Brendan Francis Newnam: Each week you send us your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this week is Shania Twain.
Hailed as the queen of country music, she is one of the biggest selling female country artists of all time. She’s got five Grammys to show for it, including Best Country Album and also Best Country Song for her 1999 tune “You’re Still The One.” Shania’s new album, titled “NOW,” is her first in nearly 15 years. Here’s the single, “Life’s About To Get Good.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: So Shania, welcome to our show.
Shania Twain: Thank you. It’s great to be here!
On her journey back to making music
Rico Gagliano: So that song is called “Life’s About To Get Good.” But before we talk about the future and how great it’s going to be, let’s talk about the present. You haven’t released an album in 15 years. What brought you back?
Shania Twain: Well, I wanted to come earlier, much earlier, but I’d lost my voice for many years. I was bit by a tick in 2004 on the “Up” tour. I did get Lyme Disease from the tick bite. So, after discovering that I’d had nerve damage, and going through the physiotherapy, and all of the research and everything that I had to do in this long uphill climb, I was finally able to record an album.
Rico Gagliano: I can’t think of anything more disturbing to a vocal artist than losing your voice. How did you react when that first happened?
Shania Twain: [It was] devastating. I grieved for a very long time, just believing that I would never sing again. And I’d pretty much given up on it altogether and just figured, “I love songwriting, I’m never gonna give up on music. I will write songs for other voices to sing, but I won’t be the recording artist.” I mean, I guess it was a survivor’s way of looking at it, but it was still devastating.
On how she learned to sing again
Rico Gagliano: Tell us about the moment where you were able to sing again though.
Shania Twain: There were little moments. They were just tiny, little, baby steps. I would be doing my exercises, and then all of a sudden, a note would actually come out the way I intended it to come out. And I’d be elated. I would be just, like, jumping for joy. And then I’d try it again and it wouldn’t be there. You know, it was one of those things.
But I’m like, “OK, it was there for a second. You know, that means I’m-” And that encouraged me to keep going. Like anything, you know, like learning how to walk again. I had to learn how to sing again entirely.
On defining country music
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. You know, in the time since you made your last album — I mean you were a giant crossover hit back then — but it feels like the line between country and pop has blurred even more since then. What do you think distinguishes country music from pop these days?
Shania Twain: I mean, for me, I can only speak personally. Industry-wise, I don’t know and I’ve never known. It’s always been a mystery of how the industry determines a genre. But I do think what drives country music at the core is storytelling. And I think maybe what we’ve been currently trapped in that we weren’t… Well, like, when I was a kid and listening country music, I was listening to for sure Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton, and it was Tammy Wynette, and they weren’t always singing about trucks and…
Brendan Francis Newnam: Swimming in rivers.
Shania Twain: You know, tailgates and- right, dirt roads, and stuff. I mean, in fact, a lot of that language wasn’t in hardly any of their songs. I mean, I’m sure there were, but they were more stories. You know, Kris Kristofferson, [is] a great storyteller.
So I feel that country is [a] soulful, folk, storytelling genre in a heartfelt way. Otherwise, I wouldn’t really know how else to identify with it. I love acoustic instruments, but that’s a personal thing. I mean, there’s a lot of pop artists that use acoustic instruments, too. So how do you determine that right?
On her son creating music
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, you’re saying that you love acoustic instruments. We read that your son is a musician himself who primarily makes dance music. How do you feel about that and has that influenced your new music at all?
Shania Twain: Well, he does a variety of music, but as a fan of music, his favorite music to listen to is EDM.
Rico Gagliano: How’d that make you feel as a mom at first?
Shania Twain: I actually love it!
Rico Gagliano: Was it like, “Come on, Willie Nelson!”
Shania Twain: I know, but he likes music in a different way, my son, than I do. He’s listening for production in sounds. I guess he’s more like his dad. He likes to build the music. So in my room, I’m writing my songs, my mic is on, I’ve got my Pro Tools setup and through my headset I just, you know, I’m hearing this, like, thuff, thuff, thuff. You know? On the other side of wall, and I love-
Brendan Francis Newnam: Amazing.
Shania Twain: I love the dance music, but because he’s creating this music, he’ll play the same four bars for an hour straight trying to get the right bass sound and the right drum sound and the right-
Brendan Francis Newnam: And you’re like, “Do you know who paid for this house?”
Shania Twain: Oh, man!
Brendan Francis Newnam: Like, “Me! By writing these songs.”
Shania Twain: It’s worse than just listening to kids listening to music. It’s the same kick drum for over an hour.
On gender equality in the music industry
Rico Gagliano: We were speaking a little bit earlier of some of your early music, some of which was way ahead of its time. You were doing these kind of very strong female empowerment anthems, a lot of talk about gender equality. It feels like we’re still talking about that in popular culture. It’s still an issue. How to you has the industry changed, for better or for worse in terms of women in the industry?
Shania Twain: Well, I think it… I think as long as there are men and there are women, the issue will always be there. We’re just different. So we’re always going to have differences to argue about, debate about, and we need these differences. You know, we can’t just all be one thing. So, it makes great subject matter for music. And things to talk about. And we all have our point of view.
But I like to address these things with a sense of humor, like “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.” You know? Where I’m poking at that subject. But with a sense of humor and I think that’s very important.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, you’ve succeeded. I’ve seen men lip syncing to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman,” so um-
Rico Gagliano: It’s helping.
Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s helping. Keep up the good work! Well speaking of help. We told our audience that you were going to be here to help them with some of their behavior problems, their etiquette dilemmas, and they responded. They were excited you’re here. Are you ready to answer these questions?
Shania Twain: I think so! I’m gonna do my best here.
Rico Gagliano: Good luck!
Being polite in the face of a bad plate
Brendan Francis Newnam: So this first question comes from Ali via Instagram. And Ali wrote, “Shania, what do you do when you’re at a dinner party and you’ve been served a horrible meal?” And then he also adds, “Can’t wait to see you on the road next year!”
Rico Gagliano: That’s very polite of you, Ali.
Shania Twain: Aw. Well, I want to say thank you for that, first of all. OK, what I’d do at a dinner party? Well, it’s happened. It happens to all of us, right? Especially because I’m vegetarian. So if I’m served, you know a bit fat piece of steak, what am I going to do?
Rico Gagliano: That must be tough as a country artist being like, “Sorry, I can’t have your giant T-Bone steak.”
Shania Twain: I know! Well, I think the best thing to always do is be polite. And say at least what they do like. So I would just say, “Well, these are great mashed potatoes.” Or, you know, I just wouldn’t comment on things that I decide not to eat on the plate. And I would, when I gave the plate back, would say, “You know, that was really great. I made the mistake of eating a big lunch.” “Sorry I couldn’t finish.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: Ah, there we go. I like that. That’s OK to make a white lie in the service of-
Rico Gagliano: Politeness.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.
Shania Twain: I think it’s important, yeah, to make people feel good about the fact that they gave you something, you know? They made that for you.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So lie, but be gracious.
Hold me closer, tiny (distracting) dancer
Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Amy Condon from Canada. It’s a big place, but she’s somewhere in the country of Canada.
Amy says, “I was recently at a concert. At one point, a lady in my row stood up to dance. The couple behind her got very angry and created a scene because the dancer was blocking their view. Kinda ruined the concert for everyone. I thought the couple was out of line. Am I wrong?”
Shania Twain: OK, so. It’s good to give you, like a real quick backstory on my answer.
So, my husband and I were at a classical concert. And I can’t be at any musical concert without, like, jamming to the beat. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, I’m not just gonna sit there like a robot. Forget it! You know, like, I wasn’t like rocking out or anything, but I was in my-
Brendan Francis Newnam: You were feelin’ it!
Shania Twain: I was feelin’ it! And-
Rico Gagliano: Was it Beethoven or something that you could really headbang to?
Shania Twain: It was Tchaikovsky in this case.
Rico Gagliano: That’ll do.
Shania Twain: So I would be like, you know, there’s a lot of, like, punches and I respond when 60 violins all come in at the same time. It’s amazing! But I wasn’t doing anything that should’ve bothered anybody else. But of course, the lady beside me is like, “Would you stop doing that? It’s very distracting.” And I thought, “I’m in my own space. This is the way I enjoy concerts.”
So, if the person that stood up was the only one in the whole place standing up, then maybe I would say the etiquette of that environment was to sit.
Rico Gagliano: Of course. But if everybody leapt up at the beginning of the concert and it was kind of a standing concert.
Shania Twain: That’s it. And if you choose to sit, you’re just gonna have somebody blocking you and you gotta suck it up!
Rico Gagliano: That is your problem. I just, I do love the idea of Shania Twain rocking out at a classical show, though. That’s pretty cool.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Absolutely! Making devil’s horns to Tchaikovsky, that will forever live in my memory.
Even when you’re famous, your name still gets mispronounced
Brendan Francis Newnam: Our last question comes from Lara. I think that’s how it’s pronounced, and you’ll know why I’m unsure with this question. “How do you correct someone who repeatedly mispronounces or misspelled your name? I bet Shania and I have this problem in common,” says Lah-ra or Law-ra.
Shania Twain: We do have this problem in common.
Rico Gagliano: Do people still mispronounce your name? Seriously?
Shania Twain: Yeah.
Rico Gagliano: What?
Shania Twain: In Europe, I’m Shanyah. And I’ve just accepted it. So that’s my advice.
Rico Gagliano: That is literally the last way that I would ever pronounce your name, like-
Shania Twain: Shanyah. No, Italians, French, Germans… Shanyah.
Rico Gagliano: Sounds nice.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Shanyah!
Shania Twain: Yeah, that works. I mean, I’m OK with it. It doesn’t really annoy me, so from somebody who’s not annoyed by that, my advice is it’s a small problem to have in life, considering all the other more difficult problems that we have, like not remembering your name at all.
Rico Gagliano: That is totally legit. Lara, there you go.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Shania Twann, ladies and gentleman.