Interview: Gretchen Wilson Explains Her Hiatus, Discusses Returning to Music
Gretchen Wilson burst onto the country music scene 13 years ago with “Redneck Woman,” the debut single from her freshman album, Here for the Party. The song stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks, earned the singer a Grammy trophy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, helped the album sell more than 5 million copies, and paved the way for three more Top 5 singles from the project. That success was a big surprise to the woman from Pocahontas, Ill. — a small town of less than 800 people — and, in hindsight, Wilson admits that she wasn’t quite ready for it.
“I spent my whole life looking for that moment, but as prepared as I thought I was, I wasn’t,” Wilson tells The Boot. “It happened so fast. I had a major label deal at the time, and I think that they thought that I was the next Shania Twain.”
Wilson recalls international tour dates — “There was one trip that, I think, we crossed the International Date Line three times in a week and a half,” Wilson remembers. “I didn’t know what day it was” — and struggling to balance her career and life as a mother.
“I really wasn’t ready for all of that. It was really shocking,” Wilson adds. “I took my kid with me, too, on a lot of it. Can you imagine flying to Australia and worrying where the Ovaltine and diapers and stuff like that are? It was kind of nutty in the beginning.”
Wilson followed Here for the Party, released in 2004, with several other albums: 2005’s All Jacked Up, 2007’s One of the Boys, 2010’s I Got Your Country Right Here and her last studio album, 2013’s Right on Time. But in the hustle and bustle of her career, Wilson found herself less and less satisfied with the demands of her job and the time she spent away from home and away from her now-16-year-old daughter, Grace.
“I was [experiencing] 12 years [of] non-stop touring,” Wilson says. “It wasn’t just summertime touring — it was all year, a lot of the year, every year, for 12 years. I got wore out.”
"I spent my whole life looking for that moment, but as prepared as I thought I was, I wasn’t … I really wasn’t ready for all of that. It was really shocking."
So, after Right on Time, Wilson stepped away from the spotlight for a few years — and, in the process, found herself.
“I feel like everything got wore out, not just vocally, but I, just physically, got wore out, and I needed a little time off,” Wilson notes. “How fortunate am I? Not too many people get to go, ‘I’m going to stay home with my kid for two years’ — not a lot of people get to do that — so I feel very fortunate that I got to do that. But that time gave me the want-to to get creative, too … It gave me time to think.”
During her hiatus, Wilson focused on spending time on herself, and doing “normal things” that other people take for granted. She knew that it was the right move, for both her physical and emotional health.
“It was something I prayed about, and I got my answer,” Wilson shares. “I prayed the whole time, and I’m still praying, and I’m still getting my answers, directly from God.”
These days, Wilson’s break is over. She’s working on a new album — she tells The Boot that it should be out in June — which she says is both thrilling and terrifying.
“I would not be going back to work if I did not think it was the thing being written for me to do,” Wilson says. “I’m nervous, and I’m excited. I’m apprehensive, but I’m also willing; there’s probably a lot of words that I could come up with that describe how I feel. I think I feel like anybody would feel after having stepped away from something for a couple of years.
“You go back to doing anything that you haven’t done in a while, you get a little nervous, you get a little scared. But, I’m craving the live show,” Wilson continues. “I’ve missed that a lot, more than I think I know. I’ve missed being onstage and just feeling the excitement from the crowd and hearing them sing my words back to me. It’s the greatest high on Earth. It’s a lot of emotions; it’s a lot of different feelings all balled into one.”
"I’m nervous, and I’m excited. I’m apprehensive, but I’m also willing … You go back to doing anything that you haven’t done in a while, you get a little nervous, you get a little scared."
Still, Wilson doesn’t plan on going back to as busy a touring schedule as she was a decade ago: “I don’t want to jump back in too fast, because I don’t want to overwhelm myself,” she says. Instead, she’s going to take it slow, and find a rhythm that works for her.
Having experienced success at breakneck speed, Wilson has some words of advice for other young stars who find their careers suddenly taking off in a similar fashion: “Go slower.”
“Take more pictures. Take more video. Write more stuff down,” she admonishes. “When people ask me questions in interviews, like, ‘What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?’ ‘Who’s the most impressive person you’ve met?’ I know I’m forgetting some of it because I didn’t document it well enough.”
As she prepares to release her next album and travel the country again, Wilson confesses that she has mixed emotions about her future.
“It looks scary,” she concedes. “I’ve been off work for three years; I haven’t worn heels in a long time. I’m not just getting my breath back into shape — I’m getting my legs and my feet and my butt back into shape, just to be able to go out there and do that. I’m not 22 like some of these girls — I’m 43, and 90 minutes is a long time to be sweating out there onstage.”
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