The four-time CMA female vocalist of the year explains why she’s charting new territory on her latest CD, “Everlasting.”
Singer-songwriter Martina McBride
Tavis: Martina McBride is of course one of country music’s most successful stars, with 14 Grammy nominations to her credit to date.
She’s also been named female vocalist of the year four times by the Country Music Association. But for her latest CD, titled “Everlasting,” Martina is charting new territory for her, covering classic soul and R&B songs like “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted.” Let’s take a look now at a clip from Martina McBride’s “Everlasting” CD.
Tavis: First of all, honored to have you on this program.
Martina McBride: Thank you.
Tavis: Delighted that you decided to do this. Tell me why.
McBride: You know, I just have always wanted to make a record like this, and I just kind of listened to my little voice, that little creative voice that said, “This is a good thing. You should do this.”
I just love this music. I’ve always put songs like this in my show over the years. We’ve covered everything from “At Last,” “Natural Woman,” songs like that. So yeah, it just felt – it’s just fun.
Tavis: Yeah. What about the traditional soul music most resonates with you?
McBride: For me it’s about the emotion, about the lyric, and it’s about, I’ve realized that these songs are so kind of in the moment. It’s just conversational, it’s about I’m expressing my feelings, and I think in a way that’s a similar thing to country music, in that it has, just the lyrics have so much emotion.
Tavis: Yeah, see, I’m glad you said that, because I – there are a lot of things I love about R&B and soul, and as a Black guy the groove always gets me going. But country is I think the best lyrical stuff around.
Part of what I love about country music, most what I love about it is the lyrical content.
McBride: Well, it’s just about real life.
Tavis: How’d you decide what you wanted to put on here? Because you picked some good stuff, but I can only imagine, like most artists – so you got 12 tracks here, so you must have started with, like, 250?
McBride: Yeah. Oh, yeah. We started looking for songs, we looked for songs for about six, seven months, and I worked with this great A&R girl out of New York that helped me, just would send me lists and lists and lists of songs.
Sometimes I would see a song or hear a song and think, I don’t really do that song, but it would remind me of another song. So a lot of it was just sifting through the treasure trove of this music, and I just really ended up finding – I worked with Don Was on this record.
He came to Nashville and we sat down with a piano and sang through about 20, 25 songs. There were certain ones that were just really natural, and certain ones that weren’t. So we just kind of went with the ones that felt natural. (Laughter)
Tavis: Good bet.
McBride: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Go with the ones that sound, that feel natural. But when you say – I think I know what you mean by this, but when you say “it felt natural,” what do you mean by that?
McBride: Just sometimes a song just comes out, like already sounding kind of like a record. It fits your range, it fits your tone, the melody, the phrasing feels really natural.
Tavis: So you go through a bunch of tracks, you pick the ones that sound and feel natural. At the end, you look at what you have and when you look at what you have, what you did, what theme, what thread, do you see running through it?
McBride: Yeah, well it’s interesting. There’s a couple songs that are about trust and lack of trust, so we covered “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “Suspicious Minds.” I’ve been married for almost 26 years, and that’s not an issue that we deal with.
So that was on a couple of the songs, and we have a song, we did “To Know Him is to Love Him,” which is just such a sweet, sweet song. I don’t know if there is a theme that runs through the whole thing. I think it deals with different emotions.
Tavis: Right. When you are in front of your audience and you throw in an R&B song here, you throw in a soul song there, how does the audience respond to it? How does it fit into your typical playlist?
McBride: Yeah, they respond great.
McBride: Yeah. When we do “Natural Woman,” everybody loves that song. Usually two songs that everybody knows, and that’s the thing about this music, I think, that these songs, my fans are going to love this music because it’s still me singing the songs. Hopefully it feels really authentic, and I hope they like it.
Tavis: Yeah. Is there a particular reason why now seemed to be the right time? So much of life, period, much less the music business, is about timing. Is there a reason why the time is right for you to put a project like this out now?
McBride: Not really, no. It’s just an artistic decision. It’s like sometimes you just have – like I said, you have to listen to your instincts. I’ve just been making records – I made a record a few years ago called “Timeless” which was a collection of country standards.
So this is sort of, in a way – I don’t know, it’s not really an answer to that or a continuation of that, but it’s the same kind of idea, just with a different kind of music.
Tavis: Is this about where you hoped you’d be two decades in, or had you not kind of given thought to where you wanted to take this thing? You were just going with the flow.
McBride: No, I – in some ways, my career has exceeded expectations. I think that when you get into this business, I was always kind of – I had a rule of thumb that you get – if you can have 10 great years, that’s really amazing, and it is. So to be having done this for twice that long is just – I’m very blessed.
Tavis: What’s your sense of the crop of country talent that is out there today?
McBride: Well, it’s an interesting time in country music right now for females. It seems like there aren’t a lot of females on country radio right now, but I think that’s cyclical in a way. I think it’ll come back around.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that. That was my follow-up. I wanted to ask what you thought about the whole crop to begin with, then specifically about women, and why it is, to my mind, that what you just said is correct – that it seems like some of the women are kind of disappearing. We don’t know why that is?
McBride: I don’t know why it is, no. Because there were some really great records that were made last year. Kacey Musgraves just won the Grammy for her album and Ashley Monroe made a great country record.
I think there’s a theme right now in country music, sort of a trend that is more about trucks and – (laughter) you know, and I don’t know, just like a male-oriented subject matter that I think that we have a hard time as females sort of finding – that’s really not – I wouldn’t – I don’t know what I’d do with that kind of trend. Like, I couldn’t really fit in and find music that fit in like that.
Tavis: But that raises another question – is there – if there’s male-oriented country lyric, is there female-oriented country lyric, or is it just about – or is it supposed to just be about life, period?
McBride: I think it’s just supposed to be about life. I think that – I’ve always just recorded songs that I love and that resonate with me, and that I feel like are going to say something that somebody is going to own.
It’s like I want people to say that’s my song. So I just think – I’ve never really followed a trend, so.
Tavis: Yeah. Has your choice, to your point earlier that you pick songs that you think people are going to resonate with, has the kind of stuff that you do changed to your ear over 20 years?
I’m talking now about the lyrical content of the stuff that you do. You live life, you have different experiences, different things resonate with you.
Tavis: Can you hear that when you look back, or can you see that when you look back over your own discography, how that’s changed, the choices that you make now?
McBride: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s changed a lot. I think I’ve – I think at certain times in my life there are songs that – like for instance I recorded a song called “In My Daughter’s Eyes.” I have three daughters.
Had I not had a daughter, I don’t know if I could have really understood that song. So I recorded that when my girls were little, and I just think – so I guess as time goes by you do find songs that you can relate to better because you’ve had those experiences or because you’re older or whatever.
Tavis: Yeah. Does having – since you went there, does having three daughters change the way you view your work and your career and your calling?
McBride: It doesn’t, no. I think having children, and especially daughters, changes, does change, obviously, the way you view the world. I want the world to be a safer, better, more joyful place for them than it is sometimes. But I don’t know that it affects my music, my work, really.
Tavis: So the other question is whether or not you think music can still have the kind of impact on our lives the way it used to. Music is a wonderful thing to entertain us, but there have certainly been very strong periods in our history where music, whether you’re talking Dylan – we could run the list -
Tavis: – where music actually made a difference. Do you think music still has the kind of power to do that these days?
McBride: I do. I do. I think the way we, obviously the way we consume music is different. I think that our attention spans are getting shorter, so I’ve noticed with my daughters rarely do they listen to an entire song.
They’ll listen to, “Mom, listen to this song, I want you to hear this song,” and it’ll be, like, half of it, or three – and then they’ll switch to another song. And I’m like, “Why don’t you listen to the whole song?” (Laughter) But -
Tavis: Does that scare you as an artist?
McBride: Yeah. (Laughter) I don’t think anybody’s listening to my whole song.
Tavis: Yeah, exactly. (Laughter)
McBride: But I think there are – music is so powerful, and lyrics and songs and even instrumental music, it’s emotional and it’s powerful and I think that it taps into something that no other art form can.
Tavis: Yeah. So as you tour, are you touring just for this project or are you doing as you said earlier, weaving some of this into your playlist?
McBride: I’m excited about this tour because I’m going to do a whole tour around this album.
Tavis: Oh, cool.
McBride: We’re going to bring out a horn section.
McBride: We’re going to bring out background vocals; we’re going to maybe do some moves. (Laughter)
Tavis: There you go. I’d pay to see that. (Laughter) You may see me on -
McBride: You have to teach me some moves.
Tavis: You may – no, you don’t want that, trust me. (Laughter) But you may see me on the front row, Martina, just checking out you and your moves.
Tavis: And I’m glad you said “horns,” because you can’t do soul music without some horns.
McBride: Oh, I love it.
Tavis: You got to have some horns somewhere.
Tavis: Horns don’t get the respect they deserve.
McBride: Yeah, and -
Tavis: But there are so many great – what’s Earth, Wind, and Fire without horns?
McBride: Right, exactly.
Tavis: You’ve got to have – and Chicago. A lot of great bands. You’ve got to have – I love the horn section. I love it.
Tavis: So anyway, glad you’re doing that. The new project from Martina McBride is called “Everlasting.” Some great soul and R&B stuff from this country icon, and you’ll want to add this to your collection as well. Martina, congrats, and have a great tour.
McBride: Thank you.
Tavis: Good to have you on. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
[Walmart sponsor ad]
“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.