Say to anyone, whether they were alive in the 90s or not, "OK, so you've got a car." They will know exactly what comes next, and this is because Shania Twain—and her music—is iconic.
After a battle with Lyme disease—which, for a time, seriously affected her voice—Twain is back with Now, her first album in 15 years. The woman I meet at a swanky London hotel is much less extra than the leopard print-wearing pop goddess who strutted across the desert in the "That Don't Impress Me Much" video. She's also extremely candid.
VICE: What's the nicest thing you own?
Shania Twain: I hate even saying this because I don't like the idea of "owning" pets, but it's got to be my dogs. I love my dogs. I have two: one is a Labrador, the other is a rescue street dog that we saved.
Do they go on tour with you?
They're too big to travel—I wouldn't want to put them down below on the plane. That's why we have two dogs. We got the rescue dog first, then we got the Labrador as a companion. I think if I ever retire… well, I don't know if that'll ever happen. But if I ever stay in one place for more than a few months, I will bring the dogs with me. They're like an extension of my family.
What would your parents prefer you to have chosen as a career?
It was always music. They would have been brokenhearted if I'd tried anything else. Music wasn't what I wanted as a career at all. I had a passion for it, but I didn't want to do it for a living. I didn't like the pressure or the spotlight. I loved it as an outlet, like the way some people love cooking. But I did it as a career choice for my parents.
What would you rather have done?
I wanted to be an architect, more on the engineering side. I really love structure and spatial design—I'm still obsessed with that.
So why did you end up going for music?
Well, that's a good question. My parents died when I was 22 years old. So I'm 22 years old, and I've got no parents, and no more pressure to be a performing artist. But at 22 years old, everybody else has gone to college. There's now no reason why I have to do music, but it's all I know how to do. It's what I've invested my whole adolescence crafting and developing. Now I've also got the responsibility of providing for my younger brothers. It's the only way I know how to make a living other than sell jeans or go work at McDonald's. So I picked music. There was no turning back, so I just went for it harder than I've ever gone for anything else. When I got my record contract, it was a lifeline for me. If you come from where I come from, and you get a lifeline, you grab it.
OK, I'll try asking a lighter question now. What's the latest you've ever stayed up?
All night. I've done all-nighters and then just carried on. When I was in my last year of high school, so about 17 years old, I was working in bars on Thursday nights and on the weekend. And then I was working at McDonald's after school during the week. So my schedule on Thursday was, like, school, four hours of McDonald's, then tending bar. I'd be working at the bar until like 4 AM, and then I'd have school in the morning, so obviously we'd just stay up all night. The worst part is that after staying up all night, we'd go straight to McDonald's to get breakfast. It was just the craziest cycle.
You can get away with that when you're 17.
Exactly. I'd just sleep all day Saturday until my bar shift in the evening. And I'd probably fall asleep at school on Friday, too.
What memory from school stands out to you stronger than any other?
It's a musical memory, actually. When I was in junior high school, like 12 or 13, I didn't have the right winter clothes a lot of the time because we couldn't afford it. I didn't have the right coat or the right boots or whatever. So when it was time for recess—which meant going outside for 40 minutes, however cold it was—I would go to the music teacher and say, "Can I stay in the music room and just work on my music?" And he was gracious and let me do it as an extra-curricular thing. But he really let me do it so I wasn't embarrassed because I didn't have the right clothes. The music room was kind of my refuge. It was the same in high school, actually. If I wanted to skip a class, I'd sneak into the soundproof cubicle in the music room and write songs for a couple hours without ever being heard or spotted.
What's the closest you've come to having a stalker?
Well, I've had a few stalkers. I've come too close for comfort [with that], and it's very destabilizing in your life because there's a whole process to dealing with them, and it's scary. It's like a side effect of fame that you have to live with.
What's the process?
It depends on the type of stalking. But I'm very logical about it. If myself or anyone around me feels threatened at any time, then we investigate it right away. We check facts and circumstances and try to determine what's going on. In this day and age, you can work out quite quickly whether it's a genuine threat, and you need to be proactive about dealing with it.
If you were a wrestler, what song would you come into the ring to?
"We Are the Champions" by Queen. It's just such an epic song.
You wouldn't pick a Shania song?
OK, maybe I'd pick "Man! I Feel Like a Woman." That's my champion song.
That would be a pretty camp way to start a wrestling match.
Well, yes! It's one of my statement songs. It's got an exclamation point in the title.
Shania Twain's new album, Now, is out on September 29, on Virgin EMI. Follow Nick Levine on Twitter.