For our huge cover story, we spoke to the country music icon about her star-studded new festive album A Holly Dolly Christmas, plus her Netflix film and book, artistic control and why she might finally be ready to sell her catalogue.
In the feature, Parton spoke about the enduring appeal (and big challenge) of writing future Christmas hits…
“I think every songwriter wants to write songs that can become Christmas classics,” Parton told Music Week. “You always think that everything that you can write about Christmas has already been done, so it’s really different trying to write a good song, a commercial song, but also something that might stand the test of time. I really had to focus, more than I do when I just sit down to write whatever I feel, or if I’ve been commissioned to do a song for a movie or TV show. I’m hoping that I’ll have a few on this album that will play year-in, year-out, and as new recordings by other artists.”
Parton also revealed how working on her new book Songteller: My Life In Lyrics – a gorgeous oral history of 175 of her best-loved songs, from 9 To 5, I Will Always Love You and Jolene – was a rewarding, but emotional process.
“Honestly, because it’s also out on audiobook, I sat for hours and hours and talked about the songs and it took me back to places I didn’t particularly want to go again, those emotions that had healed up,” Parton told Music Week. “It opened up certain wounds so, in a way, it was draining. It was very cathartic. I felt like I had been to a therapist – or needed to go to one! – afterwards. Sincerely, it was emotional. In fact, there were times at the end of the day where I would feel kind of odd. Some days, depending on what I was talking about, I would feel sad, and then sometimes I would laugh about certain things that I had never been asked about. I never even thought about the how, where, why and when [of some songs]. It was very draining. Put it this way, I’m happy that I have it, I’m glad it’s out there, but I’m glad it’s done now so I can move on and smooth over that again.”
Here, in an unread extract of our cover feature interview, Parton talks about working with Miley Cyrus on A Holly Dolly Christmas, the evolution of country music and what she hopes to see change with regard to female representation on country radio…
You’ve worked on so many extraordinary releases in your career, and yet you've said that you're more excited about A Holly Dolly Christmas than any other. What’s at the root of that for you?
“One of the reasons is it's such a good for it right now, because of all the lunacy that’s been going on [this year]. So it seemed like a really good time to lift people’s spirits, and lift my own as well, because I had such a good time doing it. And, also, I had a chance to work with so many wonderful artists and friends of mine.”
It must be special to have a song with your god daughter Miley Cyrus …
“Of course! I wanted Miley and Billy Ray both to be on this album, I honestly think of Miley, Billy and the Cyrus’ as family. I figured I probably won't do another Christmas album – I’m not saying that I won’t, but usually you don't do that many through the years – so I really wanted the both of them on it. Singing with Miley is always great, she's very special to me. She's my little fairy goddaughter; I’ve known her since before she was born, and loved her.”
You played a huge role in spreading the gospel of country music internationally. What do you make of where country music is right now on a global scale?
“Well, first of all, I take great, great pride in that because I consider myself a country girl, a country singer and country writer. I've been able to perform different styles throughout the years, but I've always been proud of that. It used to make me mad when people just said that country music was corny and I thought, ‘Country music is really great!’. There will always be that old time country, the traditional country, and there's always going to be some new and upcoming artists that really love that old style and that can actually execute it. But I think with modern country, you can play pop or rock or whatever, so I really love the flavours of all of it. There's all sorts of music, but country just seems to stand out in its purity, and its honestly. So I really am proud of what country music is and I’m proud to be part of it.”
In recent years, a lot of country artists have spoken to Music Week about the inequality of female representation on country radio. What would you like to see happen with regard to that situation?
“We have some really wonderful country girl artists coming up now; there's more of us than there used to be and I think we're still coming along. I really think we'll get more opportunities than we did before. We can’t just lay heavy on what was; we’ve got to think about what is and continue doing our work, hoping for the best and working toward it and calling it out when we can. There are certainly more male artists than there are female half the time. I came on the scene pretty strong as a young girl, I never thought about it in terms of whether I was a girl or a boy, I just thought I had the talent. So women need to stand up and say, ‘I’m strong, I have this talent’.”
Subscribers can read the full Dolly Parton cover feature interview here.