After two decades of making pop music, Sheryl Crow stepped into a new class of musicians this year: CMT's Next Women of Country.
With a well-received new album titled Feels Like Home, the Missouri native made a mark at country radio this summer with "Easy." Now she's back on the charts with "Callin' Me When I'm Lonely."
As the year winds down, she visited CMT to talk about her latest project, which she considers one of her best.
CMT: When some Nashville songwriters go in for a writing session, they'll talk to each other for a while about what's going on in their life, then they'll write the song. Did you do anything like that for the new album?
Crow: Actually, I did. The co-writing thing is so interesting because in my past, I'd typically go to the same couple of people that I have a good relationship with, writing-wise. This is different. What you do in Nashville typically is you write with two other writers. I guess the thought is that you're more apt to get something finished if there are more people there, or maybe you're more apt to come up with something different. I'm not exactly sure why that is.
But, yeah, I definitely talked about what I wanted to write about. Because for me, I've been around for a long time, and I didn't want to make a record for 16-year-old girls. I wanted to write about things that mean something to me, and I wanted it to be fun, obviously.
Fun is a consistent theme with you. Your records have always had some fun on them.
On a record, you definitely want to have something for everybody, I guess. It's probably a more mature record than maybe a record by someone who's just getting started, but I'm a single mom, and I wanted to write about that because there are a lot of us out there. I wanted to write about the things that matter to me. I think the songwriting is really better than any of my records.
In country, that's important for a listener to hear a song and feel like they know you better.
Yeah, and you can get away with a lot in pop. You have a lot of liberties there, particularly because they turn your vocals so far down, nobody can hear what you are saying.
I think in the rock world, you can have some mystery to your voice or persona. But in country, not as much. Do you feel like you have to be more social in country music?
Definitely, you have to get out and put yourself out there. The way it is in the country world is much more appealing to me than the way it is outside of the country world. The whole celebrity thing, I was always conflicted with that. I just couldn't understand how to have my life and have a certain amount of normalcy and anonymity and then have to market my personal life for public consumption. I couldn't do it.
And it's been great living in Nashville because I run into people at the grocery store that are well-known, and it's normal and it's cool. Then I go out and do radio tours and talk to programmers, and it's much more about relationships than it is about tabloids, I feel.
When the video for "Easy" was released, you became part of CMT's Next Women of Country campaign. What do you like about the Next Women of Country?
Listen, I'm just flattered that people are accepting me. I came in country through the backdoor. I wanted to be Emmylou [Harris], I wanted to be Linda Ronstadt, I wanted to hang out with people like Gram Parsons, and I wanted to be like the Rolling Stones. I wanted to make music like that -- like "Wild Horses" and "Sweet Virginia" and "Dead Flowers."
All of that was country to me, but it was country at a time when people didn't like country. That was sort of where I found myself. It was nice because that is the music I've always tried to make. And I needed to come over to this format to do that.
In the 1990s, Faith Hill cut "Somebody Stand by Me" and nailed it. How does it feel when somebody records one of your songs?
Well, when somebody like Faith Hill records something, it's definitely humbling. Johnny Cash recorded one of my songs ["Redemption Day"], and I still can't get over it. We actually perform that song in the show, and we have his voice singing that verse. It's just a cool thing because you can't underestimate the power of music -- what it can do for people and how it can affect people. When somebody else feels like a song is saying something that they want to say to their fans, it gives more life to it and it makes you feel like, "Wow, this isn't just all for me."
What was going through your mind the first time you heard him sing it?
I cried, man. I cried and cried. And I still cry sometimes when I hear it. I sang at his funeral. I sang at his wife's funeral. I know what the song meant to him, and it's a heavy thing for me.
You were able to get to know them. What are your memories of them?
They were a super, super-solid married couple, and I love that about them. They were both very intelligent. I met June first in '93. I went to do a radio show with her. ... I went on before her, then I wound up staying and playing with her, and she was fascinating.
She grew up in the '60s. She was from country royalty, and yet she took acting from Stella Adler with Marlon Brando and James Dean. She was very good friends with all those people. She dated [famed film director] Elia Kazan, and she was very sophisticated. She was in modeling. ... Then she came back into the [Carter Family] group and became the silly, simple, funny character. But she was wildly smart and entertaining and a great storyteller. He admired her, you could tell, up until the end.