Heidi Newfield had just flown back to Nashville for a one-day break from the road, and there were a million things she could talk about. But the first question her interviewer asked her is if it took "nerve" to record "Knocked Up," the last song on her first solo album, What Am I Waiting For.
For those who haven't heard it, "Knocked Up" is a no-nonsense appraisal of that very common, very inconvenient maternal condition. The key lines are, "Here comes what Granny's been dreadin'/A bellyful of baby and a shotgun weddin'."
Might this high-spirited, unrepentant ditty be a bit too vivid for conservative country ears? Newfield doesn't think so.
"I never had a second thought about cutting it," she tells CMT.com. "I thought it was something everyone could relate to. ... The first time I heard it, it reminded me of something that Loretta Lynn would have recorded. It was like a modern day 'The Pill.'"
Warming to the subject, Newfield continues, "As a genre, I don't feel [country music] should be politically correct. I think we should not be afraid to say what's real out there." Indeed, she voice high praise for Angaleena Presley, who co-wrote the song with Mark Sanders, and predicts great things for her.
"I had lunch the other day with my record label president, Mike Curb, and we were talking about "Knocked Up,'" Newfield says. "Mike is a very conservative individual, and I wanted to hear what he thought about it because I would like to put it out as a single at some point -- not next or anything like that, but at some point because I think it's a song that should be heard. I shared that with him, and, surprisingly, he told me that he loves the song and that he agreed."
Although music critics and live audiences alike have applauded Newfield's dynamic rendering of "Knocked Up," she admits there was one holdout.
"My grandmother didn't care for it at all," she says. "She told me before she passed away she did not like that song, [that] they did not use that expression in her day. She made that very clear to me. But she also chuckled and told me to prove her wrong."
What Am I Waiting For is pretty much the summation of Newfield's dreams since she left the group Trick Pony at the end of 2006. She had been lead vocalist for the trio since it was formed in 2000. To produce her debut effort, she turned to Tony Brown, whose studio triumphs include best-selling albums for Reba McEntire and George Strait.
"Tony and I both felt very strongly that a record should be like a live show," she explains. "You want to start off with some energy to bring [the audience] up, and then you should bring them down and make them grasp their hearts, make them cry, make them feel something. Then you take them back up and rock them out again. I think this album does that. It explores some territory that I've never explored before in that it's a lot more personal and a lot more introspective."
Newfield says she didn't join Trick Pony with the idea of using it as a springboard to a solo career.
"We really worked very hard together," she says. "I had no intention of ever going solo once I joined. I suppose the thoughts of continuing on singing on my own just came about in a very natural kind of way [after] we all began to go our separate ways. Musically, I felt like we were really just painting ourselves in a corner. I felt like we were growing sort of stagnant and that we weren't looking for and writing songs that were pushing the envelope. We weren't trying to step outside that lighthearted, honky-tonk barroom kind of stuff."
Ultimately, Newfield says, the band stopped having fun working together.
"But I wanted to keep singing, and I didn't feel like the fact that I was unhappy in the group warranted me ending my career," she says. "So I chose to leave.
"I waited, and I fulfilled all of my obligations with them. I didn't quit midway or anything like that. It was tough. There were a lot of hard feelings on their part and a lot of bitterness. And they made it pretty hard on me there those last couple of months. ... But I felt like I could hold my head up high and left with character and dignity."
Newfield says the title track of What Am I Waiting For, which she co-wrote with Trick Pony partners Ira Dean and Keith Burns and Jeffrey Steele, describes the way she felt as she was deciding to leave the group. "It's ironic. They were unaware that I was really writing about my feelings about the band at that time."
Despite her predictable jitters at leaving an established act, Newfield says she had "an intuitive feeling that everything was going to be OK." When friends and associates began phoning, e-mailing and texting her messages of support, she says she knew she'd made the right move. Snagging Brown as her producer, she adds, "really put a lot of swagger in my step."
It's a particular point of pride to Newfield that many of Nashville's A-list songwriters collaborated with her on the new album -- people like Al Anderson, Leslie Satcher, Deanna Bryant, Stephony Smith and Dean Dillon.
Other early markers of Newfield's wisdom in going solo include the debut single "Johnny and June" (which reached No. 11 on Billboard's country chart), an album that's sold more than 100,000 copies its first seven weeks out and an incredibly busy touring schedule. This year, to date, she's toured with Brooks & Dunn, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, James Otto and Montgomery Gentry. "Pretty much everybody," she says.
"I've been going nonstop. I just flew in from Atlanta [via] L. A. and Arizona," she adds. "I've been all over the map. ... I've not had many days off -- which I am absolutely not complaining about at all. It's really good to be working hard again. I'm enjoying this whole process more now than I think I ever have."