CMT Insider Interview: Gretchen Wilson and the Ups and Downs of Stardom

Singer-Songwriter Talks About Taking Control of Her Career and Music

Watch more of the interview with Gretchen Wilson when the new episode of CMT Insider premieres Saturday (March 13) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.

After a spectacular career debut with “Redneck Woman” in 2004 and the subsequent five-times platinum sales of her debut album, Here for the Party, Gretchen Wilson was on top of the musical world. After follow-up single releases began to trail down the chart, things began to taper off for her, and “Redneck Woman” ended up being her only No. 1 hit. She and record label Sony Music Nashville parted ways last year.

Now she has launched her own record label, Redneck Records, and has released a single, “Work Hard, Play Harder,” as she gets ready for the March 30 release of a new album, I Got Your Country Right Here.

CMT Insider host Katie Cook spoke with her recently about her career and life. These are excerpts from that interview.

CMT Insider: Does this kind of feel like a comeback for you?

I think it is kind of a comeback in a way. I’ve had a couple of years where nothing was really happening, and the label I was with, really we just butted heads about a lot of things. We weren’t picking the right songs, and it was just a slow process which was really hard for me for a long time. And I like to move fast. I like to make decisions, you know, gut reactions, just go with it, and it’s difficult to do those things when you’re working with a big, major record label like that because so many meetings need to happen, and it was just taking too long. I feel really good now. I feel very blessed to be able to walk away from that record company and shake hands and know that we did our best and it just didn’t work. But I got to leave with my record, and that made it a really quick turnaround for me to be able to start up my label and get the song moving.

Was it a record that you had made while you were still with Sony?

The process began while I was there and was finished several times — but not really — and once I got to leave with all of the tracks I made, I made a few other adjustments and put a song or two on that hadn’t quite made it before and got rid of one or two. So it’s an album that I worked on for a long time, way too long, but the good news is — in my opinion — it’s perfect. Having the studio at my house, you know, having the time to work on it a little bit here, a little bit there and still be at home and stuff — it really made a difference, and I think it’s going to be the album of my career. I think it’s going to be a real turning point for me.

Your debut CD sold 5 million copies, and we all know the words to “Redneck Woman.” She’s not sipping champagne, she’s not a high class broad, buys her underwear at Wal-Mart. What happens when the Redneck Woman becomes a millionaire?

Just about as quickly as I’ve made any money in this industry, I’ve spent it. I’ve spent it on property, I’ve spent it on my family, on my daughter. Everything I have is pretty much in land and provides for my family and me. … I don’t have a million dollars in the bank. I don’t. I’m sure that my net worth is that, but it’s all in my property and my land and something that I never had before — a place to call home. We moved so much, and so I feel very comfortable. … Everything I have is right there where I live, and that suits me just fine.

What happened with your career?

I really I don’t know what happened. … I guess it’s the singles. I think we stopped being confident in the music selection. I think myself and my label at the time, both of us, were trying to guess at what it was we needed to be doing instead of letting it be what it is and just getting behind whatever our decision was and really working it. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to get a song to move up the charts. A lot of people don’t realize it, but every radio station in the country, pretty much every reporting radio station in the country, has to be playing your song in heavy rotation in order for you to get into the Top 5, and it’s something that you really have to work at. You have to make a lot of calls. You have to do a lot of visits. … You have to make sure you keep up with it, and when one or more people involved with it are not living up to that expectation or doing that part of their job, things are just kind of falling between the cracks. It ended up being a couple of years that I ended up having a hard time, getting my point across, getting people to listen to what I had to say. … I can take some of the blame myself, but I can go ahead and say that my label had a lot to do with it, too. It was a partnership, and we did our best to work together, and sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to. [CMT asked Sony Music Nashville to comment. Company chairman Joe Galante issued this statement: "We continue to think Gretchen is a unique talent and only wish her the best."]

Was it scary financially to take on something that big — starting your own record label?

Oh, yeah. I don’t have the money in the bank, so I did what any other small business owner does: I took out a mortgage. The worst thing that can happen is I’ve got to sell my land. I lived my whole life in a single-wide trailer on a half-acre lot. And I’d be fine to going back to that. … With my 400 acres and my horses and my family and all and the studio and everything else I’ve got, I can have a great day on an 8 by 12-foot front porch and just sit there all day long and have my little girl with me and have a nice cup of coffee and beautiful view. …You can have everything you ever wanted in life in a single-wide trailer or in a mansion. It’s really up to you.

I want you to talk about I Got Your Country Right Here.

Every song that’s on the record, I feel like if I didn’t write it, I could have written it. There’s songs that I heard five years ago that ended up going on this record. And then some that I just wrote a month before we started going into the studio. It feels like the record of my career. It feels like the record I wanted to make when I first moved to Nashville. It’s got a Southern-rock edge to it. It really does. I mean, of course, there’s always a couple of really traditional country songs on there because that’s how I was raised. I mean, I was raised somewhere between classic rock and traditional country music, and that pretty much comes out all over this record. There’s songs on there that remind you of early CDB [artist id="504759"]Charlie Daniels Band[/artist], there are some that’ll remind you of [Lynyrd] Skynyrd, there’s some that’ll remind you of Bad Company and then there’s some that’ll just remind you of Loretta Lynn. It’s a record full of me. I’ve never made a record that I didn’t skip a track on — at least one or two, here and there — when I’m listening to it in my car. This record, I love every song on it. I think it flows perfectly. I made it with Blake Chancey. He co-produced with me, and I’ve never worked with him before. I feel like he did a really, really great job with me, with my vocals in the studio. And he really worked. He worked my butt off.

I think my favorite song on the record is probably the last one, “I’d Love to Be Your Last.” That really felt like a very raw vocal, that it might have even been done in one take.

It was. The songwriter, Rivers Rutherford, I asked him to come out to my studio, and he pretty much set up in one room with his acoustic guitar and I set up in another room. All we did afterwards was add a little cello. I felt like it just needed a little something, but I didn’t want it to get big because it’s such a personal song. What a beautiful song. It’s hard for me to sing it without tearing up a little bit. I’ve known this song for about four years, and that was one of the decisions I made after I left Sony — to put that song on there.