Singer Leann Rimes exploded onto the country music scene in 1996 at the age of 13 with the hit "Blue." Now 31, she’s had 13 No. 1 singles, won two Grammy awards, and has sold millions of albums. Her latest album is called Spitfire, and she is the star of a reality show on VH1 with her husband called Leann and Eddie. She performs this Sunday at the Charlotte Pride Festival, and spoke to WFAE Morning Edition host Kevin Kniestedt.
KK: So I have to say, in preparing for this interview I ended up watching a lot of your older music videos…
LR: Oh no! You know, it’s difficult and interesting at times to watch myself from thirteen to now. You know everything is documented. Every bad hairdo. Every bad outfit. Those can be a little terrifying.
KK: Well that’s what I was going to ask you. How do you feel about that now? What was going through that 13, 14, 15-year-old girl's version of yourself back then?
LR: It’s almost like an out-of-body experience looking at those now, thinking like I’m this child that makes me think “Awww, she worked her butt off!” It’s almost like if I could only go back and squeeze her and say you’re doing a good job. That’s probably what goes through my mind I guess.
KK: Well let’s flip that around. What was going through the mind of that 13, 14, 15-year-old version of yourself?
LR: It was such a whirlwind at the time. I think that it was almost a survival mechanism in the way that I had to push forward. I was constantly thinking about what I had to do tomorrow. It left me with kind of a dent in my life and in my memory because really, there was so much happening I couldn’t take it all in. So people are like, “Oh don’t you remember this story?” And I’m like, “Huh? What? Where? When?” So yeah, it was quite chaotic at the time.
KK: You signed a 20-year recording contract when you were 11 years old, that just recently ended. When I was 11 years old I was just trying to make the Little League all-star team and physically handle a crazy growth spurt. Do you remember being 11 and seeing that contract in front of you? What was going through your mind? Do you regret signing something for that long?
LR: Well my label and I went through several different ups and downs. I was in a lawsuit with them for three and a half years to try to get out of the deal because it is known as the worst deal in history. I mean, I was 11. I don’t remember any of it honestly. I remember singing in the office but I don’t remember the whole contract side of it. All I knew is that I wanted to sing and that I loved music. No one can prepare an adult, much less a child, for what they are going to come up against and go through. And you know I have to say I look at myself as a pretty strong human being and a fighter to endure 20 years in this business and still to be standing, still making music, still being relevant. It’s a huge feat. It’s rare that that happens. But I’m proud of all I’ve gone through and the success I’ve had to, no doubt be where I’m at.
KK: I feel like you kind of had this attachment to old school country, but a lot of your recordings kind of have that pop-element to it. Was there sort of an expectation for young country singers to have that sort of pop element to it in order to appeal to a younger audience?
LR: Not for me. Maybe more now, but in the '90s, it was really kind of where country music was headed. And there really wasn’t a younger audience for country music back then. But you’re right, I was tremendously influenced by older country music. I love the storytelling of it and the honesty of it back then. It really meant something to people. I feel like the people that were writing those songs have lived those songs. There is truly a different kind of emotion that comes out when you’ve actually lived what you’re singing about.
KK: Do you feel like that older type of country music can appeal to a younger audience?
LR: I think it’s so cool and retro! It’s almost like vinyl records. Kids are like “Oh my God!” Now we are all of a sudden pressing vinyls again. I mean not hugely, but it’s kind of becoming a cool, hip, thing to have. So I have faith in them. And I have faith in the music.
Leann Rimes. Her latest album is called “Spitfire," she can be seen on the television show “Leann and Eddie," and you can hear her perform this Sunday at the Charlotte Pride Festival.