Gretchen Wilson (Photo: NBC)Gretchen Wilson put out her last album, I Got Your Country Right Here, three years ago--but the famous Redneck Woman has hardly been resting on her laurels during all that time. In the interim, she's moved homes, solidified plans for three--yes, three--albums to be released in 2013, and found her footing as a record label owner (Wilson founded her own Redneck Records in 2009 after parting ways with original label Sony).
Wilson, who has a well-documented history of ups and downs with her former label--where she released her star-making debut in 2004--says that she's comfortable being in control now.
"I've never been happier than I am right now, being the boss," she says. "I always felt a little bit everything was too big before. I always felt like it felt wrong that I didn't know everyone that was working with me by name. A lot of times I just felt like that got in the way and sometimes was a hindrance as far as just letting the music and the creative take its role."
Still, Wilson is quick to note that she received a good education in her major-label years. "[If] I hadn't had those ups and downs that I had with a major label, I don't think that I'd have had the strength or the know-how to go ahead and do this myself," she admits.
Wilson's first installment of her triple-dose release schedule--the aptly named Right On Time--hit streets April 2, and will be followed by a collection of classic rock covers, then a Christmas album. If this sounds all over the map, it frankly is, but Wilson has an enthusiastic explanation for both projects.
Longtime fans will not be surprised by the upcoming rock album (Under The Covers), as Wilson has never hidden her love for the genre, and even layers a healthy dose of it over Right On Time. "Where I come from in southern Illinois, Patsy Cline and Lynyrd Skynyrd are found right next to each other," she says. "If you stop and listen to my first album, you're going to hear a lot of southern rock influence on it--just like my second album, just like my third album."
Choosing songs to cover out of a genre filled with hundreds of treasured classics proved to be the most difficult exercise in putting together the tracklisting. Wilson enlisted some collaborative help: "I asked the guys in my band to write down their favorite five classic rock songs," she noted. "And then out of that list of 30 or 40 songs, I chose the ones that I thought I could actually pull off. You know, there's a lot of classic rock songs that a female really can't get away with," she laughs.
"I didn't really realize as I was selecting these songs that I had ended up putting aside all songs from the '70s.," Wilson adds. "That wasn't my intention but that ended up being apparently our favorite decade."
Her personal favorite cover on the project is one that many may not immediately guess: "[Van Morrison's] 'Into The Mystic,'" she reveals. " I've always loved it, and never felt like it got enough recognition."
Wilson hopes that she can lure more fans to the 1970 tune, which she terms "haunting" and beautiful. "I have no explanation why I am such a fan of songs about the sea 'cause I don't like going out on boats and I'm not a water kind of a girl," she says with a smile.
As for the third album Wilson intends to release, she says she hit on the idea of a seasonal record after recording the children's novelty tune "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas"--and then realizing that, by going out and supporting a Christmas release, she could keep much of her "road family" and staff employed (and paid) during a traditionally "off" period.
This thoughtful gesture fits in well with Wilson's overall persona, which comes across as warm, honest, and open--and yes, a bit crazily "redneck"; but did anyone expect any less?
Speaking of redneck: The singer employs the same attitude towards her signature song, which has defined her going on nearly a decade now. Few artists have been tied so strongly to a single hit, but Wilson has nothing but love for the tune--mostly due to the continued response she gets from her fans.
"It's still is awesome for me to see the reaction in people when we start that song," she relates. "It's become a different song for me because it's not even one that I think about anymore. It's so much my signature song that I could probably sing it in my sleep without thinking about it--and that might be the fun part of it now, because instead of ever getting nervous on stage, I really get to watch."
"There's nothing better than looking out onto the crowd and seeing three generations of redneck women that have their homemade t-shirts on: 'I'm a redneck baby, well, I’m a redneck momma and I'm a redneck grandma!' And they're really rocking out together," she continues. "You can't put a price tag on stuff like that."
"The best thing ever is to see the men singing, 'I'm a redneck woman!,'" she laughs. "I'm like, you are?"
As much as Wilson has paved the way for fellow outlaw female artists in country music, she still isn't completely satisfied with the imbalance of power in Nashville. "I think that I'll feel even better when there's just as many women producing the records and there's just as many people that are women that are running the labels and when there are just as many women behind the scenes as there are men," she says. "We haven't really made our way to that point, but it's coming."
"I hope that what I'm doing right now--having started my own label, producing my own music, hoping to sign new artists someday-- is not just making a name for Gretchen Wilson. I hope that it's making a name for women."