Carrie Underwood Gets Back to Work With Play On (Part 1)

New Album Features "Cowboy Casanova," "Mama's Song"

Carrie Underwood knew she needed to finish a new album this year. Luckily, she viewed the writing and recording process of Play On as a labor of love, rather than just one more thing to check off her huge to-do list. The album will be released Tuesday (Nov. 3).

“I hate deadlines,” she says. “I love projects. I love things that I love to do. If I have a project that I am totally into, and I love it, then I am all about it. I will go above and beyond and do crazy stuff. I was always the kid in class that would bring something that was really extravagant and had way too much effort put into it. Everybody else would do theirs just enough to get an A, and I had mine that was like … awesome.”

That attention to detail paid off with “Cowboy Casanova,” the elaborate first video from the project. Filmed in New Orleans with a cast of glamorous dancers, its sassy demeanor is in direct contrast to “I Told You So,” a traditional country ballad written by Randy Travis, who reached No. 1 with his own version in 1988. The popular remake brought him a CMA nomination for song of the year, while he and Underwood are contenders for vocal event. In addition, Underwood is in the running for her fourth consecutive female vocalist trophy. No pressure, but she’s also co-hosting the CMA Awards on Nov. 11 with Brad Paisley and a two-hour variety special on the Fox network on Dec. 7. And as show times approach, she’s seemingly taking it in stride.

“Deadlines, especially on things that I’m not so fond of, I’m not great with,” says Underwood, who won the American Idol crown in 2005. “I just want to do things to be creative and have fun with it.”

In the first half of this two-part interview with CMT.com, the upbeat Oklahoma native explains the country influence in her voice, her creative collaborations with American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi and why it’s sometimes tough to write with guys.

CMT: When I was listening to “Mama’s Song,” I could hear some Reba McEntire phrasing in there. Did you have many of her albums growing up?

Underwood: Oh, for sure. I mean, she’s an Okie girl. I think I’m really lucky that I really did listen to all kinds of people and all kinds of music. I’ve had other people ask me questions like that — ‘Did you listen to Martina growing up?’ ‘Did you listen to rock music growing up?’ — because in some song somewhere, they can hear that influence in my voice. I take that as a huge compliment because who doesn’t want to be like Reba?

Can you hear it in your own voice?

I think it’s harder for me to hear it in my own voice because I hold these other women up so high. I can never be like Reba. And I’m not trying to be, either. You know, I want to be true to myself, but that was a compliment you just paid me, so thank you.

I know you wrote some of these songs with three other writers, so I wanted to ask about the dynamic when four people write a song together.

That was my first time writing with four people. It’s really important to get the dynamic right. I’d met Kara DioGuardi for the first time writing with her. Marty Fredrickson has a huge list of lots of different types of music going on. And Luke Laird, I’ve known forever and, I absolutely love him. So getting the four of us in there, I feel like we all had our own thing. Two amazing songs, and other songs that didn’t quite make the album, came out of that session. It worked out wonderfully. I would love to write with the three of them again.

So, four is OK, if it’s the right four people?

For sure. Of course, I can see where it might get a little cluttered if you do have the wrong people. But that was nothing but fun. We wrote two or three songs a day, easy.

What were your first impressions of Kara as a songwriter?

When she first walked in, I thought, “Oh, my gosh. She’s so pretty.” But she was great. I mean her list speaks for itself. And that’s the great thing — she’s just a great writer in general. And like I said, she’s got the résumé to prove it.

Was there a time where she came out with a lyric and you thought, “How’d you come up with that?”

Well, she’s a little bluesy. She’s got this different thing about her voice. Her phrasing and my phrasing are completely different, which was really good because my motto is that I can make anything fit. I can make as many words as you need fit. I can find a way to get them in that line. And she’d lay back a little more and could figure out other ways how to say things instead of doing it like I do and cram in stuff all weird. But it really worked between the two of us. I think we have a lot of the same vocal range, too. And that helps, too, because sometimes when you write with just men, they don’t understand. Like, “I can’t sing that an octave higher, and I can’t sing it where you’re singing it, so we’re going to have to work something out.”

Read the second part of the interview with Carrie Underwood on CMT.com.