Most artists with 25 years of touring under their belt might think about slowing down. But it appears Martina McBride is just warming up. The multi-Platinum-selling superstar who has topped the country and A/C charts numerous times continues to push creative boundaries and grow as an artist as she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her debut album, The Time Has Come. During this anniversary month, McBride paused to visit with MusicRow, reflecting on her journey, and looking ahead at the exciting things in store.
She may be light years away now from the wide-eyed, naive young girl from Kansas who stepped off the bus eager to make her mark on Nashville, but she recalls how much she learned in those first few years that took her from selling T-shirts on Garth Brooks‘ tour to opening for him just a short time later. After landing a deal on RCA from her demo tape, McBride soon found herself in the studio recording the debut album and realized she had plenty to learn if she was going to make it in such a hard-driving business.
“I was working with Paul Worley and Ed Seay at the Money Pit on that first record, and I didn’t know anything about making a record — I was really green,” recalls McBride. “So it was a process of just learning to stand up for myself and assert my opinions about my music and what I wanted it to sound like and how I wanted to make my record. And I was super shy, so being assertive in the studio around professionals was something I needed to learn, but making that record was the dream come true…it was exciting. I had never made a record before and I had nothing to compare it to, but it was fun to see it all come together.”
When her second album, The Way That I Am, came out in 1993, McBride was well on her way to becoming a superstar with hits like the title track, “Life #9” and the gripping “Independence Day,” a song that broke boundaries by tackling the subject of domestic abuse head on. While many stations refused to play the tune, the song gained huge critical acclaim, winning Video of the Year and Song of the Year at the CMA Awards and earning songwriter Gretchen Peters a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song. The groundbreaking video went on to become iconic, landing in the No. 2 spot on CMT’s list of the 100 Greatest Videos in Country Music.
“I think we all knew it was something special when we made that video,” recalls McBride of the experience. “We were all very passionate about how we wanted to shoot it, and so we worked really hard on making it as realistic as we could without being gratuitous. And I think we all had a sense of how important it was and we were all really passionate about telling that story.
“On that second album we really started to hone in on my sound and I was able to grow more as an artist, and I was lucky to have people in my corner like Joe Galante at RCA who saw the big picture and let me experiment with another album and saw how it could be.”
Breaking in an era where female artists were plentiful, McBride isn’t sure why things have changed so drastically for women in country today. She recently partnered with CMT for its third Next Women of Country Tour as part of her larger Love Unleashed Tour with Lauren Alaina, Maggie Rose, and Post Monroe and enjoyed becoming part of the beginning of their stories.
“I don’t think any of us thought too much back then when I started out about being female, we were just out there doing our own thing and trying to make music that mattered and tour and do all the hard work that goes with it. But looking back, I’m so happy to be part of an era where we still had CDs and people buying albums, and I’m so grateful I was able to come up through that era. Because it was really exciting and really impactful, and there was just something about it that I feel like we’re missing to be honest and I just feel like it’s different now.
“I’m not really sure why it was that way back then. I don’t know why we had that moment and why we should only be allowed a moment in the first place,” she continues. “It’s interesting to me how it’s always been dominantly male and when we had that moment where it was me, Shania, Lee Ann Womack, Wynonna, I don’t know what happened to make that happen. I don’t know if it was a fluke, or somebody was in the wings supporting that helping make that happen…I don’t really know, but it was a great time and opportunity.”
With “Independence Day” propelling her into the conversation about domestic violence, McBride began championing causes like the Love Is Respect campaign and the Network To End Domestic Violence, and service to others became a thread running through her career that became as important to her as her music through the years. Her fans immediately followed her lead and began volunteering as well, and seeing how dedicated they were to giving back, McBride formed a global charity initiative, Team Music Is Love, to help harness that positive energy and use it in great ways.
“It started out because a group of fans initially called me to ask if they could wear my name on a T-shirt to walk in a breast cancer walk,” recalls McBride, “and it’s grown from there. And we try to do things in every city where we perform and it’s making a big impact in local communities. It’s very fan-based and it’s really unique and kind of a model that I’ve never seen before.”
The organization is hosting a mobile food pantry with One Generation Away at CMA Music Fest this year to give away thousands of pounds of food to help combat the hunger issue in Tennessee. One million Tennesseans are food insecure, with more than 400,000 Middle Tennesseans struggling to find their next meal. McBride has done drives like this before and has seen the problem firsthand.
“It’s interesting on our Love Is Unleashed Tour we did events in every city and we focused a lot on hunger because we look at what is the greatest need in every city, and in a lot of communities that is the greatest need. People will come out and stand in the rain at 7:30 in the morning to get their food. It’s really eye opening.”
Along with charitable efforts, McBride maintains a busy touring schedule and is gearing back up to make some new music as well. Following her 2016 album Reckless, she’s will soon treat fans to a helping of new holiday music as she heads to the studio to record a new Christmas project this week. She recently teamed up with John Mellencamp for a duet on his new album Sad Clowns And Hillbillies titled “Grandview,” and enjoyed collaborating with the heartland rocker she loved on the radio.
“I grew up listening to John Mellencamp, he was the soundtrack of our teen years,” says McBride, “and that’s one of those things you never dream you will get to do. So it was a lot of fun, and we performed the song live a couple of times too so it was really great.”
Having collaborated with everyone from Dolly to Don Henley and Jim Brickman to Jimmy Buffett and even Train’s Pat Monahan over the last two and a half decades, is there anyone on the bucket list she’d still like to sing with?
“I’ve sung with so many amazing people and I never dreamed I would sing with any of those people, so it’s kind of like I’m just keeping it really open…because if I say I want to sing with someone it might not happen,” she says, laughing. “Everybody I’ve gotten to sing with has been such a surprise and unexpected. I never sought out a duet partner so it’s amazing the people I’ve gotten to sing with… It’s just been amazing!”
As creatively-minded when it comes to entertaining as she is with her music, McBride released a cookbook of delicious recipes and hosting tips, Around The Table, in 2014. The snaps of her culinary creations on Instagram will make you salivate and give you serious kitchen envy, and she’s planning a second release. For the hardworking wife, mother of three and superstar, the sky’s still the limit as she heads into the next chapter of her storied career. Looking back, did she ever think she’d get this far when she arrived in Nashville nearly three decades ago?
“I don’t know when you start out if you ever think past what you’re doing or that far ahead. I was just happy to be doing what I was doing and I hoped for 10 good years,” she admits. “But it’s time for me to just really be creative and take opportunities that come along and I’m just excited about the next 25 years.”
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