Martina McBride

What It Takes To Keep Her Going

There are three things in Martina McBride’s life that she’s most passionate about — her family, her music and her coffee. She takes all three very seriously and knows they all must maintain a level of high quality to keep her happy and motivated. On top of a freshly ground shot of caffeine in the morning, Martina’s motivation these days has been at an all-time high. It’s no wonder.

“And this year’s CMA Female Vocalist of the Year is … Martina McBride!” Packed tightly in Nashville’s famous Grand Ole Opry House, the entire audience jumped to its feet and cheered as a teary-eyed Martina made her way to the stage to accept a trophy that many have said she’s long deserved. Countless industry insiders, as well as fans across the country, had already proclaimed that this was the power-belting singer’s year to wear the Female Vocalist crown.

Timing couldn’t be better either. The October CMT Showcase Artist just released Emotion, her most critically acclaimed album to date, and the disc’s first single, “I Love You,” is featured in the new Julia Roberts film Runaway Bride. Unsurprisingly, the softer-sung-than-usual groove tune leaped onto both the country and pop charts.

Country.com caught up with the devoted wife, mother of two and super-singer in San Diego recently during the filming of CMT’s Showcase Artist series. Talking about good coffee, parenthood, the dramatic difference heard on her new album and the possibility of her winning at this year’s CMA Awards brought one sparkle after another to Martina’s eyes.

“Oh, I imagined it when I was 4,” Martina says of winning a CMA Award. “I was just like every other little girl in front of the bathroom mirror going, ‘I’d like to thank my mom and my dad…’ Whoever it was when you were 4 or 5 that you think is the most important people in your world. Yeah, it’s always kinda been in the back of my mind.”

This year, however, was different. Martina did much more than simply think about it. It was finally her turn to actually do the “thank-yous.” For years prior though, her name was on the nominee list in the Female Vocalist category, but that’s as far as it got.

“I just don’t usually get upset about losing,” she admits. “I have to tell John (Martina’s husband and road manager) before we go every year. I’m like, ‘John, if we don’t win, let’s not let it upset us and just have a good time anyway.’ I’m okay with it, but he gets so disappointed. So he’s the one I kind of have to work through it. I’m really fine though, and I know this sounds so cliché, but it’s the truth. I feel so honored just to be nominated. If you think about it, it’s a lifelong dream. Maybe lifelong dream is putting too much emphasis on it, but it’s something we all dream about.”

Martina also mentioned before actually winning the award that she knew it would be “just as joyful an experience for the people around her who work their butts off for her career — people on the road, my crew and my band, people at the label. That’s what makes me most proud.”

It’s number six for country’s wailing songstress and something else of which she’s extremely proud — her new album Emotion. Again, self-produced along with Paul Worley, the new 12-cut disc perhaps flaunts Martina’s most unique work yet. Don’t expect such powerhouse wonders as “Independence Day” or “Broken Wing,” but do count on feeling just as touched by several numbers on the album, but in a different way. Cuts that come to mind are “Love Is The Only House” and “Uncivil War.” While Martina has long been hailed as one of country’s most powerful female artists, on this project she steers toward a much more progressive edge. Several critics describe the disc as the singer’s first attempt to cross over into the pop music arena. Martina explains that there was no such advanced planning.

“I never set out to make an album that would cross over,” she proclaims. “I don’t care if I cross over. I really don’t. I love being right where I am. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in other projects like the Jim Brickman song “Valentine” or the Hope Floats soundtrack cut, “Chances Are,” with Bob Seger, and have other audiences exposed to my music without having to concentrate on crossing over. But I am aware that this album has a different sound, and I really don’t know how that happened. I wish I could tell you that was my plan. We used the same musicians, the same studios and I didn’t give them any kind of new direction. This is just kinda what came out, and it’s even mystifying to me.

“The thing I love about country music is that it’s American music,” she explains. “It’s the music I believe that most closely reflects our culture. It’s always had elements of rock, bluegrass, rockabilly and Appalachian music. All kinds of music have come their way into and out of country music. But the lyrics have always been about mainstream country values and family stuff that comes from your heart. That’s the thing that I think has never changed about country music. That to me, if you want to analyze what makes a country song country, one of the first things I would point to are the lyrics. But I can’t say this is a traditional country album, but then again, I’ve never made a traditional country album.

“I really just try to let whatever is inside and whatever I’ve taken in over the past couple of years between albums just come out. This is what came out this time. I was always under the impression that you wanted as many people to hear your music as possible. I never realized it had to be for this group of people over here and not that group there. I want the whole world to hear it. I’m proud of it.

“I think country music is always evolving,” she continues. “The country music of the ’70s was nothing like the country music of the ’50s, or the ’60s or the ’80s. Pick any decade, and it’s always been changing and evolving. And we’ve always had artists to cross over. To me, Dolly Parton is a country artist and she crossed over. Eddie Arnold is a country artist. Patsy Cline is a country artist.”

The crossover attempt Martina does admit to is that of motherhood. Since she and John’s first daughter, Delaney, was born, she’s insisted that the family stay together, despite however hectic her career becomes. It’s still tough, but the mere mention of her family and how crucial it is for her to keep that part of her life top priority brews up even more spark and passion than that of her music. While success for the lady who’s turned out such hits as “Independence Day,” “Broken Wing,” “Wild Angel” and her debut “The Time Has Come” has never been more important, being a hit mother wins out every time over a hit song.

“When I chose to be a mother, I was blessed with children, and that was a choice I made. It’s my responsibility because I’m the only mother they have. It’s taken a lot for other people to get used to that — other people that I deal with on a business level. It’s taken a lot of time for them to really get used to the fact that ‘She brings her kids everywhere!’ It’s a little harder sometimes on that 4½ hour flight from New York to L.A. with an infant and a toddler. It’s not the easiest way to travel, but it’s the only way I’ll do it. It would be so much easier if I just took off by myself and did whatever I had to do, but I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t leave my kids for a week at a time or days at a time. I just don’t feel like that’s good for them, so doing what’s right for them is the most important thing to me. I think wherever you are is your home, as long as you’re with your family. I just know that my kids are happier being with me on a tour bus than being without me in Nashville at home.”

Playing a full-time wife and mother on the road has, however, managed to strip away much of the sheen that typically wraps around a “star.” Martina wouldn’t have it any other way.

“An average day on the road is just not as glamorous and exciting as people might think,” she explains. “We are all on that bus when we get up in the morning, and by that I mean we’re all very close in very close quarters, which is a great thing. It kind of forces you to be right. One can’t be going off into one room and the other going off into another room to where we’re all separated because you’re all there. So we get up in the morning and I fix Delaney’s breakfast. Then I fix Emma’s breakfast. Then we just kind of hang out all day until soundcheck. We play and read, and if I have interviews to do, Delaney’s at the age where she can color or read to entertain herself. Sometimes we go antique shopping, and sometimes we’ll go for long walks.

“Then we do soundcheck (at the venue of that evening’s concert), and the girls usually come out for soundcheck. They each get their own little microphone. They demand it. So we give them one and it’s plugged in an everything. It’s funny because Emma totally knows the difference between one that makes noise and one that doesn’t. Delaney starts dancing and then Emma is dancing and singing, and I’m singing. It’s kind of a chaotic time. Then we all go eat dinner. We usually have catering at the venue, so we’ll go to a tent or a room or wherever it may be. So we all eat and have the same fights over Delaney not wanting to eat her green beans and Emma wanting to eat everything in sight. Afterwards, we’ll go back to the bus and hang out for a while until it’s time for me to get ready for the show. Most of the time, the kids come out and watch the show, but I think Delaney is kind of over it. I’ve got to ask her now before she’ll come. ‘Would you please come watch Mommy’s show?’ Sometimes she’s like, ‘I don’t want to, Mom.’ Bath time is usually right during the show, so sometimes when I come back on the bus, they’re in their pajamas. I give Emma her bottle and put her down to bed and then read Delaney a bedtime story — or three, or four, or five — and then put her to bed. That’s really a typical day.”

Life on the road for Martina does have its off time, too. The songstress often takes extended vacations in between recording albums. “I’ve said this before, but I think that’s the most important creative tool that I have is the time I take between albums,” she explains. “Having a couple of years in between albums really allows me, I think, to come at each album with a really fresh place. Also, I get two more years of life, which is two more years of experiences and influences. It’s two more years of different places I’ve traveled, music I’ve listened to and people I’ve met. I just feel like that’s probably why each album sounds like it isn’t the same album over and over. It all kind of brings a fresh perspective to it by having that time in between.”

While emotion truly does play a huge role in Martina’s life — whether it be through the evolution of her different musical ventures or through the growth and changes that take place within her family — the often misinterpreted “over-serious” singer tends to be just as emotional, and even humorous, about her coffee.

“Oh yeah, good coffee makes me really happy,” she admits with a serious laugh. “Good strong coffee makes me really happy — especially first thing in the morning. That’s the first thing in the morning is good coffee, and it has to be good. And then there’s that time in the afternoon if you get a great cup of coffee — that’s such a good thing.”