That’s how you learn, and I’m OK with being real and honest, and it seems much easier — for me.
In 2009, you acquired control of your album and started Redneck Records — how did that feel?
It’s still amazing ... I hate to sound bitter about it [but] it’s so good to know that the only people working on the creative are the creative people. It was difficult for me in the beginning to walk in with a product and say, here is something that I think is awesome and I’ve gone over it with a fine-tooth comb and I don’t think there’s a wasted word or note on it and [be judged by] somebody in a suit who has never played in a band and who rarely gets out to listen to live music. They really don’t have a musical bone in their body and they’re going to critique and tell you what’s wrong with the music? It’s just…not that I’m not open to other people’s opinions; it’s just hard to accept it from somebody who is not musical. So that, for me, is the most liberating part, [and] I’m not concerned about whether a program director is going to like it anymore. I don’t sell records to program directors. I’ve never kind of understood that whole thing, I make music for music-lovers; people who want to hear good music. Before I moved down here, I thought that was how it went. I thought, well if it’s a great song, then everybody is going to get to hear it. That’s not true. So many great songs never get heard because those guys sitting in those office buildings just don’t agree with it for one reason or another.
“I’d Love to be Your Last” was nearly left off the record. How big was the Grammy nomination for you?
I’ve loved on that song for so many years. It was written by a good friend of mine [who] sang it for me on my tour bus. I said, just play it again so I can record it and listen to it in my little Garage Band. Every time I’d get half crocked after a show, I’d sit on my bus and drink some whiskey and listened to that beautiful lyric and it was one of those things I couldn’t believe the world couldn’t hear. It was one of those songs … too good to not share it with everybody.
You’re working on a new record — what can fans expect?
They can expect the unexpected. I am recording whatever comes to me … now that I am independent, I’d like to be able to release a single every month and at the end of each year put an album together ... being a single mom, touring and having a home studio, it would just be easier [to record] one week or a few days every month and try to turn something around quick like that.
This will be the first fully formed Redneck Records Gretchen Wilson release — is that exciting?
Yeah, it feels great. In a month and a half it will be a little more comfortable to record. Right now I feel like I’m making a record like people make demos in their home studios. There are microphone cords strung across and amps sitting in bathrooms — all kinds of crazy stuff. But hey, a lot of great records have been made that way. I don’t think ultimately the fans care how you recorded it as long as it moves them.
Well, if you have to staple a few egg cartons to the wall to get it done…
Ha-ha — we’re doing that too!