Trisha Yearwood stands as one of country music’s finest vocalists — but she’s no diva. True to the title of her new album, Every Girl, the Georgia native is quick-thinking, funny, and gracious, offering a hug and a thank you after the interview. Here she chats about listening for lyrics, the lessons she learned from her parents, and the one duet partner that she just had to have.
CMT: We’ll start with “Every Girl.” Is there a certain line in that song that grabbed you?
TY: The line I loved was, “You got this baby, so what if you don’t?” That’s the line to me that was saying we all try to be on our A-game and we all want to show our best selves, but we are all flawed and we all make mistakes and that’s OK. I love that lyric because it gives us permission to be who we are.
What surprised you the most as you started looking for material for this record?
I think the thing that surprised me the most was that I found really great songs. I mean, I’m 54, I haven’t made a record in a while. … I do write some, but not very much, and so I’m counting on finding songs that really resonate with me. And you just don’t know what’s out there. I was really pleasantly surprised at the depth of material. So I got happy really quick. I’m like, OK, this is going to be fun.
I have to ask about “The Matador” because I love the drama of that song.
I love the drama of that, too. It’s so moody and weird and dramatic and wonderful.
From the great Gretchen Peters.
Yeah, she’s amazing. You know, she writes mostly by herself and she’s really an artist. She doesn’t sit in a room and go, “OK, Trisha Yearwood is recording next week, we gotta write something for her.” She writes because it has to come out of her. And you can tell when you hear “The Matador.” She told me, “I don’t even know where that came from, I just had to get that out on paper.”
Did she give you an interpretation and tell you what it’s about?
What she said to me was, “Everybody doesn’t get it, but I know that you do.” And I said, “I don’t even know why I do, but I do.” [laughs] That’s all that was said!
When I heard the trumpets on there, I thought about “Ring of Fire.” I was curious, did you ever have a chance to know Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash?
I did, I’m lucky being kind of a child of the ‘90s. I came into this business at a time when we still had so many of these legendary artists who have now gone on. I met Johnny and June at the Opry for the first time. Johnny was walking down the hall and he said, “Hi, Trisha.”
I was like, “Wait a minute, Johnny Cash knows my name.” They lived out near me when I lived in Hendersonville and they were always so nice to me. I just feel grateful that I was here at a time where I got a chance to know some of those guys.
You were a receptionist at a record label early on, right?
What kind of lessons did you learn there about how to treat people?
Well, I learned how to treat people from my parents. They would have jerked me sideways if I was not nice to somebody. [laughs] But that job… I was kind of shy, I wasn’t aggressive about wanting to be a singer. I knew that that’s what I wanted, but I wasn’t… I don’t know, I just wasn’t bold enough to tell people what I wanted to do.
But being a receptionist at the label, I watched everybody come in every day and do what I wanted to be doing. They were living their dream and I was answering the phone. It really lit a fire under me, because I thought if I don’t get aggressive, if I don’t tell people what I want to do, then I’m not going to get to do it.
So that was really the best job I had because it taught me what I didn’t want to do, and it really did spur me on to be loud about it, and say, “Yes, I want a record deal!”
People don’t understand that a lot of entertainers are introverts and I’m not really an extrovert. I mean, I can be loud and I can be a ham, but I’m generally shy. People who know me well don’t believe that’s true, but it isn’t the easiest thing.
You know, singing is easy and I loved being a demo singer because I was in a studio with maybe a couple of guys and a microphone. That was much easier for me, and still is, than singing in front of a crowd.
What were those conversations like with your parents when you moved to Nashville?
For them, they were very conservative and nobody in my family, nobody we knew, had done anything remotely close to what I do right now. So there was some fear of the unknown, but I look back and think about that – they never made me feel like they were scared for me. They always made me feel like they were excited and that they wanted me to follow my dreams.
When I would call home from Nashville, I would say, “Oh, I sang a demo for Harlan Howard today, he’s a legendary songwriter.” And they would say, “Every step you take is a step in that right direction.” They always encouraged me. And I do think it couldn’t have been easy for them to send their youngest off to this town where we didn’t know anybody, and just leave me here, but it worked out.
When you hear Kelly Clarkson singing with you on “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” what goes through your mind?
I just love her voice. She’s superhuman, you know. She can sing anything. And I am a confident singer, so when I tell you that she can sing circles around me, that is not a statement of humbleness. When there’s a really strong, stand-out, high harmony, there’s a handful of people who can do it, but nobody can do it like her. Nobody can sing up that high, with that much power, and still feel warm and not hurt your ears.
She’s got an amazing gift, and I don’t think she realizes it, which is what makes me love her so much. She’s so humble. She wouldn’t have to be, because she’s got to know how good she is, but she makes you feel like she’s just happy to be there.
When you ask someone to sing with you, how do you make that request? I know you don’t extend that invitation to just anybody.
Well, I also know these artists are busy, so I always preface it with, “Hey, if you can’t do this, or if you don’t love the song, you won’t hurt my feelings. I totally understand if you can’t. And if you can, I’d love for you to do that.” I always want to give them an out. Because I know Kelly loves me, I’ve sung with her before, but if she just can’t do it because of her schedule, I don’t want her to feel bad. So that’s my first thing, to give them an out.
The only person I didn’t give an out to was Garth. [laughs] I was like, “You’re gonna have to do this!” And I didn’t just go into this album thinking, “I’m going to have my husband sing on the record.” This song he’s singing on, “What Gave Me Away” — it’s about him. It’s about that person who has your number and I couldn’t imagine anybody else singing it but him. So, I’m really glad that he did.
I’ve heard Garth cover an Ashley McBryde song, but hearing “Bible and a .44” on your album was a pleasant surprise. Does that song remind you of your dad?
Yeah. And that showcases what a great writer Ashley McBryde is because the song is very personal to her. It’s about her dad. And every daddy’s little girl I’ve talked to who’s heard the song gets so emotional about it. You know, we all find our dads in there, and I think that’s the mark of a really great songwriter who can translate their very personal feelings into something that makes us all relate to it.
You must think about your dad every day.
I do. I think about them both a lot. We were in my hometown [for a record release party] and they raised me there, but the whole town raised me, and so I just felt their presence so much there because I’m like, they would be all over this. They would be having the best time. And I believe they’re with me, so I believe they did get to enjoy it.