With 20 years in the music business under her belt, Martina McBride is a veteran entertainer by any measure. But with the release of her 11th studio album, fittingly titled Eleven, everything seemed to fall into place like it never had before.
“I chose Eleven as the name for the album simply because it started popping up,” she says. “It’s my 11th studio album, there are 11 songs on the album, it comes out Oct. 11 and it’s 2011. All of these things started to fit together and make sense.”
Other things started fitting together, too, like the first-of-its-kind Amtrak tour she’s taking to celebrate Eleven‘s release. Spanning four days and 11 stops (who would’ve guessed?), the tour crisscrosses the country all the way from L.A. to New York City, where she will arrive Friday (Oct. 14).
After getting off the train in New York City, she’ll head to the Empire State Building to bathe the iconic tower in pink lights to commemorate breast cancer awareness month and then up to the top floor for a rooftop VIP concert. King Kong, eat your heart out.
Undoubtedly, much of this fanfare and enthusiasm grows out of McBride’s happy relationship with her new record label, Republic Nashville. After her contract with RCA ran its course, McBride was snatched up by label chief Scott Borchetta and his Big Machine Records family and hasn’t looked back.
She was smitten by Borchetta’s passion and that of his team but also excited for the opportunity at a new start.
“It really feels like starting over for me — but with a track record and with the success and experience I’ve had over the years, ” she explained.
With that in mind, some of the first moves that McBride and the Republic team made were to pair her with a new producer — Tim McGraw‘s go-to guy, Byron Gallimore — and get her out of her comfort zone.
They insisted she record Eleven somewhere other than Nashville, hoping for a fresh spark of energy. What emerged following the sessions in Atlanta were 11 songs that not only found that spark but also renewed her confidence in her songwriting. Six were co-written by McBride, something she admits she wasn’t always comfortable doing in the past.
“I’m not an artist who thinks I have to write everything I record,” she says. “But this record shows a lot of different sides of my personality. I think it peels back a layer and lets people see more of my personality, especially the playful and fun side.”
One such song was the record’s first single, “Teenage Daughters.” Written about the highs and lows of being a mom of unpredictable teenage daughters, McBride says she couldn’t help putting her life into the song’s lyrics.
“I’m not like Martina McBride, the entertainer, and then Martina McBride, the person,” she says. “I’m just sort of me all the time, so it’s really natural for me to talk about my kids. That’s just so much a part of who I am.”
Another part of who she is shows up in “You Can Get Your Lovin’ Right Here,” but it’s one that she’s never really explored before — her sexy side.
“I don’t know why I haven’t recorded [a sexy song]. I think I’ve just not been really comfortable with that,” says the mother of three. “And I think getting older and becoming more confident in who you are as a woman, I’ve just tried to be more open.”
But not to worry, parents, as McBride knows that little eyes are always watching. She made sure the track has a certain degree of mature modesty.
“I think the thing is, I am a role model, not only to a lot of people that listen to my music but also to my three daughters. And it’s a huge responsibility,” she says. “They are listening to everything I say and do. And so I do want to have class and grace when it comes to songs that I chose.”
But perhaps the most graceful song on Eleven is one she didn’t write, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.” About standing strong with loved ones in times of need, the moving track has been used to highlight the breast cancer awareness movement, and an emotional video features celebrities affected by cancer like Sheryl Crow and TV personalities Robin Roberts, Hoda Kotb and Katie Couric.
Asked why it’s important for her to include difficult issues like cancer or domestic violence in her music, McBride’s answer is simple.
“I just feel like it’s real life. And, for me, that’s what country music is all about,” she says. “That’s why I was drawn to it. And I think we do that better than any other genre really. I think that when I hear a song like ‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It,’ I don’t know … there’s just something in me that wants to sing that for people.”
She identifies with the feeling of helplessness that comes with a cancer diagnosis.
“I’ve never gone through that or had anyone that’s gone through cancer,” says McBride. “But it touches so many lives, and the fact of the matter is that it can touch any of us at any time. So the vulnerability that you feel when you think in those terms is something that I drew upon.”
Indeed, Eleven looks ahead at what will be a new chapter in McBride’s life, one that finds the singer relishing her new opportunities and taking advantage of them to the fullest. But she’s careful to let fans know she has never lost sight of the young woman who impressed Garth Brooks enough to give her a shot as his opening act.
“It’s amazing to me how long I’ve been able to do this,” she reflects. “I think that when I first started in this business, I dreamed of having a 10-year career, so to be able to make 11 albums is a blessing. I love what I do. I love it. And I want to do it forever.”
CMT Radio’s Erin Duvall contributed to this article.