It was freezing in downtown L.A. when Jo Dee Messina shot her flashy music video, “My Give a Damn’s Busted,” but you’d never know it by watching her. When she’s not tossing aside a fresh bouquet of flowers or giving her beau the (very) cold shoulder, she’s playing the rock star, slinging around an electric guitar and looking … well… hot.
“There was so much adrenaline flowing, to be quite honest,” she says, in her spunky, rapid-fire delivery. “God, we had so much fun.”
Messina, 34, is noticeably energized after dismissing nearly every element of her past life, both personal and professional. In 2003, Curb Records shelved a new studio project, choosing to release a Greatest Hits package after just three albums. Her nine-year relationship with tour manager and former fiancée Don Muzquiz ended in 2004. She entered an alcohol rehab center a few months later. Then she split with her longtime management company and publicist. Nobody knew what to expect.
Of course, she’d been through troubled times before. Raised by a single mother in Massachusetts, Messina moved to Nashville with big dreams. Early in her career, she signed a development deal with RCA, but it faltered. Then she signed with Curb Records, but despite two Top 10 hits right off the bat, the cost of being a star-in-waiting pushed her toward the edge of bankruptcy. If her second album, 1998’s I’m Alright, hadn’t taken off, she might have ended up in the “where-are-they-now?” file.
Knowing something about getting back on her feet, Messina recently spent several months in Los Angeles and Boston getting buff with personal trainers, learning what to eat and how often. She’s hoping to compete in some 5K and 10K races later this year, part of her strategy for faster running. In addition, to signing a management contract with Kenny Rogers’ business enterprise, Dreamcatcher Entertainment, she also revamped her stage show and hired a new six-man touring band.
“We had a show last week with a three-hour soundcheck and a three-and-a-half hour show — and we just came out of nine-hour-a-day rehearsals,” she says, in wonder and excitement. “I get so lost in the music. My band — great guys, great attitudes.”
Speaking of attitude, you might say she’s got some. Few other singers would bank a career comeback on a song titled “My Give a Damn’s Busted.” Plenty of give-a-damns must be working just fine because she’s already in the Top 5 of Billboard‘s country airplay chart, her first appearance there since 2001’s “Downtime.”
The sassy tune comes from Delicious Surprise, a hand-picked collection of the tracks Messina has recorded over the last five years. She continues to offer songs of encouragement, from the feisty “I’m Not Going Down” to the sincere “It Gets Better” (which she wrote). But on “Where Were You” — “the most pissed-off song you could hear” — she criticizes her fair-weather friends who vanished when everything hit the skids.
“I’m over it though,” she insists. “I’m over it, but I had to include it on the record because it was part of a process that I lived through in the last five years. But, whatever, I’m over it. But there are some people who are in that place right now, I’ve learned, since I’ve performed that live.”
But in concert, Messina has found herself emotionally unable to perform “Love Is Not Enough,” written on her first day at home alone after the breakup. Mike Reid (“Walk on Faith”) helped her bring the song into focus.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, half of me is gone.’ I was like, ‘How do I even begin to face the day with just half of myself left?’ I was crying so hard. I was crying out and I did that whole ‘hhhhhhh-hhh-hhh’ kind of thing. … It was like, even the simplest things as breathing … I’ve got to remind myself, ‘Breathe.’ I’ve got to tell myself, ‘Walk.’ It’s like, ‘OK, Jo Dee, you can’t stop. You can’t stop. The sun’s going to come out tomorrow. You can’t stop.'”
She admits she’s still not healed from the breakup, but she’s making progress. “There’s still a wounded part of my heart,” she says. “I just don’t visit it on a daily basis anymore.”
Although “Bring on the Rain” brought her crossover success on the adult contemporary chart, Messina is mostly known as an upbeat redhead who can flirt or flee without a second thought. (Take “Heads Carolina, Tails California” or “Bye Bye,” for example.) And with the vivid, video-friendly “It’s Too Late to Worry,” she does both. Who couldn’t resist gossiping about a Ford Mustang girl disappearing with sexy Chevy Truck guy in a Wal-Mart parking lot?
“Oh, I have no idea what it’s like to be the subject of someone’s gossip,” she declares, playing it straight. “A buddy of mine works for Rascal Flatts, a kid I grew up with. He called me up yesterday and said, ‘Jode, yeah man, I heard you were in an accident. Is everybody OK? Call me. Let me know you’re all right.’ I was like, ‘Cool, dude. I was in an accident?’ Remember the bus that crashed on I-40 over the weekend? The funny part is, I’m sitting at home going, ‘I wonder who that is.’ Apparently it was me!”
She won’t have much time to watch local news in the future, though, because she’s itching to get back in front of her audience with her new band.
“To stand on the stage with a bunch of people that love to be there, it’s just magic. It’s like going to Maggie Moo’s and getting the coolest ice cream, except you don’t get fat by doing it!” After cracking up, she adds, “I love to be around them. I’ve entertained since I was a kid. I’m comfortable, and I’m at home on the stage, and that’s what I’m looking forward the most to doing — getting out there with the new material, the new show and rocking it hard.”