“I’ve been famous since I was eighteen years old.”
Wynonna is a member of music’s exclusive ‘one name only’ club. Madonna. Sting. Bono. She has a surname of course - it’s Judd, the same as her mother Naomi. They formed the duo The Judds over a quarter-century ago, when Wynonna was a teenager. She had to learn to be famous at an age where most people can barely cook themselves dinner.
When I speak to the award-winner from her home, where she also recorded her new album, she’s exactly the mix of passion, regal charm, self-assurance and self-deprecation I expected. I thank for her for time and she has the perfect comeback.
“Well I’m the one who should be thanking you, actually. Because I’m on a farm, and nobody here knows how famous and fabulous I am and I just need your attention. So there.”
She’s clearly joking, but I’m curious about her attitude towards fame at this point in her career. The new record ‘Wynonna and the Big Noise’ doesn’t sound like it was made to sit alongside Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan songs on country radio. It’s a rootsy groove-driven collection of Americana-leaning bangers and ballads, built around Wynonna’s freight train soul powerhouse of a voice.
Is not worrying about mainstream success and fame one of the luxuries she’s earned?
“I don’t care about the recognition as much as I love the connection with fans. I’ve been doing it so long that I don’t really care about all that fluff. I’m serious.
I’ve been famous since I was eighteen years old. I know what it feels like to win a Grammy.
But you know what? Fame is a funny thing. It takes you away from the people that you love and yet, you have a purpose. It’s a very interesting dynamic. And for me now, Jeremy, I have a band. I have a band. I have a purpose.”
It’s no small thing that the album is credited (and titled) ‘Wynonna and the Big Noise’ and that all the band members are pictured on the record cover.
Wynonna spent years establishing and asserting her independence as a creative and musical force, following the 1991 breakup of the Judds. Today, she’s in the mood to embrace her collaborative side and bring a family of players who join her on the road into the studio. They’re her Heartbreakers, her E Street Band.
“I just spent some time with the lovely, the talented Bruce [Springsteen]. One of the things we talked about is just what you’re talking about. This is about our lives, this isn’t just about show business.
Yeah I can do The Voice here in America and I can talk to kids half my age and say ‘Here’s what you do to become a big sensation’, but that’s not what it’s about anymore to me.
I’ve done all that, and yes I was blessed. I also worked my butt off. I worked for a woman who was very strict and very tough and I survived it. Now I’m having a chance to have the time of my life, and I think this is it. This is my going out party, if you will. If something happens to me, god forbid, this is my last record, I’m so pleased.
It’s real, it’s raw. It’s stories about my life, my heart. I just happened to be married to the man who produced it”.
The Big Noise is anchored by Wynonna’s spouse, drummer/producer Cactus Moser. They met on tour in the 80s, and a spark was ignited that didn’t turn to fire until years later. In 2012, they married, and months later a motorcycle accident cost Cactus half his left leg and sent him into intensive physical therapy. Now with the aid of prosthetics, he’s playing more passionately than ever, and their double act is back on the road.
“We’re a partnership, just a force to be reckoned with. On stage we’re like Ricky and Lucy, Bonnie and Clyde. We’re having the time of our lives. We want to go everywhere we can go and get away with as much as possible. The band gives me that opportunity to do so.
I’m on the best high of my life and that is life. I’m willing to get on a plane and fly over to Australia and do one show, because I love it that much.”
Of course, Wynonna did get on that plane and head down under back in 2012. Her set at CMC Rocks the Hunter unleashed her power and energy on a somewhat unsuspecting crowd. A friend of mine turned to me after her set, jaw agape and asked “Is she doing more shows? I’d follow that woman around the country”.
“I came over to Australia, did one show, it’s like a rollercoaster,” Wynonna recalls. “You’re terrified, you’re exhilarated and you want to go again. The idea came over me as I was singing, that there’s someone in the audience who has no idea of anything about me, other than what they’ve heard or read. What if there’s someone out there in the audience who has never seen me live before, and says ‘I really connect with her’?
Whether you’re on a date or you’re trying to speak to someone from another country, you want to connect with them. You want to be understood.
It gives them inspiration and makes them go about their dreams in a new way, because they’ve seen me and are like, if she can do it, I can do it too.
I love that, because country music is real words for real people in the real world. I wanted to make a record that speaks to people no matter what bracket they’re in financially. I don’t care what their history is. They are not their circumstances. How do I tell people this? That’s what I do.
I go in and I make a record that makes a difference in somebody’s day because they listened to the words and they believe them. Because I believe them, so what the heck. Maybe somebody else will.”