She has long been one of the first to attempt the latest hairstyle, pull off a risky new outfit or master the unexpected in any given situation. With her charming personality, barely mischievous smile and perception of often being one of country’s porcelain-fragile figurines, Pam Tillis manages to insert that same “guts-or-bust” attitude into the heart and soul of her music, too. Call it risky if you will, but for Pam, who’s also no stranger to personal re-adjustments, constantly unveiling daring new moves is simply a way of life.
The former CMA Female Vocalist of the Year’s latest batch of music, featured on her new Every Time disc is again “proof in the pudding” of such ever changing versatility. With perhaps her most intriguing work yet since her Put Yourself In My Place Arista debut project, the album’s kick-off release, “I Said A Prayer,” is a downright heaven-sent present.
“I just get bored easily,” she laughs about being so spontaneous and change-driven, “so I like to keep it new. I never like to repeat myself and I always want to be breaking new ground. Yeah, my antennas are always up, and I guess I’m just a musical sponge. Recently, I got all inspired again because I was listening to a great Tom Petty interview on the airplane during the in-flight program. So I know something from that will pop up somehow. That kind of thing just happens as I’m going through all the emotions of my day. I’m just always kinda tuned into the different sounds of life.”
Those different sounds of life can be very “tuned into” on the new Every Time disc. With heavy tinges of bluegrass, folk, R&B, post-Beatles-pop, jazz and ripe-and-ready traditional country, the album not only waves a banner for excellent country music, but sheds a definite reflection on Pam’s own personal triumphs and re-discoveries. In recent months, the critically praised singer and producer has undergone the stress strings of divorce, a change in management and awaiting her son Ben’s fall departure for college at the University of California.
“Oh, I guess it was definitely a time in my life to do some things a little differently,” she ponders, “and just keep it fun and moving forward. I guess I count my blessings because I think I’m a girl with options,” she firmly admits, “and not everybody has got that. I certainly know that there are people out there who feel painted in a corner. So I feel like it’s almost my responsibility to jump on new challenges and move forward. Don’t you get mad when you see somebody on TV (like a famous person) and they’re talented and they’re beautiful and they’ve got an incredible career but they’re screwing it up. Either they’re on drugs or they’re in a horrible relationship. You just get mad at those people because they have got everything. Then there are people who are in complete emotional and physical poverty in the world. Some will just throw it all away. That’s just not me.
“If somebody had all my blessings,” she continues, “and even though they’d have things that happened to them that were painful, what would they do with all these good opportunities that they have and all the good things that they have going for them? They’d go for it!
“Going for it” is perhaps an understatement for Pam’s unyielding commitment to grow as much musically as she has recently on a personal level. The growth pattern obviously exploded during the recording of Every Time. While Pam has never held anything back when it comes to belting out every ounce of soul-stirring emotion in her singing, the co-producer of the project really throws us for a loop on this one. Vocally, Pam climbs, leaps, dives and floats like she’s never done before — carrying cuts such as the driving “A Great Disguise,” “Every Time” and “Hurt Myself”‘s emotional balladry and the grinding Jamie O’Hara-penned “Lay The Heartache Down” to goose-pimple heights.
The chart-hitting songstress has also been dipping a bit deeper back into another passion — acting, a career that basically got put on hold a while back due to music. Pam, however, is confident enough now to juggle both — having recently played back-to-back roles on both television’s famed Diagnosis Murder and Promised Land.
“Before I had my hit records — like the year between record deals — I did some theater here (in Nashville). I was interested more so in musical theater because I really thought I could at least pull that off, since I maybe didn’t totally have the full confidence in doing just straight acting. But I felt pretty certain that I could nail some musical theater,” explains Pam. “So I did that and I really enjoyed it. But that is so time consuming. That’s the only problem — it just takes a lot of time to do movies, television or theater. It’s a huge commitment. Now, I feel like I’m far enough along that I can start looking at it again.
“The Promised Land and Diagnosis Murder parts were a little bit of getting back into the acting thing, after having not done that for almost five or six years. I had done an LA Law a while back, but on LA Law I played a singer. So to me, I called the (latest) as my second debut as an actor, nationally,” she laughs.
Although she doesn’t take on a character role, Pam also makes a major contribution to the country soundtrack for the forthcoming animated film, Moses, Prince of Egypt. Her penmanship as well as her voice will be featured on the project. “The country album is going to be unbelievable,” she says, “with Wynonna, Clint Black, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson and Reba. It’s a big thing, so I’m pleased to be a part of that. And I wrote a song with Marty Stuart, too.”
Along with various new projects, Pam has also decided to take on a few physical new moves just to spice up the whole new recipe. For some time, a Music Row buzz highlight was that Pam was working with a high-tech, L.A. choreographer who had worked with the likes of Paula Abdul, etc. Was Pam going “Madonna” on us!
“This has come up a lot,” laughs Pam while shaking her head. “It was cool. We spent two weeks just doing stretches. It’s just about loosening back up. You know you get bus-burn,” she laughs again. “But you’re not going to be Paula Abdul in three weeks. That would be really fun and I’d love to do that, but I can’t learn all that in three weeks — maybe next year. I work with Kenny on a lot of different levels — more of just loosening up and getting even freer. I’ve always loved to move on stage, but it’s just good to have that feedback and somebody who’s a professional pushing you and saying ‘You’re not in danger of overdoing it yet. You can go further!’ So that’s more of what that was about. It was more like having a director.”
Pam does indeed take her live shows more seriously than ever.
“I feel that when I started out, I had a lot of good attitude, but I felt in ways that it was a little rough around the edges,” she explains of her earlier shows. “And that’s not bad, but I just admire really good showmanship, so I’m just increasingly trying to give the best presentation that I have. And one thing that I’ve gotten into and become a little freer with while doing my 90-minute show is that I even go back and not only do the hits, but choose songs back from all my albums that really show the different styles of country that I do. I think you’ll walk away and say ‘I didn’t know she did all that.’ Because not everybody has got all the albums, so they don’t know. That’s really what I’m all about. I like eclectic and like to really mix it up. You can describe a Shania in one word or you might say ‘sexy,’ or ‘Wynonna is soulful.’ But when you say ‘Pam Tillis,’ you think versatile.
Fans of Pam should not at all have any problems catching her in concert this year. Still completing the remainder of the 28 weeks with her dad Mel at his Branson, Missouri theater, plus launching a whopping 110 performance dates of her own, the stage for Pam looks to be hotter than ever.
Performing with her legendary father has meant yet another dream come true for Pam, and a possible duet together still lies ahead in the future. “It’s just a different show than I take with my own band,” she admits. “It’s tailor made for there (Branson) and I enjoy it. There are things we can do there that we can’t do out on the road. We have dancers and there’s good comedy interaction with Dad and me. I love it. It’s so magic. I love it. And it’s a family thing, too. If you have that luxury, there again, it’s like this is something I’ve been blessed with, so seize the opportunity. It’s just something else that I have, so I’m running with it. Plus my sister is there, a couple of different sisters and my brother — there’s no better feeling than that.”
So what else is new and exciting for Pam? A brand new puppy and a new shade of lipstick.
“Anytime I ever bought a dog in the past, it was for my kid. So I wouldn’t bond with those dogs. I was always busy and was gone all the time. Now I know what people mean when they want to show you pictures of their dog and talk about them like they are their kids. I really like my new dog,” she laughs. “He’s named Buddy. Ben named him because he’s my little road-buddy. I just got him on Easter and I’m having a blast with him.”
As for the new shade of lipstick, Pam has RuPaul to thank for that.
“That was just hysterical,” admits Pam of her recent guest appearance on the popular comedy/talk show. “He wanted me to sing ‘Queen of Denial.’ So there was a whole new twist to that song after that. They also did kind-of a little country tribute called ‘She-Haw’” she laughs. “I didn’t know that was planned believe it or not. Maybe they told me and I forgot. So I show up and I had just come from L.A., so here I am in my platform boots and my Versachi satin jeans and a lime green bomber jacket. I was just all decked out and they were all in cowboy hats and boots. It was hysterical. He did turn me on to a really nice shade of lipstick. He has a Mac endorsement, which is a popular cosmetic brand. So we had this little care package in our dressing room. It was a little cosmetic case with some Mac goodies in it. And there was this one particularly nice shade of lipstick called ‘Naughty’ cackles Pam. So now when I wear that, people go, ‘Ooh, that looks so good — what is that color?’ And I say, ‘Well, thank you, Rupaul turned me on to it. It’s Naughty.’”
What more could a girl want?