After 15 years of waiting, Shania Twain – one of the biggest-selling artists of all time – is finally returning with her brand new album, Now. Earlier in the year, for our world exclusive cover story, she told Music Week, that it is the product of a lot of pain, hope and belief. In that interview, Twain spoke of her incredible career, the heartbreak of her divorce with husband and long-term collaborator Mutt Lange, and how her battle with dysphonia almost ended her career. But that was then, and this is, well, Now. With a world class team around her, led by Universal Music Group Nashville president Cindy Mabe, Virgin EMI president Ted Cockle and Maverick Management's Scott Rodger, her comeback campaign is well underway. On the eve of Now’s release, and in a previously unread feature, Twain takes Music Week inside her creative process…
You’ve been on an incredible journey between releasing 2002’s Up! and this comeback outing. What have you learned about yourself in the making of this album?
“Well, I’ve learned a lot about my own strengths, and my limitations too. I’ve really had to go through a lot to even start the record. The hardest part for me was getting started, because I was having serious voice issues – I’ve got damaged nerves to my vocal cords. It’s been a huge rehabilitation process without really knowing what my real abilities would be in the end. So, it was like blind faith in tackling the problem and the solution with no guarantees that I would be able to record any quality vocals. I just took a chance, committed myself to finding out [what was wrong], and then once that process started I was just building more and more faith and optimism in being able to do it. The songwriting was ongoing anyway, because I was always writing all the time – I never stopped doing that. Even though I had given up on being able to sing again for quite a long time, I did keep writing, and then eventually focused on the actual project of making the album, and writing for a purpose. I mean, there is always a purpose for writing – writing is my therapy.”
You’ve been very vocal about how your battle with dysphonia had an emotional root. How important was publishing your autobiography and tackling some of the hard issues you had faced in getting this comeback off the ground?
“Every step since I dove into that book has been a crucial building block. Writing the book was a huge turning point in climbing out of my hole, and catching my breath after just crashing. All the crashes that I had... I don’t think I ever really got my wind back again after each one in my life. With the divorce, the wind was knocked out of me again. But this time around, it was interesting, I allowed myself to catch my breath before I started climbing out of that hole. I don’t know whether that’s just experience, I’m not sure why, but I allowed myself to catch my breath first. The book was all a part of recognising that and saying, ‘I need to feel this: I need to be angry, I need to be sad, and I need to be all these things, before I can even start climbing out of this.’ I allowed myself that reflection time. The book made me more brave about things, even saying, ‘I’m doubting myself - why am I doubting myself? I guess I’m really insecure!’ I hadn’t realised how insecure I was.”
At this point in my life there will always be conflict, there will always be scars now, there will always be things that I’ll carry. But, the survival element of that is celebrating
An insecurity that the public probably would never have thought you had…
“I didn’t know that about myself either. I am a strong person, I am a very optimistic person. I had a lot of insecurities, I still have them! But now I recognise it, I can manage so much better. It’s okay to have them! It’s like, ‘Of course I’ve got insecurities!’ Whereas before it was almost not realising it, and even if I did realise it, I didn’t want to know it. Now it’s just like, ‘Of course I’ve got insecurities, so what?’. The book helped me with all of that: facing the voice thing was all part of gaining courage, and acceptance that, well, if I discover I can never sing again then at least I know why. And it was all those little things about facing the fears, and, ‘Whatever the worst is, I’d rather know it.’ It’s this tug of war; I think we all have those moments, of ‘Do I really want to know?’. Once you’ve taken that leap, it’s just about taking more and more and more leaps.”
You oversaw songwriting and production on Now yourself – a lot of extra pressure considering given all you’ve been through. Why was it so important for you to handle every single detail?
“Because independence is a gift. And asserting that, and doing it as purely as I could, was a challenge for myself – not that I wasn’t already being challenged enough, I hear you – but it was more of a challenge of independence for myself. Of saying to myself, ‘You have been writing music since you were eight years old. You were never collaborating, you were doing this on your own, you were a very independent thinker and creator.’ I wanted to revisit that again. I wanted to be re-introduced to that artist. I had learned so much with Mutt, I wanted to take it to the test, and see what I could do. It was more the record making process that I hadn’t done without him, all those years. In my early life, of course I’d been a writer, but I wasn’t recording all those years. So that’s what I did!”
Given you said you never stopped writing music, how many songs do you think you ended up having to choose from when it came to Now’s tracklisting?
“Well, I recorded 21 songs; I had 24 that I wanted to record, but I narrowed those down to 21 that I actually wanted to take into the studio, and then painfully narrowed it down to 16. There’s a few really old ideas, like pre-divorce days. For example, Home Now - not the whole song, but pieces of it. There were other songs that were totally last minute, like Light Of My Life, Because Of You and Soldier. It’s a mix of everything.”
One standout song is I’m Alright – what can you tell us about that?
“Oh, that’s one of my personal favourites! Emotionally favourite.”
What inspired you to write it - where were you at in your life at that point?
“Well, I was feeling like I’d come out on the other side of something really difficult. I was feeling like I had survived, and like I was alive, and wanted to celebrate that. And I was celebrating! I was in a place of celebrating surviving so many challenges, and I wanted to sing about it. But at this point in my life there will always be conflict, there will always be scars now, there will always be things that I’ll carry. But, the survival element of that is celebrating.”
Last time around with Up! you released the album in three different musical versions. In contrast, Now is very diverse – was it a plan to try everything at once?
“I’ve always been torn stylistically as a songwriter, I think I’m a more folky person, I’m definitely a singer-songwriter thinker, I’m not thinking about the style. I never think, ‘I’m gonna write a pop song’ or ‘I’m gonna write a country song’ – not at all. I think my well would go dry if I did that; I would be stumped, and would find it very limiting. But once I get into the studio or even once a song is written – especially now with Pro Tools, I can just go back over things. I wrote most of the vocal arrangements on my Pro Tools on my own, just sitting there by myself. So the productions were already starting once the songs were written. And I just let them take a life of their own after that.”
You just let the song go where it wanted to go…
“Yeah! Pro Tools helped me a lot, as I was able to experiment with the groove. You know, even on Swinging With My Eyes Closed, the verse has a reggae laid back feel, and it goes to this rock-feel on the chorus. I had so much fun with the diversity, and I didn’t want to limit myself there. I guess that’s why the album is all over the place stylistically.”
Finally, you’re coming back to an incredibly different music industry than the one you left. How do you feel coming back into it, into the streaming world?
“I think it’s probably more difficult for artists starting out who aren’t lucky enough to have been in an era where record sales were rewarding them for their hard work. That has got to be really tough because they’re relying so much on the touring. They don’t have the luxury of record sales, is all I’m saying. But for me, to be honest, I’m kind of enjoying the intimacy and the immediacy of the communication that technology brings to the industry.”
You can watch the video for Shania Twain's comeback single Life's About To Get Good below