Interviewing Shania Twain: On last tour, coming to Allentown's PPL Center,
singer wants to prove she's 'Still The One'
The Morning Call
By John J. Moser
September 25, 2015
For someone who says sheís on the final tour of her career, Shania Twain, the second-best-selling female country singer of all time, sure sounds wistful about being on the road again.
She doesnít sound like someone whoís ready to walk away from giving live performances of her 22 Top 20 country hits, seven of which hit No. 1. Or like someone whoís preparing to release her first studio album in more than a dozen years.
But thatís precisely what Twain says will happen.
After debuting with her self-titled platinum disc in 1993, Twain shot to superstardom. Her 1995 sophomore disc, ďThe Woman in Me,Ē sold a staggering 12 million copies. She topped that with 1997ís ďCome On Over,Ē selling 20 million copies. And 2002ís ďUpĒ sold 11 million more.
In just six years, Twain had six gold or platinum singles, including her biggest, the double-platinum ďYouíre Still The One.Ē
Most of her hits, including ďThat Donít Impress Me MuchĒ and ďMan! I Feel Like a Woman!Ē also crossed over to the general music charts, as she was one of the first country artists to embrace a more pop-rock sound. She also won five Grammy Awards.
But by the end of her last tour in 2004, Twain says she decided to focus more on being a mother and largely stepped away from the music scene.
She then developed lesions on her vocal cords that she says not only left her unable to sing, but threatened her voice entirely.
Through therapy, Twain rehabilitated her voice and in 2012 returned to the concert stage with a Las Vegas stage show ďStill The One.Ē
She also began working on a new album, with the intention of releasing it to coincide with the new tour, but the disc has taken far longer than expected. That means sheís working on it as she tours.
In a recent telephone all, Twain talked about her career, her vocal problems, her comeback and the future.
Here is an edited transcript of the call:
Weíll do the obvious question to start: Itís been a long time since youíve been out on a full tour like that, and even in your press release you said youíll have more to share as a performer now that youíre going back out on tour. Iím curious how you think fans will see a different Shania. Whatís going to be different about who you are on stage, what you do, and what youíre capable of bringing to the show?
ďWell, itís a very exciting time for me. I think the fans Ė I think weíre going to be re-introduced to each other is the best way I can put it. And that in itself is very exciting. Itís like a reunion of sorts. A lot has happened over the last decade, since Iíve been off tour, in all of our lives Ė my life and in their lives. And music is bringing us back together and weíre going to celebrate and reminisce with all of the hits that they know and that weíve all lived with for all these years now.
ďAnd in my case, itís a lot of the kids that were listening to the music years ago, that I would have seen on tour years ago, that are going to be adults now. And itís just exciting for me to be able to be reunited with them. And I have to say the most rewarding thing for me Ė and the thing Iím looking most forward to on this tour Ė is seeing the fans and being with them again and feeling their excitement and sharing mine with them.Ē
So thereís been a lot of talk about this tour being something thatís the last for you. Is this the last tour, or are you looking for retirement from music one day? Can you kind of clarify what it is that this is the end of?
ďWell, itís certainly not my retirement from music. I will be doing music, Iím sure, till the day I die [laughs]. I love music too much.
ďUm, the performance side of it, I feel, is a phase in my life, and Iíve been doing it for so long. Iím 50 this year, Iíve been on stage since I was 8 years old, and Iíve really put in my fair share of performance. And feeling that the time is just right now to do other things musically. I want to write more. I want to make lots more records. I miss making records and I havenít made enough records in my life and in my career. Iíve done a lot more live performing than I have recording, so I want to do a lot more of that.
ďAnd I also want to write songs for other artists. Other artists who are coming up. And I want to sit back and enjoy them having their moment on the stage and being proud that Iím part of their success. And watching my music as the observer, from the audience.
ďSo thatís a while other exciting phase for me that I look forward to. So I just see it as an evolution in my career, really.Ē
Itís been more than a decade since your last North American tour, and the pop landscape has changed a lot since you first broke big. I mean, you were one of the first artists to really break down those walls between whatís traditionally considered country, rock and pop. How do you feel about the very, very mainstream pop push that country music has had in the last couple of years Ė and that being the kind of pop landscape that youíre setting out into with this tour?
ďWell, you know, ever since I started listening to radio as a small child, the genres have gone in every possible direction I could have ever imagined. And what falls into any specific genre has changed and evolved. And then also new genres, you know, thereís new genres all the time coming out.
ďSo I just think itís a moving target, and Iíve enjoyed that. I always enjoyed following that; Iíve enjoyed new things, new music, new styles, new artists, new ideas and concepts and I never really felt that it was necessary to box anything in. And that it was a lot more fun to watch Ö for things to evolve and to cross boundaries.
ďAnd thatís what I ended up doing in my own career. I never saw myself as any one thing, and I never labeled my own self specifically or wrote music specifically for a genre. So it didnít surprise me, or at least was a pleasant surprise, when my music ended up basically being a cross-genre thing. And Iíve enjoyed that. Itís been a big part of the fun for me. Just kind of being myself, and it lands wherever other people decide it should land.
ďBut I do like the whole moving target of that and just being myself. So Iíve enjoyed watching it all evolve and seeing everybody enjoy these boundaries being pushed and changed and even dissolved, in a lot of cases.Ē
How do you feel that you have evolved, personally, over the last 11 years and how will that affect the spirit of this tour?
ďWell, Iím having a lot more fun now. Iím going to have a lot of fun with this tour. The most fun Iíve ever had on stage. Iím more relaxed in a lot of ways. Iím savoring it because it is my last tour. Iím in a farewell spirit. Iím in a reunion spirit to get back together with the fans again after all these years. You know, it will be emotional for me. The show will be very exciting; thereís a lot of dynamics in the show Ė Iím putting my best foot forward in every way, you know, technologically, psychologically. Just throwing myself into it.
ďAnd, yeah, itís a bit of a bittersweet experience, and, you know, Iím almost afraid to start it, Ďcause once it starts itís going to go by very quickly, then all of a sudden it will be done.Ē
Youíre just coming off the Las Vegas residency, and Iím just wondering if that long stay in one place has impacted the way that you approach touring and your shows and that kind of thing.
ďWell itís certainly the reason I decided to go out on the tour Ė Ďcause during the last part of the two-year period in Vegas, I realized that I missed being out on the touring stage and missed going out to the public as opposed to them coming to me.
ďSo I was thinking, ĎGee, it would be fun to go and visit people in their own hometowns and experience that excitement and atmosphere again. So I enjoyed Vegas very much for a lot of reasons, but it did motivate me Ė it was a motivation to one more time experience one more time going out into the arena setting and being with people in their hometowns.Ē
You talked about what the set list might include, and I was wondering what the progress is on a new album, whether thereís going to be any new music on the set list.
ďThere wonít be any new music from the new album on the set list Ė at least at this point. Maybe closer to the end of the tour I will be able to pull some of that music in. I donít want to pull it in too soon, Ďcause itís very difficult to know when the new albumís going to be ready. I donít want to bore people with songs they donít know, either. I know myself, when I go to a concert, I want to hear the songs that I know, that Iím familiar with and that I already have memories to and so on.
ďSo I think if itís close enough to when Iím about to release something, I think it would be fair, then, to play one or two new songs off the new album. Iím dying to do it; I would love to be able to do it [Laughs]. But I just feel that it would be Ö I donít think I would want that myself if I was going to see my favorite artist and I wanted to go hear their hit songs. So Iím just sort of looking at it that way. But like I said, if the album progresses quickly enough and the timing works out, then I might very well just put one or two songs in closer to the end of the tour.Ē
Is part of the reason for doing the tour at this point simply that the major changes in the way recorded music is sold over the last 10 years have kind of dictated that itís more important for, or more necessary for artists to perform live than to release records?
ďUm, are you saying, is that why Iím going out on tour?Ē
Yeah, or is the fact that youíve had 10 years when you didnít have records out Ė was it partly motivated by the fact that the change to digital sales meant that it was just harder for musicians to do recorded music anymore?
ďOh, I see what youíre saying. Well, I mean, at this point for me it doesnít really apply, Ďcause I donít have new music yet [laughs]. So the music that Iím going out with is the music thatís always existed. Itís the classic stuff that everybody know and thatís what this tourís all about Ė bringing the hits to everybody. Bringing the hits to their hometowns and out on tour.
ďSo I think, especially if youíre a new artist, it would be very difficult to not tour live. I understand what youíre saying because record sales have been dramatically affected by just the climate of the whole market and how it operates. And touring just becomes more important.
ďBut for me, this tour is about reuniting with the fans Ė I havenít done it in a long time. I am just bring the music that Iíve already sold records for, so it doesnít apply in that sense what youíre saying there. But I do hope, in talking about new music, that maybe near the end of the tour Iíll be able to introduce a couple of new songs from the new album thatís coming out.
ďBut itís so hard to know when thatís going to be ready that itís hard to say whether Iíll be able to do that or not. But this tour is really all about the classics, and the tour Ė the reason for the tour is just, you know, to say goodbye to the stage, um, on a high. And just with my friends Ė with my fans.Ē
What did you learn from your time in Las Vegas that youíre planning on taking out on the tour with you. If there were favorite parts of what you did in Vegas that youíre eager to take to our hometown.
ďHmm. Well, I mean, there were a lot of things to learn in Vegas, thatís for sure. I think what I learned there is the audiences there were very close to the stage. So it was one of the luxuries that I enjoyed, because I love to see the people close up; I like to touch the people and mingle with them. So it was really cool to do so much of that there Ė having them so close to the stage, and such a controlled room. It was a theater environment.
ďAnd what I learned is I have to do more of this Ė I want to do more of this. And I want to make sure that when I go out on the road and we do this tour, that I donít miss out on that. I have to make sure that Iím able to get out there in the audience and touch people and look at them in the eye and be among them. So thereís a plan for that [laughs].
ďIt was a good experience being able to be so close with the people in Las Vegas. It really did Ė itís something that Iím going to take with me on the tour, even though it wonít be as easy to do because of the scales of the rooms and so on. But weíre going to do it. So thatís been part of the plan and been built in to the production for me to be able to do that.Ē
Whatís it like for you on tour these days? Do you get out and sightsee in any of the cities?
ďThis tour will be a little bit more focused on making my new record. So on my days and time when Iím not on stage or traveling, I will be recording vocals or working on the songwriting and so on. So Iím not going to be able to get out much and do any sightseeing on this tour. Iím going to be pretty much working between the stage and the new album.
ďI have a very little portable setup and I just sing and record my vocals. Thatís how I do my songwriting now and how I do my demos. And you can be electronically connected with your producer wherever they are. And the producers will come out to me as well, when Iím touring and weíll just poke away at it like that Ė work on the arrangements, work on the vocals and then they can send me sessions and I can Skype. Thereís just various ways to do this now that are pretty efficient, pretty effective.Ē
In relation to the fact that this is your last tour: I was wondering if there was anything you had planned to do, maybe new or different, in terms of the stage show that maybe differs from the previous tours that youíve done. So you can really assure that you go out on a bang with this one?
ď[Laughs] Well, you know, the tourís call Rock This Country, and itís just a celebration tour for a lot of reasons. Iím reuniting with the fans out in their own hometowns, that I have not done in a decade. It is a goodbye to the stage, and so the show is just full of great technology, the highest-end possible. Itís a very dynamic show Ė more dynamic than ever before, and no one has ever seen me in this light ever before. Itís going to be a whole new fresh look Ė a whole new fresh production entirely different from Las Vegas. Weíve stripped everything down and started from scratch.
ďSo it will be something that no oneís ever seen before of me. And I think itíll be memorable. Itís gonna rock, thatís for sure. And itíll be a lot of fun. Iím in a good spirit for it, and just primed to visit the fansí hometowns and come to them. Ďcause for the last two years in Las Vegas, the fans have been coming to me. So I really feel pumped to get out there and go to their towns and bring them this whole new show.
ďAnd I guess this big sign-off, this big farewell.Ē
What have you missed most not being out on tour, and are there any parts that youíre not as excited about?
ďWell what Iíve missed the most is the connection with the fans. Iíve evolved a lot over the years. My life has changed so dramatically and my point of view has changed in a lot of ways. The way I see my role on stage and what I mean to the fans and what they mean to me. All of that is more valuable, and thereís just another level of maturity that I have now. And gratitude. So Iím looking forward to just exchanging that and experiencing that with them. And just saying thank you and celebrating my farewell with them.
ďAnd then what Iím not looking forward to Ė well, I mean thereís nothing, really. The timing of this tour Ė thereís a sort of inconvenience to the timing of the new music and the tour because I want to get the new music finished and I want to be able to tour with some of the new music. But the tour isnít going to leave me any time to do that.
ďSo Iím going to try to squeeze in working on the album while Iím on the tour. So thereís going to be a little bit of tug-of-war for my time and getting this new music together and finished. So that is the biggest struggle, really. Iím anxious to do both, and Iím going to have to manage my time and Iím not going to be able to have it all Ė which will be a little frustration, Ďcause Iím a little anxious about the new record.
ďSo thatís really it. But thereís nothing Iím not looking forward to.Ē
You talked about your desire to write new music and record more albums. So why havenít you written music or recorded albums in the past dozen years? And for that matter, why havenít you toured?
ďRight. Well, Iíve been writing for ... I never stopped writing. So Iíve been writing all the time. You know, itís a creative outlet that I would do whether I was touring or not or recording or not. So that never stopped.
ďWhy I didnít record anything is primarily because my voice just wasnít there and I didnít have Ė I wasnít sure I was ever going to sing again. So I was writing the music, but I didnít know what to do with it. And then the same thing goes for touring. I mean, touring even more so, for the vocal side of it because youíve just got to get out there and you have to be able to deliver your thing and stuff.
ďInitially why I had slowed down after the last tour, though, was more so just for the break and to be a mom. And those few years after the last tour were very deliberately to concentrate on my son and my home because at the end of that tour, my son was just starting school for the first time. So that was logical timing for me.
ďAnd then that period, that shorter sabbatical, turned into rather a long one, and then the problems started compounding with the voice and so on and so forth, and that ended up being over a decade.Ē
Can you give us any idea what the new songs are like?
ďStylistically itís hard for me to explain it. Itís different from what Iíve done in the past stylistically. I think the songs and the spirit of the songs are still very relatable. Theyíre communicative ĖI donít think that theyíre obscure or anything like that. But I think itís going to be a lot of unexpected elements to the music, for sure. ĎCause Iím writing it all myself, so thereís not influence from outside, and thereís no other writer or no producer directing it.
ďAnd this is just naturally going to give it different spirit to the music. And of course Iím matured, Iíve evolved. I have a lot a more Ö I have different things to say. I have different things to express that werenít true about me 10, 15, 20 years ago. So that I think is just a natural evolution. I donít think that is going to surprise anybody.
ďBut stylistically, yeah, thereís a different direction behind the music, for sure. And Iím not terribly objective about it. So itís hard for me to know really where it fits and how I would be able to describe it, for the sake of others really grasping it. So Iím not even going to try doing that.
ďBut Iím enjoying it and Itís a very personalized songwriting. Itís been just a very therapeutic process for me. Iím pouring my heart out in the music Ė whether itís literally in the lyrics or just emotionally through the melody and the chord progressions and all of that. Itís been a really great experience, and I want to do more of it. Iíve indulged in it and really donít want to stop. I want to just keep going.
ďI could just do that. [Laughs]. I mean, I could write music and be very satisfied, and Iím learning that about myself to be honest. Iím feeling less extrovert about expressing Ė the need to express my music Ėand more content just creating it.Ē
Compare the sense of fulfillment you get out of performing verses what you want to do more of Ė the deep sense of fulfillment you get out of songwriting.
ďWell, the fulfillment I get out of performing is just being with the fans. Being with the public, seeing their reaction, getting their reaction. Me giving my reaction to them. Itís the interaction, itís not the performing itself why I do it. I donít need to be in the spotlight. Itís never been a desire of mine to be in the spotlight. I enjoy the interaction that that platform brings me. If that makes sense; itís hard to explain really. But the gift of being on the stage for me is the fact that I can communicate with all these people over something we both love so much.
ďBut the songwriting part of it is by far the bigger pleasure than perfuming it. I wouldnít say that itís a bigger pleasure over, you know, his cool relationship I can have with the public. ĎCause that is, you know, is just so unique and great and inspiring.
ďBut the songwriting Ė I could just do songwriting, and I would be happy, I would be fulfilled. Itís fulfilling in so many ways. Iím a creative person, and being a performer doesnít necessarily mean youíre creative. I couldnít just be a performer. I need to be a creative person. Thatís really where my heart is. And I could be the creator of things and other people could be the performers of my creations and I would be fulfilled.
ďI donít need to be the one performing what I create, in other words. And you know, I could be talking to thousands of people and not performing at all and still get the same thrill of being with the people. So you know, itís not a matter of performing. Itís just being able to communicate with all these people and to relate to them. So that could be in any form. It doesnít have to be in the form of being the live stage singer. I mean, Oprah probably gets a great thrill out of doing what she does and communicating with the public. Or even writing books Ė being able to communicate with people through books and writing books and writing stories. There are just so many ways to do it.
ďI just like the connection with the masses, I guess is what Iím saying. And itís not necessarily being the singer that gives me that. The stage gives me that. Itís hard to break it down. I hope Iím not sounding confusing, but itís the best way I can sort of describe it.Ē
Youíve mentioned the years of not recording and not touring and mentioned a lot of it due to your voice, and Iíve certainly read a little bit about what you were kind of going through it. But Iíd like you to talk just a little bit about that experience, Ďcause it really does sound like it had to be pretty traumatic to see your voice going to the point where I think you were even having problems just with your speaking voice. Iím curious how just going through that was, and just how much you feared you wouldnít be able to get back to singing.
ďIt was very, very scary and it went way beyond not being able to perform. It went beyond concerns for my career or not having a career. As a singer, it was a part of me that I was losing Ė like losing a hand or something, I was going through a grieving process. I really thought that I lost my voice Ė the voice that I knew and the voice that I once had.
ďIt was just very scary and it was something I just was having a terrible time coming to terms with, And before I gave up on it completely, luckily I found the courage to tackle it and take it on. But the period that I believed that I would never sing again was incredible depressing, it was a grief, is the best way I can explain it. I was really grieving the loss of the voice that I knew and that I had Ė that I once had.Ē
You turned 50 last month. How did you approach that, and does part of you feel like your representing or helping define what the age of 50 is?
ď[Laughs heartily] Iím trying to figure out what that is myself. I suppose Iíll have more answers, but I probably should have some idea already. I think anybody in the second half of their 40s is already considering what itís going to mean to be 50. And, you know, for me I think itís an inspiration and a motivator to be my best because I sort of feel like if I donít push myself and bring myself to the best that I can be now, itís only going to get harder after that.
ďSo Iím saying to myself, ĎOK, at this point in your life youíve got to be the fittest you can be. Youíve got to be the best you can be, the sharpest you can be. Youíve got to be the most educated you can be, the happiest you can be. And then I just feel that it sets a positive, strong platform for myself to jump from. And it sets the tone for the rest of my life, is how I see it.Ē
If you put this record out and people love it Ė which they probably will Ė and theyíre going to want to hear it live and you might want to play it live. So do you feel like maybe youíre boxing yourself in a little bit by saying this is your last tour? When youíre till petty young?
ďItís such a good question, and Iíve gone through it in my mind so many times. But when I decided to do the tour Ė the timing of the tour was decided on not leaving too much of a gap from when my residency finished in December. I didnít want to shut everything down and then start all over from scratch again, you know, a year down the road or two years down the road.
ďBut at the same time, I was hoping that my album would be further along by the time I finished my residency in December in Vegas. So the timing was just not ideal, it didnít work out as I planned. But I canít rush the album and get it out just for the sake of the tour. So it was just one of those things where the timing didnít work out very well.
ďWhat I will do, though, is at the end of this tour, if the music is far enough along with the album that Iím able to introduce one or two songs live, then Iíll be able to do that. And Iím hoping that I can do that. But I just had to let go of the fact that the timing wasnít ideal. You know, with tours and albums, youíve got to plan way far in advance and it just doesnít always work out the way that you want it. You know, some things get delayed, and thereís no guarantee that things will ever line up. So thatís kind of what happened.
ďSo I didnít intentionally box myself in, but itís sort of the way it played out.
ďAnd yeah, it would bum me out to not be able to do those new songs live, but I also believe that records have their own life as well. Theyíre an entity in their own way, and yeah, I just have to cross each bridge as I get there. But Iím kind of disappointed that the timing didnít work out. But Iím optimistic that thereíll be something before the end of this tour that I will be able to do a couple of highlights from it.Ē
Do you think itís possible that youíll enjoy this tour so much and the new album will do well, is it possible youíll change your mind and come back out of retirement from touring. I know some artists are real adamant about it, and others, they leave the door a little bit open.
ďI think it just depends on where you are Ė what your frame of mind is. And it is so individual. But my frame of mind is I want to move on to different things, and I need time to do it. I want to make more albums and I want to write more music. I donít know about other songwriters, but it takes a lot of focus to write meaningful songs and it takes a lot of emotional energy and itís time consuming. So if Iím distracted all the time by, you know, creating productions and all of the facets of the tour and then the touring itself, you know, how much music am I ever really going to be able to write? And how many records am I going to be able to make?
ďSo I guess my focus is switched. My focus has already been switched. And Iím going to a record-making mode when this tour is over, and thatís what I want to do. I want to do more of that. I want to bring more music out. And Iíve got a lot more to say, a lot more to sing and thatís been whatís behind this decision. I canít do them both at the same time.Ē
SHANIA TWAIN, 7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 2, PPL Center, 701 Hamilton St., Allentown. Tickets: $47-$133. www.PPLCenter.com, 610-347-TIXX