Interview With Michelle Wright
[Estella Pan] You recently embarked on the PaJAMa Party Tour with Deborah Allen and The Kinleys. For fans who might be interested in checking it out [next year], what can you tell us about the show?
Michelle Wright Well, I've got to tell you it's a wonderful opportunity for us girls to just hang out! That's like the first thing - we LOVE that part! We like to joke about that, because the music is really the driving force behind it. But, certainly the driving force behind my decision to participate - I know The Kinleys and Deborah Allen - but didn't really know a lot about them as people. Sometimes, you're so wrapped up in your own music, you might hear the singles from an artist, but you don't really pay attention to what they're doing. Deborah sent the music of herself and The Kinleys, and I just thought 'this is fantastic music.' And Deborah, she's a wonderful songwriter, so she's had many hits by other artists as well.
So, the way the PaJAMa Party show works is, we all are on stage together pretty much all the time, with a few solo exceptions. But, we come out together with this wonderful song that Deborah Allen and Linda Davis wrote called "Love in Motion." It's really a fun, fantastic song. Then, Deborah does a couple hits, I do a couple, and The Kinleys do a couple songs. And then, we all do a medley of five of Deborah Allen's #1s - or at least Top 10s - I'm pretty sure they were all #1 records for her as a writer by other artists. So, it's a real nice variety of a lot of hits and good music.
And, we girls are kind of cute up there; we have some fun! It's really fun, pretty laid back and spontaneous! It's also a great way to do a tour that gives the audience so much in one show. And, it's still great as artists - I don't feel the pressure to sell all the tickets. It's nice to share that with a few other people. Because it's a big responsibility to be able to put on a tour - you want to make sure you sell enough tickets so that everyone gets paid. [NOTE: PaJAMa dates and other tour stops can be found on Michelle's website www.Michelle-Wright.com[Estella Pan] And, the t-shirt sales benefit a great cause.
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Michelle Wright Yes! Deborah's stepfather [recently] passed on from cancer. But, that was Deborah's driving force behind coming up with this idea. Well, first she came up with the idea for the PaJAMa Party, and then she decided she wanted to do something that was special. So, we [sell] t-shirts and give all the proceeds to cancer research. So, The Kinleys and myself are really glad to be a part of that. These girls are women of God - if I can say - they believe in God and they believe in love and in giving. They're just really kind and giving women and this is just a really important element for all of us.
[Estella Pan] What do you think of the promotional photo all of you posed for?
Michelle Wright The one where we're all stuffed into a giant t-shirt? It's great! I LOVE that!! The Kinleys have got their heads stuck through the sleeves! We had so much fun taking the picture!
[Estella Pan] It's pretty neat, because The Kinleys are twins and you and Deborah kind of look alike in that picture!
Michelle Wright You know, we do! Oh it's funny, because I've cut my hair since that picture and so has Deborah. So, we're like, "Maybe I should dye it one color and you a different color' just so we don't look alike. But, I don't mind looking a little like Deborah Allen!
[Estella Pan] When did you know you wanted to be a country singer?
Michelle Wright I was raised just across the Detroit/Windsor border in a small farm community. My mother and father were both country music singers and performers, so really from the time I can remember, I was watching my mother or father on stage. And, I would get up on stage with them occasionally and sing some "girly" song. But, I think when I hit about 14, I thought, "Well, I'm going to start a band like my mom and dad." Of course, I had the fantasies that I could be a singing star maybe someday! So, I would say around 14, I started wondering, "Could I be somebody?"
[Estella Pan] Which artists did you grow up listening to?
Michelle Wright The "greats" of traditional country music - Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. Merle Haggard was a big influence on me. Emmylou Harris; I was raised right in the middle of it all. George Jones - you name any country singer, I've listened to it all my life. But, also, because I was raised across the Detroit border, the sounds of Motown and Soul Train were real huge influences on me. Anybody who listens to my music is going to hear a bit of R&B or soul - that kind of groove thing going on. Actually, when I got my record deal in America, it caused conflict for me, because I wasn't a real traditional artist. I had this natural inclination to make soul country [music], so I ran into some problems with that. But, nowadays, it seems to be much more open, so that's good.
[Estella Pan] How did you get from Canada to Nashville?
Michelle Wright Practice! Luck and hard, hard, hard, hard work! I played the clubs for ten years, six nights a week. Literally, we'd be out there for 48 weeks of the year; I just worked nonstop. It seemed like every step that I needed to take led me to the next step I needed to take. For some people, I talk to them and they say is all they run into for 10-15 years is closed doors - no opportunity, nothing. For me, it just seemed that every step I took, another door opened. And so, in 1985, I was doing a festival up in Canada, and these two Nashville songwriters were there. They just took a liking to the sound of my voice, brought me down to Nashville, and started writing for me. Then, I brought them up to Canada and we did a Canadian album together. And, when they heard the Arista Records was opening in Nashville, they presented my album. Tim DuBois, the head of Arista at the time, came to see me perform in Toronto, and offered me a record deal that night. But, it started in about 1985, and I signed my record deal in 1989.
[Estella Pan] And, you've been doing this ever since!
Michelle Wright Yes! Well, I've been on the road for 22 years, so I've been doing this since I got out of college in 1980.
[Estella Pan] Having been on the road for years and lately as part of the PaJAMa Party Tour, do you have any funny or embarrassing road stories?
Michelle: Well, I will tell you something I thought was funny! Deborah Allen has probably already gone down this road, but one of the gals, Heather [of The Kinleys] - oh, gosh, I'm going to screw up their names! The one with the longer hair - was breast-feeding. I got quite a kick out of the fact that Raymond, who is Deborah's husband and also her road manager is looking at us going, "I have never had to look around for a place to put breast milk. But, here I go!" And, off he went! So, there's a cooler that's full of beer and right beside the beer are these little packets of breast milk that need to be kept cold so that when Heather gets back on the bus, she can feed her baby. That's about the funniest so far. But, knowing how spontaneous Deborah is, I'm sure there will be more to come!
[Estella Pan] With your latest album, Shut Up and Kiss Me, you took a different approach.
Michelle Wright I sure did ? a very different approach! I'm very privileged to have the career that I have because I got a chance to make this record. I signed a new record deal with a new label out of Los Angeles called Renegade. I was able to make a singer/songwriter, country/pop/R&B/rock record. I was given total freedom to make the kind of record I wanted to make; that was very cool! Unfortunately, it didn't go out in America, though, which bummed me out. Record labels are in such upheaval now, and I got caught up in that. So they didn't release it here [in the States]; it did get released in Canada, though. And, people can get it on my website.
[Estella Pan] You also wrote several cuts off the album. What has it been like for you to start writing and put your thoughts on paper?
Michelle Wright It's very challenging to do. I don't have any problems sharing my feelings or anything - I'm a pretty open book. But, to write songs that are great - songs that are really going to continue your career, sell records for you, keep your integrity and credibility - all of these things are really a mad circle for you to get into. But, it's also the only way to go for me at this stage in my career. And so, [it's] very challenging to write great songs. It really can be therapeutic, too, because you get together two or three writers and if you need to, you can share. And, if you're around writers that you trust, they can be real good sounding boards for you.
[Estella Pan] Besides being on the road for the PaJAMa Tour, what else have you been up to?
Michelle Wright I'm actually getting ready to do a new album. I'm working on that right now, and it looks like I'll be working with a guy named Kyle Lehning - he ran Asylum for about seven years here in Nashville - he's done all of Randy Travis' records, Bryan White, Dan Seals. So, I'm writing for the new record, and hopefully, if all goes well, we'll be going into the studio soon.
[Estella Pan] With a whopping twenty-four Top 10 hits, seven #1s, an Academy of Country Music (ACM), several Juno's, and Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) awards under your belt, do you have a favorite or proudest career moment?
Michelle Wright Well, gosh. The proudest thing was that vision trip as a result of my career - that trip happened strictly because of my career achievements, really. And, they try to pick people who have a following so they can bring awareness to issues. So, that feels like my most amazing achievement in the world - certainly the most proud - that I could have gone to Africa. In Canada, we have our own world vision - you know how down here in the States, you see celebrities who go down and film an ad, asking people to sponsor a child? It's the same thing up in Canada, but they often use Canadian artists up there. Just the chance to go and bring awareness and sponsoring a child - that was the proudest thing for me. To be able to take my career and really make a difference like that. I never thought much about it - I thought, "That's just so arrogant to think you could make a difference!" But, you can and you should! Also, certainly, being the first Canadian artist to win The Academy of Country Music award for Top New Artist in 1993 - that was a very proud moment for me as well. To stand in front of Reba [McEntire] and Garth [Brooks], and just go, "Whoo-hoo!" It was really great!
[Estella Pan] You broke through with "Take It Like a Man."
Michelle Wright It's a strange career that I have because there's been some amazing highs and some real disappointments. Quite frankly, I feel like I belong in and amongst the girls today that are enjoying a great deal of success. But for some reason, we were unable to follow up "Take It Like a Man." I recorded five songs that went on to be big hits for other artists. But, they were different - funky, you know "Walkaway Joe" by Trisha Yearwood and the Martina McBride song "Safe in the Arms of Love?" I had ["Safe in the Arms of Love"] first and it was out in Canada, but my record label did not want to release it in America. And, Martina McBride releases it, and it becomes a Top Five, Grammy-nominated song. So, that was very painful for me, because I needed another hit in America. And, I HAD a hit, but they just didn't release it, because they thought it was "too rock" and too progressive for the country format. So, "Take It Like a Man" was the big hit for us. After that, we just weren't able to capitalize in America. Now, in Canada, it was like a spring had burst open! I have many, many hits up there.
[Estella Pan] But, that's really cool, because you're from Canada!
Michelle Wright It is really cool! I believe that I'm one of those artists that can potentially come back with another hit - because all it is about is opportunity and the right song. And, this town continues to give me opportunities. If we can capture the right song, then there's potential for another hit for me in America. I think of many of contemporaries who might have had one or two hits like I did, and had no place to go. And, I was very fortunate to have that whole Canadian market. It's been a blessing!
[Estella Pan] Do you live in Canada or in the States?
Michelle Wright I've lived in Nashville now - gosh, I guess about 12 years. It's a great community, great town to live in, not just for the music.
[Estella Pan] What advice would you give people who'd like to pursue a career as a recording artist?
Michelle Wright RUN THE OTHER WAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN! You need to be aware that the odds are really, truly against you in any success. And once you have some success, then the hard work starts, because you've got to hold on to that! That being said, if you have a desire to try to find a way to do this for a living, I hope that your mother and father have some money in the bank and to support you a little bit. I think you've got to get to Nashville; you've got to come to the place where it's happening. And maybe you won't ultimately stay here, but this is where the movers and shakers are. If you want to get into country music, come here [to Nashville]!
Carolyn Dawn Johnson was a member of my fan club. She asked me, "How do I get started in the business?" and, I've been asked that question so many times that I say, "Just get your butt to Nashville and give it a go!" Well, she certainly did, didn't she?! She's just an amazing talent, and she's one of Nashville's best writers! So, I recommend that you get to Nashville. I really recommend songwriting for extra security, because if you do get a deal and get some songs out, that's a source of income that's a bit more immediate. You don't get much from record sales. Like, I've sold over two million records and I'll never see a penny of it.
I really encourage the songwriting - maybe you'll have a hit [recorded] by other artists. That's what Deborah Allen and Carolyn Dawn Johnson have done. I also recommend that you get a college education. And, I recommend going to college, have fun, do the things you should be doing - and playing music on the weekends or whatever. Then, once you've graduated and got something to fall back on, go for it!
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