Don’t Read Too Much Into It

Richard Cromelin is a Times staff writer


That painful process is a classic theme in country music, most notably when Tammy Wynette spelled it out in 1968. It’s also been cited as a driving force behind Vince Gill’s best album, “The Key,” a 1998 collection that reflected the emotional intensity of the breakup of the singer’s marriage, among other personal losses.

More ammunition for the theory that hardship fuels art came recently in the form of Trisha Yearwood’s ninth album. “Real Live Woman” has been getting the kind of critical raves the Georgia native hasn’t enjoyed since her splashy Nashville arrival a decade ago.

The album is a homage of sorts to the big-voiced singer’s earliest musical inspirations, most notably Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris. And many observers are linking its emotional power to the fact that Yearwood recorded it last year after her divorce from Robert Reynolds, the drummer for the Mavericks.


In an interview, Yearwood--whose year of upheaval also included a change of managers--discussed the relationship between private life and public product, as well as the changes she’s seen in the business of country music.

Question: People always wonder how an artist’s private life is reflected in his or her music. Do you think you would have made this particular album with these particular moods if you hadn’t gone through a divorce and the other changes in your life?

Answer: It’s kind of impossible to know. For me, music has always been the place where I would express myself in ways that I might not do in life. I’m not a very heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person. I don’t just tell everybody my troubles, and I also don’t have like a million friends, I have a few really close friends. So music has always been the outlet to say things that maybe you’d never really say in your life. So in that way, yes, it is a reflection of the past year.

But the thing I want to be careful about is that I think because of what I’ve been through in my personal life, people will read more into these songs than is really there. You can also go back and listen to my whole catalog of albums and realize that I gravitate towards the gut-wrenching, really emotional songs much more than the light, fluffy, happy things. Even in the times in my life when I was blissfully happy, my records didn’t necessarily reflect that. If you gauge my personal life by my albums, you’d think I’m depressed 99% of the time.

But it was a time when maybe those songs hit closer to home than they had in the past. Making that album was the highlight of that year for me, and I really poured everything I had into it. I hear a maturity there. Maybe some of that’s from growing older, maybe some of that’s from an emotional year, I don’t know. But whatever it was, it worked.

Q: Do you resent that your private life is up for public consumption, or do you accept it as part of the career you chose?

A: I accept that people are curious about your life when you are an artist. And fans are not the problem. Fans are curious about your hobbies and what you like to do and who you’re dating and all that stuff. That’s cool.

But I do think when you sign on to do this for a living, you don’t sign on for the kind of tabloid journalism that has gotten to be so horrible. I can’t imagine anybody who would ever run for public office today. Why would you do that to yourself? I think a natural curiosity is fine and I think human interest stories are great, but there’s a real feeding frenzy and it’s only getting uglier.


Q: How would you summarize how things are for you now?

A: I feel good. It always takes courage to make changes in your life. I’ve always been a person who tries--I guess it’s my Southern raising--to make sure everybody else is happy and try to not rock the boat, and you certainly don’t want to cause any controversy and don’t want people talking about you.

So it’s difficult when you’re in the public eye to do things that are right for you when you know that you’ll be talked about or criticized or at least everybody has an opinion about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. But I feel good. I feel like at 35 I’m starting to just be me and I’m on my own. . . . I took charge in my personal life, took charge in my professional life, and it feels good.

Q: Do you have memories of other people’s music helping you get through difficult times?


A: Oh, definitely. Even as a teenager, I was more dramatic than my friends. That’s why I probably latched onto Ronstadt. . . . She was never just mediocre. She was either totally desperate, like “Love Has No Pride,” or she totally hated you, like “You’re No Good.” There was no middle ground. I thought that was so great. I felt like music always meant more to me than it did to my friends who were my same age.

Q: Country fans have always been known for being loyal to their favorite artists for a lifetime. Do you see that changing now that Nashville seems to have the same kind of fast-paced turnover as pop music?

A: Yeah, and there’s a good and bad to that. The whole idea of making a 25-year career off of one hit single is something that doesn’t happen anymore, but it also makes the artists realize they have to continue putting out music that people want to hear, so that’s a good thing.

But gone are the days when an artist was allowed to develop and grow. A lot of great acts get signed and then maybe people don’t catch on because they’re a little bit left of center, a little bit quirky. Ten years ago they’d have been given the chance to develop and make several albums, but now you can sell half a million records and still get dropped from your label. So it’s a different industry than it used to be.



Trisha Yearwood, with Jessica Andrews, plays tonight at 7:30, at the Greek Theatre, 2700 Vermont Canyon Road. $27.50-$55.50. (213) 480-3232.