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The Catalyst interview: LeAnn Rimes

Bill DeYoung



LeAnn Rimes performs Friday, June 24 at the Mahaffey Theater. Photo: Norman Seeff

Twenty-five years have passed since LeAnn Rimes, at 13, exploded onto the world stage with the honky tonk ballad “Blue,” scoring one of the most impressive debuts in country music history. The single, which sold 123,000 copies within its first week of release, was also a massive pop hit. She was “the little girl with the big voice,” Grammy’s Best New Artist of 1997.

From there, she couldn’t be stopped. In a career that’s blended country, pop and more, Rimes chalked up a series of smashes including “How Do I Live,” “Commitment,” “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”

The singer, who performs Friday (June 24) at the Mahaffey Theater, has to date sold more than 48 million records around the world. She continues to experiment musically; she recently released a single, “the only,” which blends an uplifting message with reggae beats and an infectious pop-vocal groove. Guests on the song, which will be on her next album god’s work (lower case intentional), are Ziggy Marley, Ledisi and Ben Harper.

It hasn’t been easy road. The singer’s battles with anxiety and depression were made public; the tabloids had a field day with her love life, and a lawsuit in which she sued her own father for embezzlement.

Rimes is a survivor, though, and a believer in focusing on the positive, which is why she hosts a podcast (Wholly Human) consisting of conversations with mental health experts, life coaches and authors.

The tour bringing Rimes and her band to St. Pete is called the story … so far. Tickets are here.

St. Pete Catalyst: It’s been a quarter century since “Blue.” Who were you then, and what did you want?

LeAnn Rimes: That’s an awfully big question to ask of a 13-year-old! I was a kid who had a very grown-up voice, and I guess sense, about me in a lot of ways. If you asked that kid what she was looking for, she just wanted to sing … I loved to entertain, and I think it was my way of expression. It always has been, I guess, my way of being able to communicate the things that I was unable to communicate in any other way. The things I was too afraid to say.

A lot of entertainers will say that – I was a dorky kid, or I was shy, and singing was the way I connected with people.

I don’t think I was really shy at all, but it was the way I connected. It was the way I got attention, I think, as a child too. For me, music has always been a very deep spiritual connection. It was the way I connected with something otherworldly – I mean, I didn’t know that then. But I’ve always connected with something deeper when I sang.

I was very driven. What I used to say at the time was that I wanted everyone around the world to know my name. I wanted them to know my music. Everybody I looked up to, that was what they had. I remember sitting in front of the TV, watching the CMA (Country Music Association) Awards, watching Reba get an award, and saying “I’m gonna do that.” And two years later, I was doing that.

That doesn’t happen for everyone.

No, it doesn’t! I was a very driven child. And it sounds cliché, but my dad did tell me “You can do anything.” And I truly believed that. And I think there’s such power in that belief, that I can do anything I want.

Is that belief still there, in you?

Absolutely. It’s gotten clouded a few times; it’s just the human experience, right? Especially with being in the public eye for my whole life, and there’s always so many voices that are coming in … but I truly think that underneath all that, and what I tap into often, is this belief that whatever I set my mind to, I can do.

You’ve had some bumps in the road. Can you say “all that crap made me a stronger person”?

Oh, yeah. I mean, I hope we can all say that. I go back to the human experience – we can either remain the victim our whole lives, or we can grow and learn from our experiences. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without those experiences.

So I look back and I … Would I wish some of them might not have happened? That I wouldn’t have to have experienced them? Of course. But I don’t regret things. I’m able to look back on my life and say “OK, I understand why it happened.”

Your podcast, Wholly Human, is dedicated to helping people understand themselves. And that appears to be something you’ve wrapped yourself around. Is that because of what you’ve been through yourself?

I feel like there has been a real sense of disconnection when it comes to celebrities and humanity. We’ve lived in a world where we don’t want to see the humanity in our celebrities. I think that’s shifting.

I’ve always connected with people through this otherworldly part of myself, but at the same time there’s so much human-ness in what I bring to my music. And because of everything I’ve gone through publicly, I wanted to connect with people on a different level, on  human level. Not just through my music, but allow a space where I can use my voice and connect in a different arena.

I’m so curious about all things mental, physical, spiritual, emotional … my curiosity is really what made me start the podcast. And I’ll hopefully learn along with people, and share the wisdom that I’ve gained over the past almost 40 years now.

I’ve lived a lot of life in 40 years, and I think that there’s a lot to share, and a lot to learn at the same time. It really is just about connecting on a more grounded level than what has presented itself over the past 25 years.

What kind of feedback do you get from listeners? Do they say “LeAnn, thanks for helping me through”?

People love it, and like I said I love that we’re learning together. It’s amazing, the stories that I’ve been told about how my music has been a part of so many people’s lives. Now, hearing how the stories that I’ve shared through my podcast are very similar, in the way that they’ve helped people, that’s so important to me. I think that’s the most gratifying piece of what I do these days. To really be able to help people evolve and explore all the facets of themselves.

I think my music, especially the music I’m making these days, is very much in line with that, too.

You have a new album coming out soon. Where are you musically these days?

I guess the question is, where am I not? I grew up singing everything; I love everything, so there’s never been any boundaries to me in music. There’s nothing that expresses that, and is a representation of that, more than this record.

I feel like it’s a very inspirational record. It runs the gamut of emotion from it’ll make you cry, it’ll piss you off, and all those things – the podcast and the human – go hand in hand with getting people to expand and think for themselves. And explore all the facets of them. And this music does exactly that.

We explored a lot of different world grooves on this record. It’s very drum and rhythm-heavy. It’s very eclectic. I guess if there’s a word to describe where I am in my music journey, it would be eclectic. I think that would be a great word for it.

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