To her occasional dismay (see below), Jacksonville, Texas, native Lee Ann Womack is often labeled a country-music traditionalist, revivalist, etc., etc. Several of her best-known songs, though, including her signature hit “I Hope You Dance,” come closer to contemporary country than that descriptor might indicate. Her latest single sounds more like Christian pop. “There Is a God” asks “How much proof do you need?” then drops exhibit after exhibit at your feet (“the heartbeat on your baby’s ultrasound,” for example, or when you “hear the doctor say the cancer is gone”), in terms simple enough for a Texas high-school science textbook. We talked to her about most of these things (she was too sweet to prod into a religious debate), and why she hates having to talk about most of these things.
You have a new album coming out, right? Is there a release date for that yet?
No, there’s not yet. I don’t know when it will come out. We’re still finishing it up. … I think we still have a little recording left to do.
Is “There Is a God” indicative of the direction of the new album?
Certainly the whole record isn’t just like that. I’d have to say this record’s like Call Me Crazy. This record just sounds a lot like the last one. I’m working with `producer` Tony Brown again. That’s about the best way I can describe it.
I saw a CMT interview a while back where you described your favorite new songs as sounding like they came from 30 years ago.
I like those kind of songs. I have a tendency to write those kind of songs for sure. I just look for songs that move me in some way. I figure if I like it, if it does something for me emotionally than it probably will for somebody else. … There’s no formula whatsoever.
What drew you to “There Is a God”?
I like the simplicity of the message, but yet the strength of it. I think the simplicity of the message definitely. How many people do you hear running around saying there’s a god these days?
The sound’s more contemporary, tho-ugh. How do you decide what kind of sound to give each song?
You get in the studio, you start working on it, you start getting sounds, the musicians start playing, and it’s just what happens. Whatever happen, happens. I don’t go into the studio and say we’re going to record a hardcore country record today. You hire musicians and you bring them in and everybody just starts getting a feel for `the songs`.
Sometimes I’ll have an idea, and I’ll go in and I’ll know exactly — I can already hear the record in my head. Sometimes I sit down in a room with no idea at all and will just start talking and something will be born from that. I had a song called “Have You Seen That Girl?” I walked into the session that day, and they said that everybody had been calling and saying “Where’s Womack? How come we never see her anymore?” … And that’s where the song came from.
On the other hand I came up with the idea for “If These Walls Could Talk, They’d Pray” and walked into the session and sang the first verse and told Dale `Dodson` exactly, I want fiddles on the intro, I mean I told him the whole thing. So it kind of just depends, but there’s no formula, and I hope I never get trapped into any kind of formula.
That makes sense. Unlike a lot of musicians called traditionalists, you don’t seem to have a problem sounding contemporary sometimes.
I just like music. I like a lot of different kinds of music. I tend to lean toward more traditional country music, and even bluegrass and Appalachian flavored music, but real traditional shuffles and Midwestern swing — just real traditional country music is personally my favorite kind of music. It’s my favorite to listen to, it’s my favorite to write, it’s my favorite to sing. But, you know, I also love Buddy Miller, more edgy kind of stuff.
Is there an element you feel has to be present for a song to be considered country music?
I cannot tell you. For 12 years now, without fail in almost every single interview I’ve done, they want my opinion on what country music is today, where it’s headed, how do I feel about pop-country versus traditional country, and all that sort of thing. And the answer is I really don’t have an answer. I don’t know. But I do know what I love, and when I hear country music, I want to hear it a little light on the drums, and heavy on the fiddle and steel guitar.
What about the lyrics to songs like “There Is a God”? Do you think there are any traditional values that country music has to uphold?
There is what people are calling country now, and then there’s real country music, you know country music. You know, it’s just different things, and if I talk about it all the time, I sort of end up being the country-music police and I don’t want that. I don’t want that burden. •