With her pristine vocals and her off-the-wall sense of humor, Alison Krauss remains one of Nashville’s most beloved musicians. After singing at the Oscars and winning more Grammys than any woman in history, she finally got around to finishing her long-awaited studio album, Lonely Runs Both Ways, recorded with her band, Union Station. In the first of this two-part interview, she visits with CMT.com about changing lyrics she liked, finding the right material and why she dreams of making records like Shania Twain.
CMT: How would you describe the new album to people who haven’t heard it yet?
Krauss: I think it’s the best thing we’ve done. I think it’s got a mood to it, which is always what we hope to have. My favorite records are the ones that I get out and remind me of what was going on in my life when I was listening to them. I think this one has a mood as well, and that’s the goal. It’s like a piece of work from start to finish, and I feel like we’ve gotten as close to that on this one as we ever have.
How would you describe that mood?
You know, it’s a good negative mood. Negativity! … You know the title of the record, we thought, “What are we going to call it?” We ran over and over and over what we were going to call the record. And I thought, Lonely Runs Both Ways. No matter who’s leaving the relationship, there’s a negative side. … The songs are all heartbreak songs, but some of them are the person singing who’s leaving somebody, and the other side, of course, is that they’ve been left. I think it covers those two subjects pretty well.
What was your favorite moment while recording the new record?
(long pause) I guess finishing it. Handing it, done, is a really good feeling. I really liked singing “Gravity,” as far as recording time. I liked singing that, and when the tracks go down, it’s really nice. I like the tracking and doing vocals and harmonies. The police work isn’t so much fun.
Since you mentioned “Gravity,” one of my favorite lyrics on the album comes from that song: The people who love me still ask me/”When are you coming back to town?”/And I answer quite frankly/”When they stop building roads/and all God needs is gravity to hold me down.” Does that speak to you because you’re on the road all the time, or what made you want to record that song?
I love the same lyrics you’re talking about. That whole song really hits me hard, but the line, when I first heard the song, that got me, was, “I left home when I was 17/I just grew tired of falling down.” That line: “I just grew tired of falling down.” That’s the line that got me. Robert Lee Castleman, who wrote the song … I always heard a man singing it. Hearing that man singing it gives you one feeling, left angry. When I hear it coming out of a woman left sad. I thought, “Oh, gosh, that’s really beautiful.” It really moved me, that part of the song.
I think my favorite lyric on this record comes from “If I Didn’t Know Any Better”: “I turned around/Before I could run/I found you already settled down/In the back of my mind.”
Mindy Smith. She wrote that. She’s so good.
Did that line immediately get your attention, or did it linger in your mind for a while?
That one I got late in the game. I think I got that at the end of the first tracking session or later. We loved the song. We just didn’t think it fit with the rest of the record. We said, “Let’s cut it anyway, so we have it. We just won’t use it. We’ll put it on something later.” And we were listening to all the tracks we had, wondering if we needed to find something else, and we thought, “You know, that does fit. It fits OK. We’ll be all right.” It’s the heaviest, instrumentally, but it worked, and I’m really glad it ended up on there. What a great song. We got that late in the game. I remember, I was upstairs, I was going to bed and I thought, “I’m going to put this in.” It was like, “Ooooh, that’s really good.”
What made it stand out, as opposed to the hundreds of other songs you listen to?
You know, the lyric was great at the front. The melody of it, the timing of it, the phrasing of that melody was odd. Odd but comfortable. Does that make sense? Like, it wasn’t forced in any way. That’s just how long it took to get the line out.
How do you find songs that you want to record? Do people send them to you, and then you go through the box?
That way, or I’ll hear something, and I’ll find out who wrote it and see what else they’ve written. Or I’ll hear a song off somebody’s album that I like, and I think there’s got to be another one just as good on that record that they haven’t released, and I’ll go look at it that way. But the most common thing that’s happened is that there are a few songwriters that we keep getting tunes from. They just keep coming up with them. I’ll call them and ask, “Whaddya got? Send me a tape.” Or I’ll have things that didn’t fit on this record, but would fit later on.
When I was listening to your version of “Crazy as Me,” which was also on Robert Lee Castleman’s album, I noticed the original line was “I still love rock ’n’ roll …”
I know! I just couldn’t do it! And I love the original lyrics. I thought if anybody knows his record and knows that song, they’re not going to like that. But I didn’t think that lyric fit with the rest of the album, to talk about that. So I changed it. I know I’m going to hear, “I can’t believe you changed that!”
Actually, I thought it worked.
Oh, you thought it did? Oh, that’s really good.
At first, I thought, “Wait, that’s not right.” But “I still love what I know … ” worked, because you can drive around listening to rock ’n’ roll, or you can drive around listening to some old favorites.
I was afraid. I called R.L. to ask him and he was like, (mock-serious) “Nooo.” Then he heard it and said, “Yeah, it’s all right.”
You’ve been working with Shania Twain a lot lately as well. What is it about her music that makes you want to play with her?
She’s an acoustic music fan. I had no idea she liked us. I have a long, long history with the records her husband has made over the years. Those are my favorite rock ’n’ roll records that he produced. She called about us. I guess the first thing we did was the [CMT] Flame Worthy show and had a great time. It was so fun to get to sing with another woman. That’s always fun. I thought her DVD turned out great, the acoustic versions of all the songs from her new record. It was great. She knows what she likes and what she wants. I had a really nice time.
Have you ever thought about making a record like Shania, getting Mutt to produce you?
I think anybody daydreams about Mutt Lange’s production, and “Oh, what would my vocals sound like at the end?” He really is into getting the best of the best and will sing and sing and sing until he’s happy. … To have somebody watching your back like that — and pushing you and really working with you — I think that would be really fun to be pushed that way.