Photo by Sara Hertel
I was driving down I-95 from North Miami one day, and I saw a depressingly tacky yellow and purple billboard advertising an upcoming LeAnn Rimes show at the Madi Gras Casino in Hallandale beach. I found it kind of odd that someone as accomplished as LeAnn – she’s sold millions of albums, won two Grammy awards, and had 13 number one singles, all before the age of 31 – would be playing a show at the type of place where people play poker and wait to die. Then I realised that I knew virtually nothing about singer-songwriter LeAnn Rimes Cibrian’s current situation in life.
I began obsessively researching, like a detective trying to resurrect a 15-year-old cold case. It turns out that I’m an idiot; LeAnn Rimes’ life has become part of a highly publicised and continuously chronicled tabloid story that – for the most part – has overshadowed her musical career. Basically, she cheated on her ex-husband with the then-husband of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills racist succubus star Brandy Glanville. LeAnn was totally a homewrecker, and the two women have engaged in a few petty back and forths through the press. LeAnn has been absolutely pummeled in the press for the adulteryand, for the most part, she has not done a whole lot to help shed that image. She is now part of a VH1 reality show that documents the life of her and her new boo, which is fine in itself, but the two of them bring up the story time and time again, which comes off as tacky. The YouTube comments for all her music videos contain some of the most vicious insults I’ve seen.
But, really, does anyone besides the tabloids give a shit? In the pantheon of musician publicity crimes, this one is pretty negligible. If you look past the tabloid ruckus and listen to some of the classic LeAnn Rimes hits, you’ll find a sublime and distinctive voice that rises above the dated beats, productions, and hilarious music videos to create this ethereal lonely feeling. I realise that few of you Noisey readers are doing your record shopping at Walmart – where her new albums are exclusively sold – and a LeAnn Rimes album or anything related probably doesn’t even register in your brains as real music. The appeal, though, is substantial. The subtle – and insanely weird – way that she pronounces the word “Ticket” as teeeecket in “One Way Ticket” still gets to me. Her croon on her first major song, “Blue,” is almost creepily timeless. Rimes’s career is also fascinatingly unique in that she signed her first record contract when she was 12, and the contract just ended this year. The girl’s a fucking natural talent, and she always has been. She’s lived through the history of modern country music. She is a person of value and worth, and she deserves respect.
I got the chance to talk to her, and found her to be shockingly clear-headed, prescient, and observant of the attitudes around her – perhaps due to the bombardment of interviews she’s done surrounding the scandal, but nevertheless – she came off as a real chill-broette. Additionally, she really took time to analyse how child stars become the way they are, and sounds like she’s on the train to making some new shit. Read on to find out what’s on her mind:
Noisey: So I was watching a lot of your early music videos from the 90s today.
LeAnn Rimes: Oh god, don’t do that (laughs).
They feel so innocent and different now. What do you feel like when you watch them?
Obviously, that was a whole different time in my life. I mean I’ve come so far. I think there’s parts of me that look at it and are proud of that little girl for handling everything that she handled. It’s kind of weird for me now, too, because my oldest step-son is 11. I signed my record deal when I was his age, and it kind of puts things into perspective when you have an 11-year-old kid around. As an adult, you realize how crazy that was. A lot of things go through my mind when I’m watching it… but I do feel a little disconnected from it all because it was a long time ago, and I’ve grown and changed so much in 20 years. And I’m really sad that anybody dressed me and did my hair like that. That I’m pissed off at.
You have some killer purple hot pants in “One Way Ticket.”
Oh yeah! That’s funny.
So obviously you were discovered when you were very young, but nowadays all kinds of people are being discovered via different mediums like YouTube and the internet and what-not. Do you think it’s a good or bad thing and do you have any advice for those people?
I think it’s a great thing! Music, back when I started when I was 11, the music industry didn’t want to take on any kid at the time. Everyone had their nightmare situation that they didn’t want to go through again. It took a really big person who wanted to jump into those waters at that time. It’s way harder to get into the business now. You really have to set yourself apart and be unique. But it’s definitely easier to get your music out there. You have every avenue possible these days, which is awesome. No one’s going around giving out CDs to the secretaries at the bottom of the record label offices anymore. That’s why it’s great that it’s changed. For people that are successful… there should be a school for it where people can be trained to handle significant notoriety (laughs). You’re kind of thrown to the sharks and have to fend for yourself. That’s difficult if you’re a kid. No one can prepare you for that.
You just got out of a record contract, which in your VH1 show you called the worst record contract ever. What were the limitations placed upon your music in that contract?
Well, look, I was there for 20 years. With all the things negative I could say about it, we did have a lot of success together. I’m not knocking that part of it at all. Honestly, I feel that in the last eight to ten years, the head of the label became a little bit disinterested in everything, and it all kind of fell down from there. I think when you go into the business at such a young age… people don’t want you to grow, and they don’t want you to experiment. Even if you’re 31, they see you as that 11-year-old kid. That’s difficult, and now I’m really looking for a partner that gets me now. I come with a lot of great baggage at the same time (laughs)… it’s really a new chapter in my life. But mostly… it was the promotion and the label not really knowing what to do with me or itself for a very long time.
Do you think country music has the same cultural relevance in this day and age?
I love old school country music. I grew up listening to all the great artists who were writing about what they were living. And it was very authentic. Even in the 90s – it became pop oriented, but it was still very emotional about it. You could connect to the lyrics people were singing, and it wasn’t all about the same truck and back road. And there were different artists and a lot of women in the format at the time. You could tell the differences between people’s voices. You could even tell the different sounds and productions on a record. So, yeah, I miss all of that. It’s sad that there’s only about 10-12 songs that seem to be… it’s just really hard for me to tell anybody apart these days. My heart kind of breaks to talk about it… it’s really sad. The format needs to change, and I hope it changes sooner rather than later.
So now that you’re free from the contract, do you want to experiment with different genres, like maybe rapping?
That’s funny, someone actually asked me the other day. I was writing with Rodney Jerkins, and he asked me if there was anything I hadn’t yet done with my voice. I said that I hadn’t rapped yet! Let’s try it! I mean I’m really open to anything. I think the lines are so blurred in genres these days. I think that’s a good thing for someone like me because I just want to go out and make great music. The production will change here and there… but I think the one thing that will always be a throughline through my music is that it’s something that’s organic… and the humanity and honesty in what I’m writing. I am exploring. I am writing right now. When I was 11… I kind of changed the face of music with “Blue,” in that they weren’t playing anything like that at the time. It broke through, and I don’t know if it would in this day and age or not. But I have this crazy idea that I can do that again. This time around… my goal is to have everything be very authentic to who I am. “Blue” was very authentic to who I was, but then I think… who knows where it went. I’m coming out with a dance record on August 15, which is a compilation of all my biggest dance hits. I would love to do a full dance record. I would love to do a full duets album. I would love to do a million things. So right now, I’m just experimenting and finding out what that sound is – what is new that I can bring to the music scene?
Do you ever worry that, because of the scandal in your personal life – which you do address on your previous album – people will either discard your music or just fold the scandal into it?
Them reading into things is a good thing. That means that at least they’re listening to the lyrics. Some people these days don’t even catch lyrics to a song even if they’re heard it ten times – and usually there’s not very many lyrics (laughs). I can’t change anyone’s mind. Trust me, it’s something I’ve tried to do my whole life. People are going to believe whatever they want to believe. Whatever fits into their life. My music is very authentic to me and comes from my life. I’m not one to shy away from the truth. Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, and I think that’s a good thing (laughs). I think that’s what a real artist does. Whatever the feeling is – at least we make you feel something. I heard this story about Neil Young the other day. He went out and played his whole new record with none of the hits and his whole crowd was booing him. And they were even booing him as he walked off the stage. Someone asked him, “Do you feel bad about that?” And he said, “No, at least they felt something.” That kind of puts things into perspective. But I mean… it’s also true that you want people to love your music and connect with it and I think there’s always someone who will be able to get something out of it.
You’ve been in country music for so long. And that genre has legends who’ve been around forever. Who’s the coolest person you’ve gotten to meet?
Oh god, there’s so many. At an awards show when I was younger I met George Jones, which was pretty cool. When I was little, I opened up for Merle Haggard, and I don’t remember any of this, but my dad told me that he came onstage, in the middle of my show, and grabbed the mic and said, “This girl’s the real deal” and hugged me and went off stage. I grew up around all those people from that era and they were awesome to me. I was brought up on all the great men. It was kind of cool to meet that crazy outlaw gang.
When you were younger, there was a lot of talk about you becoming the next Patsy Cline. But you also had that 90s rock album, Twisted Angel. Was there ever any tension between them wanting you to do country and you wanting to do a more, like, 90s pop vibe?
No, I think the only tension was on the radio. When “How Do I Live” crossed over into the Top 40 and was a huge success… I think people thought I was leaving country music, and that wasn’t the case. I kind of feel like I got pushed out in a lot of ways. So we had that success with that song, “I Need You,” and “You Light Up My Life,” and we were feeling out that territory for actually making a record that way. But I think it was a natural progression and a natural experimentation… I mean I started so young that I had to experiment! I would have been a real boring artist if I didn’t. I’m glad I dabbled in everything. I think, now, that’s helped me and it’s become more about what element I can pull and put together with another element, rather than just the genre. Like a soul element from this song and a guitar line from that song. It’s really kind of blending everything together to make my own sound.
Do you ever feel like there’s parts of your life that resemble a country song?
Oh yeah. I feel like my whole life, especially the last five years, has been a great country song. That’s why I wrote an album!
So when I was seven years old, I saw you playing at Disneyworld with my sister. You’re playing at a casino this weekend in Hallandale beach. Is playing a show for those kinds of crowds a weird vibe?
It’s a different vibe. You get fans, but you also get a people who are in town and on vacation. It’s an interesting, eclectic mix of people when you play something like that. I don’t mind it. I guess I’ve been doing it for so long that I kind of roll with the crowd. I have a setlist, and midway through the show that changes depending on how the crowd is, and if they scream out songs that they know… so it’s a very chill vibe on stage. I feel like people really get to know me when they come see the show.
Have you ever played for a crowd that wasn’t really having it? Like a bunch of gambling scoundrels?
I’ve definitely played for quieter crowds. The funny thing is you think that they don’t like it. And then you leave and people come up to you after like, “Oh my god, that was the most amazing show,” and you’re like, “What? You didn’t even gauge any interest with me at all when I was up there!” Maybe sometimes people are so intent on listening that they forget to get involved.
Can you give me an awesome quote about Brandy Glanville? Just say like, “She sucks!” or something. I’m just kidding…?
(Laughs) Could I give you an awesome quote? I could, but you might not be able to print it. I’m just kidding!
IS SHE A RACIST?!
Oh my god… I… um… no that’s definitely not something I’m talking about these days.
Do you think that if you were a rapper you would just hang with the name, “LeAnn Rimes”?
(Long pause) (Laughter) I don’t know. My last name rules. I mean, but then I’d have to fight with Busta over it. But we’re friends. He’s very cool.
You’re friends with Busta?!
Yeah, I love him! He’s awesome. He always makes the joke that he’s my brother from another mother.
We should be a rap duo.