It seems a bit unusual to interview Trisha Yearwood in a Nashville hotel room, especially when she is known as one of Nashville’s most popular vocalists. Though she now lives in Oklahoma with fiancé Garth Brooks, her relocation didn’t stop her from gathering new songs for Jasper County, her first album in four years. Cheerful and ready to chat, she tells CMT.com about the ups and downs of a good relationship, why she’s afraid of offending her diehard fans and certain words she’ll never sing.
CMT.com: What made you decide to record “Georgia Rain”?
Yearwood: I wanted to find a song about Georgia, and when I heard it, the lyric was, “Augusta rain on the red Georgia clay.” I was like, “This is my Georgia song, but I want it to be ’Georgia rain.'” I’ve never changed a lyric in a song, and I thought, “But if I put ’Georgia rain,’ then I have to change the next line.” “Jasper County” just sang well, and I thought this would be awesome because if my hometown hears “Jasper County,” they’re going to be so proud and so excited.
I asked the writers if they would mind, and they were great about it. They were wonderful about it. When you’re changing the title of a song, it’s a big deal, and they never made me feel like it was weird. That sparked naming the album Jasper County, which sparked doing the photo shoot down there for the packaging. The video for “Georgia Rain,” we did in my hometown. It’s a thank-you to home because it’s a small community. It’s a supportive community. My parents still live there, and I’m proud to be able to just showcase them like that. They’re getting a lot of press out of the record.
I know you had recorded an initial group of songs for Jasper County before starting over. Was “Georgia Rain” in the first batch of songs you recorded?
No, “Georgia Rain” came later, in the second batch. The only songs on the record that made it through the first thing were “Who Invented the Wheel,” the Beth Nielsen Chapman song (“Trying to Love You”) and a song called “Baby Don’t You Let Go,” which is by Jessi Alexander and Sonya Isaacs. We actually cut it for the first batch and weren’t happy with it, but we loved the song. We decided it was the track, so we started over. We just recorded it again, and we’re really happy with the second take.
Do you think we’ll ever get to hear those early tracks?
I don’t think you will. (laughs) Because they weren’t finished. In fact, there are no vocals on them. We never did complete them. We weren’t very far along in the process when we decided, “We need to regroup here.” I think a lot of people think we had a finished record and scrapped it, but that wasn’t the case.
The first time I heard “Trying to Love You,” I was thinking it was about never being in love in the first place. Now, the more I listen to it, the lyric strikes me as clinging to your best intentions, even though you know it’s not going to work.
I think that it’s about a relationship that’s working. It’s about how good it is and how bad it is. It’s that “you make me so incredibly happy, and sometimes I want to kill you.” Those are all the elements that make up trying to love somebody. It’s a constant give-and-take, and it’s constantly exhilarating and frustrating and rewarding — all of those things. It’s not just always good. A good relationship is not just always good. That’s what I take from it. It’s an honest, positive take on how difficult being in a relationship is. The best relationships are the ones that have some sort of tension.
I think of that song as a companion to “Try Me,” where one person sees the potential, but the other person doesn’t. I’m not a songwriter, but I would imagine it’s hard to portray that situation without sounding like a whiner or a wallflower.
(laughs) Yeah, that’s true. That’s the thing: When you’re not a songwriter, it’s a daunting task to find songs that feel like yours when you’re done with it. For me, I have to find 10 or 12 songs that say what I want to say, even though I didn’t write the words. You don’t want to be too sappy. You don’t want to be too dark. I did say, on this album, that I was hoping I wouldn’t offend all my diehard fans who love me for all my depressing ballads. (laughs)
Someone I was talking to was saying, “This is a really happy record. I’m sure it’s reflective of your happiness and your relationship.” I said, “How you feel in your life, I’m sure, has some kind of effect on the songs you choose, but I love dark, depressing, gut-wrenching songs.” Just because I’m happy doesn’t mean that I’m not going to sing those songs. I love those songs. When you’re miserable, you want a song that commiserates with you. You don’t want to hear some happy song to bring you out of that. The last thing I want to hear when I’m mad is a happy song. (laughs)
I was always dramatic in that way, even at 12 and 13 when I hadn’t even had a boyfriend. I loved those Linda Ronstadt songs that were just rip-your-heart-out, even though I had no life experience to draw from.
With all these self-help books on the market, do you hear words like “codependent” or “empowerment” when you listen to demos?
I do, and I will not record those songs. (laughs) There are some key words that I just don’t like to hear in a song, that don’t sing well. Like “cell phone” doesn’t sing well. I hear it in songs. I’m sure it’s been in a bunch of hits. Some of that modern sort of thing doesn’t fly with me. It’s hard to sing that stuff. What’s the lyric in that Jo Dee Messina song? It’s that “My Give a Damn’s Busted” song. There’s something about self-help in there, about seeing your therapist or something. There’s some word in there that I think, “How do you sing that?”
“Who’s your enabler these days?”
Exactly! “Enabler!” That’s a hard thing to sing. (laughs) There’s a new age word right there. I’m sort of old fashioned in that way. I’m a solve-your-own-problems kind of gal.
Has it been more of a challenge to find suitable songs now that you don’t live in Nashville?
No, because I was very accessible. I gave everybody my address. I’m like, “No matter where I am, you can find me.” I wanted to make sure that I got everything. [Record producer] Garth Fundis was listening to songs for me, as he always does, and I still gave all those guys my address because I thought there are going to be songs that I won’t hear, and I want to make sure I get them. It was interesting because we heard the same stuff. I got the same thousand songs that he got. It was good because when you are listening to that many songs, you need a couple of sets of ears listening to make sure that you don’t miss anything. I made sure that I was very easily reached. With MP3 and computer files now, it makes it wonderful. Someone can send you something on the Internet and you can listen to it immediately, and you can let them know one way or the other by e-mail, so that’s helped a lot.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you about living in Oklahoma?
That I like it. (laughs) I mean, I was really settled in Nashville, and I have to honestly say, I wouldn’t have chosen to move to Oklahoma. Moving to somewhere where you know absolutely no one except for your spouse or your boyfriend, it was like moving to a brand new town where you don’t know anybody. It was hard. But I love it there now. I just thought, “How am I going to do this? I love this man, so I want to be where he is. And this is where he is going to be raising his children. So if I’m going to be with him, I have to go do this.”
But I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not. It took time, but I made some great friends and it’s actually nice to have friends who don’t have anything to do with the music industry. We walk. We hike together. They’re soccer moms, and we talk about stuff other than the music industry. Their children and our children are friends. The coolest compliment was when one of the girls — she’s in the seventh grade — found out that I was going on tour this fall. Her thing was, “Who’s going to help me with my English?” I’m known there as much for my English skills and my mashed potatoes as I am for what I do for a living, which is nice to be known for more than one thing.
I know everybody’s curious about the wedding, and I was wondering what you could tell us about it.
I’m as curious as everyone else is about the wedding. (laughs) I’ve been saying that when it rains, it pours. I’ve had nothing going on for three years. All of a sudden, once this album launch began and the tour plans began, I got engaged. Everything is happening at once, and I haven’t made a plan. The biggest lead time is the dress. I have not looked for a dress, so that’s going to dictate when. I don’t think there’s any time on the agenda to look for a dress until maybe after Christmas. All I know is that I know us, and it will be very small and very private. We’re not going to do the big celebrity wedding. We’re going to do something very small and intimate with family.
Now that the new record is done, what are you looking forward to the most?
I’m just ready for it to be out. The difference between now and four years ago is the lead time between the first single and an album release. It’s so much longer than it used to be because singles take so much longer on the charts. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, “We went to buy your record, and it’s not out.” So, I’ll be happy when that happens, and I’ll be happy to get the fall under my belt. I’m looking forward to the shows. I’m looking forward to singing live.
Do you miss the applause?
Yeah, I do. I do. I like it. Our shows are very much like this, very conversational. I like to play in smaller theaters where if somebody says something in the crowd, I can hear them and I can respond. Sometimes they’re sorry they opened their mouth! (laughs) I like that because it’s a nice relationship with the fans, and I enjoy it. Yeah, I missed that. I’m looking forward to it.