Country music legend Michelle Wright stays strong
Michelle Wright is ready for the next round.
Her first original material album in seven years is a bit of an experiment marketing and business-wise.
Wright recently stopped in for a chat with The Crossfire’s Kenai Andrews about the album and as usual, they ended up conversing about a whole lot more.
MMA Crossfire: Tell us about the album and the thought process behind making the lead single Strong.
Michelle Wright: Well, it sort of kind of tells you itself what it’s going to be it seems to me … I start to write and I will write about what I’ve observed over the last couple of years, what’s going on in my own life, lessons learned, whatever it might be. And I just sit down and write off and go back into my past catalog to see if there’s anything there that I wanted to record that I haven’t yet. There’s a couple of songs on the record that I had written some years ago and always wanted to record so we included that and wrote the rest of it and Strong kept coming to the forefront. It was a song I felt needed to be heard. My business manager (Sue Ferriman) has Lou Gehrig’s disease. In the video, she’s the first lady that you see sitting in the chair looking up into the camera smiling.
In my trips to Africa where I saw powerful women dealing with circumstances that were really quite beyond my imagination. Then, I went to Afghanistan and while we were there, Captain Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female to be killed in action while we were there and onstage.
Michelle Wright: The battle was roaring over the mountainside and we were pulled to the side after the show and informed she was killed in combat. We went to her ceremony a couple of days later which as a civilian is a privilege. Civilians don’t see that sort of thing… the Canadian flag draped over her coffin as they took her home. Since then I’ve had dinner with her parents, and sat at their kitchen table. the women and these memories stay with you forever and they just came out in this song. I wanted to release it.
And so in the video is Captain Nichola Goddard and the women I met in Africa, and the my business manager and my mother… a representation of these women.
MMA Crossfire: I see. That sort of answered my next question which was what were some of the life experiences that helped generate the album. I did read your blogs on your trips to Zambia and Afghanistan and they were fascinating. I was wondering what the inspiration behind going there because you were involved with World Vision I believe…
Michelle Wright: Yes. As you may know, when you become a public person, there’s always a need for you to maybe step forward and use your name to raise money. Needless to say, I get a lot of those requests. And it became clear to me that I needed to pick one organization to attach myself to. Because every call that came i I wanted go and say How can we help? My manager had to sit me down and say I get it and I know we want to help as much as we can but what we may need to to do is pick one cause that you can really focus on. And World Vision was the one. My husband and I never had children and so one of the things that we do in our lives is help children. That’s kind of our focus. And the World Vision was a great fit for me. That’s my inspiration.
MMA Crossfire: Yes. The pictures you posted told a thousand words. I’m sure you get a lot of reaction from the blogs.
Michelle Wright: I’ll tell you, it changed my whole life, it rocked me to my knees and so yeah.. (Laughs) hence this album quite frankly because this album in my opinion is about inspiration. It’s about overcoming. It’s about feeling. There’s a song on the record called I’ll Cry Too, which is me saying to a friend, sort of girlfriend-to-girlfriend because maybe guyfriend-to-guyfriend, I don’t know, maybe that would work too..
MMA Crossfire: (Laughs)
Michelle Wright: The chorus is:
I’m coming over,
We don’t have to talk
I can be your shoulder
We’ll sit in the dark
That’s what we’ll do
We’ll both fall apart for you
And I’ll cry too
And it’s just about when you’re going through challenging times hearing, ‘Just give it time, time heals, people overcome this stuff all the time.’ You don’t want to hear that. What you want is someone to say its OK to feel as bad you’re feeling right now and I’m coming over and we’re just going to feel like s*** together. We’re just going to cry our eyes out together. There’s a song like that on the record and there’s a song called One of these Days. It says that one of these days is right now. it’s sort of like sometimes we’re all kind of living in the ‘when I’m done this,’ or ‘when I get this,’ or ‘when that’s paid off then I’ll feel like this.’ You live in the when instead of being OK right now. And believe me, I’m not the master of any of this. These are really my challenges that I’m putting on paper and song.
MMA Crossfire: Will there be a tour to support this?
Michelle Wright: I hope so. That would be the ultimate plan, to do that. I mean I’ve been touring all the time for the years now. I’ve done tour once a year across Canada and we hope to continue doing that.
MMA Crossfire: I see. Was this record produced by Savannah?
Michelle Wright: This record was produced by three different producers. It’s being released by Savannah Records, my manager’s label. It’s kind of a cool story because I started out on Savannah with my manager, and then we got a record deal here in Nashville on Arista, so I was with Arista/BMG, then moved on to another BMG label, and then back to my … with this new age of making records and exposing you music, my manager decided to open up his label again and then we sort of took everything in-house. So we’ve gone full-circle, which is kind of cool.
MMA Crossfire: You kind of did the independent route before it was fashionable..
Michelle Wright: We did yes, and my manager, he was forward thinking of to put this label together and develop a certain kind of quality of music and expectation and. I was fortunate to be a part of that and get the deal in Nashville which was so for a female Canadian country artist to get a record deal or any Canadian country artist, at least there wasn’t any. I think there was Anne Murray and 20 years later KD Lang got a deal and about five – eight years later, I got a deal. So to be under his care again as a label, it’s great.
MMA Crossfire: I’ve heard you in previous interviews say you are a 10-year overnight sensation.
Michelle Wright: Yeah, exactly … (Laughs). Oh yeah. I guess there’s a little more overnight sensation going on these days no doubt, but I was not one of them. All careers whether you’re overnight or not, it takes time. It’s a lot of work. You have to be very determined, stay focused.
MMA Crossfire: Exactly, and that’s why I wanted to have this conversation. I know you grew up in Merlin, a stone’s throw from Detroit and you were a Motown girl…
Michelle Wright: Yes, definitely …
MMA Crossfire: I know your parents were into country, but essentially you grew listening up to Motown and pop so what was it about Motown that you found interesting.
Michelle Wright: I think it’s the rhythm. I started playing drums when I was 12, and I just have this sort of natural instinct to groove and to rhythm. I love to dance as well, so I would sneak into clubs underage and they were playing all this R&B and pop and stuff. There was a few of us, I didn’t go in and dance by myself but we would sneak in and dance all night long. Don’t tell my mother! Although I have told her, so she knows (Laughs). I loved rhythms and I love to dance and I love that sort of Motown … The Jackson 5 (sings Jackson 5) and Stevie Wonder and The Temptations and oh my gosh Aretha Franklin. I just couldn’t get enough of Aretha although she was not Motown as much, she was on Atlantic, but that music just had some real soul that I really loved and still love. Sometimes if I’m asked to do a cover tune, I’ll do Sign, Sealed and Delivered by Stevie Wonder or I’ll do Let’s Stay Together by Marvin Gaye [Editor’s note: Michelle meant Al Green]. Oh my gosh, you hear that song and it starts: Boom, Bah, Boom Bah Bah, Boom, Bah, Boom Bah Bah..
MMA Crossfire: I was going to save Marvin for later but I’m glad you mentioned him..
Michelle Wright: It just sits on the back-beat and it just lays there and I love that stuff. So that’s what I love about music and I actually have brought a lot of that into my country music, at a time when it wasn’t really being done. Take It Like a Man (Wright’s breakthrough single) kind of had that back-beat to it. That was sort of always in my music and still today of course. I can’t get away from it because it’s kind of part of …
MMA Crossfire: It’s who you are.
Michelle Wright: I was also raised on the greats of country music. Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Merle Haggard.. These guys were also a big part of what I grew up on.. I wish I could say a bunch more Canadians but I can’t (Laughs). I hate doing interviews where all you hear about is American artists. As a Canadian, I want to hear Canadians talk about Canadian artists too and sometimes it kind of breaks my heart a little bit cause I can’t. In that era, I couldn’t really give a bunch of Canadian artists that inspired me because there wasn’t a lot being heard in that format of country music at the time.
MMA Crossfire: We had watch the The Tommy Hunter Show on CBC to get any.
Michelle Wright: Exactly.
MMA Crossfire: They announced the Canadian Walk of Fame inductees recently and I know you’ve been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. What goes through your mind when you got the induction call? How long did it take for it to sink in?
Michelle Wright: My first thought was, Aren’t I a little bit young? Does this mean you’re throwing me away after you give me this award? I mean, when you’re inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, it s a mix of because you say you’re Hall-of-Famer and everybody thinks you’re 85 or something. And so my first reaction was literally was, Oh! I didn’t necessarily expect the phone call. And then was my next thought was Whoo Hoo! Because it’s amazing. I just had no idea … What’s so amazing about it at my age is that I just finished a tour celebrating my induction and I did all kinds of songs by Hall-of-Fame artists. I would do my song and then do Joni Mitchell, my song and then Bryan Adams, or Bonnie Raitt, or the songs of Hall-of-Fame artists who’ve influenced me. I’m still jumping off the drum risers and kind of rocking the house and so it’s kind of fun to be my age and be a Hall-of-Famer. It’s really cool.
MMA Crossfire: Correct me here. Have you won a Juno?
Michelle Wright: I have won a couple of times, female vocalist of the year, yes. (1993 and 1995).
MMA Crossfire: And were you been nominated for a Grammy?
Michelle Wright: Never been nominated for a Grammy now, but I won the Academy of Country music award in California for new artist. I was sort of the first Canadian to do that. I have an Academy of Country Music Award, which is pretty cool.
MMA Crossfire: So let me ask you this then. What changed in your life when you won the Juno or what would change if you won a Grammy?
Michelle Wright: Well you know, there’s something that happens when you are the person winning the award. When you’re on the top, when you’re the current artist, it’s great. It’s kind of like the world is your oyster. That’s the hope, because this is such an expensive business, making records and videos, and touring and all the people that are on the payroll, and the buses… It’s such a massive undertaking when you’re trying to make it all work and get out there and sell records and tickets and make a living doing what you want to do. So when you are the person winning the award, it really helps that. It helps make people aware that you exist, and there’s no doubt in that during those times in my career, the fact that my peers in this industry awarded me the way they did really helped me a lot to get out there and be able to do what I had to do to keep the machine working.It’s still necessary today in many ways. Nothing has really changed in that way except for no doubt that I’m a bit more of a household name in Canada today.
MMA Crossfire: Going back to the album, what is the global strategy?
Michelle Wright: I must say that the fun thing about today’s music is that artists have a way of getting their music out there through social media that just didn’t exist before. That is our global strategy really, social media. I mean the record’s out in Australia, the record’s out in Japan, it’s going to be released in America, but this is all through iTunes. As they say, brick and mortar record stores almost don’t exist anymore. Walmart, I think Target, they’re going to carry the record and HMV…these stores of course do exist but one of the ways to expose your music round the world now is of course is iTunes and it’s fantastic.
MMA Crossfire: Right.
Michelle Wright: Now I’m not about to suggest that… I’m not breaking any records here in my sales through iTunes or social media but this is really the first time that I have released an album of all new material in this day and age of the record business, so it will be an interesting gathering of information for me. So we’re hopeful. I’ve got 70,000 Facebook friends that I stay really connected to. A big email list through my fan club and then I’ve got my Twitter so it will be really interesting to see. I really don’t even have an opinion how this record’s going to do. I have no idea. I know that selling records today is a big challenge so we’ll see how it goes.
MMA Crossfire: The 10th anniversary of the SARSstock concert is coming up. Should they do another one just for the hell of it?
Michelle Wright: Just for the hell of it would be awesome! The Rolling Stones are amazing. I just can’t believe these guys and how they still sell tickets. It’s just unbelievable to me. These guys are just such … People just want to go and see The Rolling Stones and I’m a huge fan as well. I remember the Some Girls (1978) album . That was when I was like 16 and that was my album that I just couldn’t listen to enough. So yeah sure, as long as they invite me I’ll go. That would be nice.
MMA Crossfire: I’m sure they would …
Michelle Wright: I get to go on just before The Rolling Stones and I get to sing with Mick Jagger. If they want to do that, I’ll go.
MMA Crossfire: Well, they let Justin Timberlake sing with them so I’m sure that would be no problem.
Michelle Wright: You know, come on.
MMA Crossfire: (Laughs). How about a collaboration with Maestro or some of the top Canadian hip-hop and R&B acts?
Michelle Wright: It’s a very interesting combination that’s going on with artist and country artists. I love that idea. I think it’s fabulous and would totally love to do it. But I’m not about to suggest that I listen to hip-hop or that I’m into hip-hop culture… I would love to though but i think it brings us together when that kind of stuff happens doesn’t it?
MMA Crossfire: I think it does. It breaks barriers.
Michelle Wright: I think so to. I love it when I see it happen. I’ve got the soul, I’ve got the groove and I’ve got the beat and I could get it done if I needed to. No one’s asked yet, but I think I could.
MMA Crossfire: (Laughs). Well, we’ll have to talk to some of those guys and see what can be done.
Michelle Wright: All right.
MMA Crossfire: One thing that we share in common is that you appeared on Due South.
Michelle Wright: Oh yes! Tell me about your connection with that.
MMA Crossfire: I appeared on a couple of episodes of Due South (as an extra) in Season 2, but you appeared on Season 4 as a country music singer that Fraser protected from a stalker.
Michelle Wright: Yes dear. First of all, that’s so cool so I ‘m assuming then that acting is a passion or desire of yours that you are pursuing or pursued?
MMA Crossfire: Yes, it’s something I did dabble with back in the day so it was very interesting… because when I heard the song, I didn’t realize it was your song at the time. When I realized it was your song, it brought back a lot of memories for me. It was very cool to see you were on the show and actually performed your song…
Michelle Wright: Nobody’s Girl.
MMA Crossfire: Nobody’s Girl, exactly.
Michelle Wright: I was going to be silly and say I played a completely contrasting character to who I am: A country music singer who was being stalked. It’s funny, but made it easier for me that’s for sure, that I could play that character.. I enjoyed, I loved it, I actually thought I didn’t even do half-bad. Matter of fact it was airing recently and I was up in Canada and I sat and watched it a little bit and I wasn’t even completely horrified. I don’t like to look ay myself; it’s a very uncomfortable thing as you may understand, so I was pleasantly surprised that I actually didn’t mind it.
And I also found that … Who was the main guy, the main character?
MMA Crossfire: Paul Gross, who played the Mountie Benton Fraser.
Michelle Wright: He was such an awesome guy. You learn by being in experiences like that. They say it starts at the top kind of thing. I don’t know if I was seeing a different side or what but it just felt that the whole group of people were really cool and I had a great time.
MMA Crossfire: Yes, he really is. So you’re open to making similar appearances on other shows.
Michelle Wright: I would, yes. I sort of learned to stick to what I’m good at, and what I believe I’m meant to do. Acting and those sort of things are that so different from what I do – kind of. I think it’s a real skill to act. I don’t say that I’m an actress necessarily..
MMA Crossfire: You’re an entertainer, a performer.
Michelle Wright: And you know we can kind of get to those places we need to get to translate emotion or feelings. So I would love to do anything like that again, just to have the experience or challenge myself in that way.
MMA Crossfire: One last thing because this MMA Crossfire, so we do talk a lot about mixed martial arts and combat sports. I was curious if you or anyone in the gang is a MMA or boxing fan?
Michelle Wright: Well you might find this interesting. My cousin is “Golden Boy” Donny Lalonde.
MMA Crossfire: No way …
Michelle Wright: Yes he is.. Yes he is..
MMA Crossfire: (Laughs). He had a good run I remember.
Michelle Wright: That would be my closest kind of… of course when he was boxing I would always watch it. Of course, you watch the heavyweights… my husband and I would tune in but does it seem like boxing … is there a Muhammad Ali right now or are we missing out on something? It seems like it’s maybe it’s quieted down, the whole boxing thing.
MMA Crossfire: The popularity is not as big as it once was, but there are quite a few talented guys that I would say we are missing out on. One such guy is Floyd Mayweather who is at the welterweight division, but in terms of the heavyweights that is the problem. There is no one at the heavyweight level that is dominating like Ali and Mike Tyson did.
Michelle Wright: Well, I try to be really truthful and straightforward and as a girl (Laughs), quite frankly I cover my eyes when I see you guys in there kicking each others asses. I’m like, what? What are they doing? So, I’m not about to suggest that’s something I spend much time doing because I hurt. I start to hurt and want to cry when I see you guys doing that to each other …
MMA Crossfire: Does any of the gang watch it?
Michelle Wright: No. I don’t think so. Actually, I’ve never even asked.. It’s a funny thing you will find that with band members when they’re on a tour bus with a female .. I could call up my guys right now and ask hey do you watch this stuff and they’ll say sure, all the time. Not on the tour bus maybe, but… not that I’m aware of.
MMA Crossfire: That’s cool. You know, Marvin Gaye loved boxing …
Michelle Wright: Right. Yes, yes..
MMA Crossfire: I would say that everyone knows by now that you’re a fighter just like the fighters in the ring. Because to be successful in the business, you have to have a lot of guts, you have to take a lot of shots..
Michelle Wright: You do honey. As you can imagine, I have a new record out there and a new video out there and I’m still dodging the shots. You have to be pretty tough and tough-skinned to deal with it and I always don’t always find that easy. You have to be strong and you just got to keep fighting till the last man is standing, so to speak (Laughs.)
MMA Crossfire: That’s the spirit. Well, we appreciate your time today Michelle.
Michelle Wright: I enjoyed talking with you as well. Kenai. Kenai, right?
MMA Crossfire: Right. So you’ve never encountered that name before?
Michelle Wright: Never. Kenai. Nope. Never. Not that I can think of.
MMA Crossfire: I ask only because no one I’ve had a conversation with has encountered it either. I’m looking for the first one.
Michelle Wright: I’m gonna say, I’ve signed a lot of names and yours is totally unique. Very cool.
MMA Crossfire: Thanks Michelle, and thanks again for this.
Michelle Wright: Take care, Kenai.
Michelle Wright’s new album Strong is available on iTunes.