LeAnn Rimes—born August 28, 1982, in Jackson, Mississippi—had already enrolled in vocal and dance classes by the time she was five. Kickstarting her career by appearing in television competition shows, Rimes quickly hit the road to country music stardom, touring and recording several independent releases. In 1996, at the age of 13, Rimes released her first major studio album, Blue. Drawing comparisons to Patsy Cline, the album earned Rimes two Grammys, making her the youngest artist to ever win a Grammy and the first country performer to win in the Best New Artist category.
Powered by her rich and unique vocal delivery, Rimes’ career prospered with a consistent string of new albums. Since releasing You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs, a concert film and a dramatic television film all in the same year (1997), Rimes regularly released career-defining albums: Greatest Hits (2003, when she was 21); Family (2007), which honored her country roots; Lady & Gentlemen (2011), an album of country songs originally recorded and/or written by men; and most recently, Spitfire (2013) and in 2014, Dance Like You Don’t Give A …, remixes of her greatest hits. “My last record [Spitfire] was really the first time I came out as an artist, to be able to connect that way emotionally. Just to be that honest and have that much humanity in the record, it really broke down some walls for me,” Rimes told Elmore.
Next up for this country superstar (as well as actress and author of four books): a holiday-themed tour, “ONE Christmas,” launching in early December, and its companion album, One Christmas – Chapter 1. With Chapters 2 and 3 planned for Christmas 2015 and 2016, respectively, LeAnn Rimes remains as ambitious and diligent as ever.
Born on May 29, 1961 in Leavenworth, Kansas, singer/songwriter Melissa Lou Etheridge first picked up a guitar at the age of eight, started seriously playing at ten and began writing songs not long after. At 18, she headed to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where she found many opportunities to earn a few extra bucks singing and playing piano. After just a year, Etheridge dropped out, moved across the country and caught a break—a songwriting gig for A&M Records. It wasn’t long before Etheridge herself got signed, scoring a hit with her first album, 1988’s Melissa Etheridge.
With influences including ’60s folk and Bruce Springsteen, Etheridge’s following grew with her second and third albums, 1989’s Brave and Crazy and 1992’s Never Enough. Titling her fourth album Yes I Am Etheridge put speculation of her homosexuality to rest. With hits like “I’m the Only One” and the Grammy-winning “Come to My Window,” the album’s confessional, heart-wrenching lyrics, and raspy, smoky vocals soon made Etheridge one of the ’90s most successful artists. After her breakthrough, three more well-received albums communicated Etheridge’s journey of self-discovery and breakup. Following the 2004 release of Lucky, her eighth studio album, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since making a full recovery thanks to early detection, Etheridge has supported victims of the disease both on and off stage.
In 2005 Etheridge returned to the stage, and received an Oscar for Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up,” from the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Following a steady run of albums, Etheridge has just released her 12th studio album of new material, This is M.E., an experimental collaboration with pop/R&B producers and her first album on her own independent record label. “If you like any of my music, I think you’re going to like this,” Etheridge told Elmore. At its core, This is M.E. is driven by the same forces of love, yearning and human connection that Etheridge has always explored.
Elmore: What are you listening to right now?
LeAnn Rimes: I’m listening to Hozier. He’s really soulful, throwback rock and blues. Pink’s doing a folk record called Rose Ave., and the two songs I’ve heard from it, I really loved.
Melissa Etheridge: I’ve been listening to my own album a lot, because I’m getting the show together, but once I’m on tour, I stop listening to them. I listen to the radio, to see what’s out there in the world. I really enjoy Sia; I love her voice, and the pop-dance feel that the music has. I like Arctic Monkeys, the combination of real guitars, real musicians and then the technology influence.
EM: What was the first record you ever bought?
LR: I remember begging my mom and dad to buy the Salt-N-Pepa record that had “Push It” and “Shoop.” I was nine or ten, and it was explicit, but of course I had no idea what I was singing about. Later on, I was embarrassed when I realized what they were saying.
ME: I bought Loggins and Messina at 11 years old. The first album that my father gave me was Carole King’s Tapestry, for Christmas.
EM: What was the first instrument you played?
LR: I took piano theory for seven years but I was young and I had a music teacher that read music and couldn’t play by ear and I was completely the opposite. It was very discouraging, to be honest. I love to play drums but we lived in an apartment, so the only time I got to play drums was out on the road, just playing around. I don’t think it was my destiny at that age to play any instrument.
ME: The clarinet, in school, at eight years old. I wanted to learn the drums, and they said, “Girls don’t play drums.” I wanted to play trumpet, they said, “Girls don’t play trumpet.” I said, “Well, come on, guys!” Right after that, I picked up the guitar.
EM: What brought you to the instrument you now play?
LR: I started to play guitar, but then I liked my nails too much.
ME: I started playing guitar at ten. The teachers said I wouldn’t be able to do it, that my fingers would bleed and I’d want to quit. My father bought my older sister a guitar, and I begged to play it, so I got that guitar.
EM: Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
LR: I’m a huge David Gray fan, and I love knowing him and knowing his brain and how it works. I just met Alanis Morissette not long ago, even though we’ve had the same manager for years. We just talked about writing when we saw each other. I think she’s super talented and I’ve always loved her songwriting.
ME: Writing’s such a personal experience. I went in with some people, and it didn’t work, and the ones where it does work, it’s so beautiful, it’s such fun. I’d like to say I’d love to get in there and write something with Adele, but it might not work at all. If Bruce [Springsteen] wants to sit down, I’m all for it.
This album was a lot more collaborative than my other albums. I would say 90% of the lyrics are mine. I worked with RoccStar, who comes from this hip-hop side and was very collaborative, and he really taught me how to get the attitude going, Here’s a 20-something hip-hop artist helping a mom with some attituuude. We had a lot of fun.
EM: What musician influenced you most?
LR: I started out listening to Patsy Cline and Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. All of them had this incredible control over their instrument. I got into Janis Joplin for kind of the same things, the feeling and the passion and the pain. I’ll listen to Aerosmith, then Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Aretha Franklin—across the board. What always attracted me was honesty and people that made you feel something.
EM: What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
LR: It’s hard when you start so young. There was no real “Aha” moment about it; I was born that way. A lot of it was a survival mechanism. We didn’t make a lot of money in a very small town in Mississippi, plus it was a way for me to express myself. My parents said that at two or three years old, I would sing at family events and I’d stop and say, “Clap for me,” and if they didn’t clap, I’d walk away.
ME: I think when I first got up in front of an audience. It was a talent show, I was 11 years old, sixth grade, at the Leavenworth Plaza Talent Show, in the mall. There were probably 40 or 50 people in the audience, and I was like “This is it!” Give me a microphone, and I’m very happy!”
EM: What was it like the first time you didn’t have to carry your own gear?
LR: I was probably six or seven by the time I was performing at Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue in Fort Worth and I was making $125 every weekend. That’s a lot of money for a little kid. My dad taught me a great worth ethic: If I worked every Saturday I would have to have a new song, and have a chart for the band. He made me go and give it to them all and I’d rehearse during the week.
I won my Grammys when I was 14. I was really sick, I had a 104-degree fever and the flu, was on steroids, and I literally was begging not to go. I was delirious and doing press, feeling sick as a dog. We walk out and I’m literally standing in the pouring rain in New York City with a Grammy, looking at my publicist, and I said, “Whitney Houston wouldn’t wait for her limo in the rain! Just get me a car home!” I think that was my first “diva moment.” We’re from the South; my mom and dad were very polite—“please” and “thank you,” and you do your own stuff, you know? To this day, I have a hard time asking for things.
ME: I was 27, on the first tour with my first record. I opened for this unknown band in England, and we played the diviest dives. It was truly amazing. I had one guy with me that helped me and who would set up, and it was great. He’d tune my guitar…awesome! It was a group called Martin Stephenson and the Daintees. If you’re opening for them, nobody knows you. It was kind of an underground thing, a couple hundred people.
EM: Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
LR: For drums, I love Steve Jordan; he’s played on a lot of my records. For guitar, Jimi Hendrix—that would be interesting. Backup vocals: Rachelle Ferrell, or I could put Yolanda Adams anywhere near me. On piano, Elton John, or I would love Stevie Wonder on piano and background vocals and anything else.
ME: John Bonham on drums, Larry Graham on bass, Billy Preston on keyboards and Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar. For backup singers, I’d have the Pointer Sisters. I’d be singing in front of them all, and playing guitar everyplace.
EM: What’s your desert island album?
LR: I’ve never gotten tired of hearing David Gray’s Life in Slow Motion. I also love Bryan Adams’ Greatest Hits.
ME: Joan Armatrading’s classics.