Interview: Michelle Wright

(December 2008) I first met Michelle in the early 90’s just after the release of her self titled debut album. Back then, few knew who she was. Well times certainly have changed. Since those days she has released 7 more albums, including a Greatest Hits, written an autobiography “ A Year In The Life: The Journals of Michelle Wright”, recorded with country legend Patsy Cline, received countless music awards including 2 CCMA’s Fans’ Choice Entertainer Of The Year awards, sold close to 2 million albums, performed on every continent in the world, all the while maintaining a down to earth humanistic outlook and lending her talents to such causes as World Vision and many more. With the release of her latest CD “Everything and More”, Michelle is getting herself ready for a full on assault of the European market in 2009, but not until she makes a number of stops in Ontario this month to sing some favourites and spread some Christmas cheer. I spoke to her by phone from her home in Nashville…

Mb: Hi Michelle, how are things?
Michelle Wright: All is well! We’re all looking forward to getting this tour together. I’ve been getting some cool emails from my band mates saying “All right… we’re ready!” Mind you, we haven’t even started rehearsal yet, so we’ll see how they feel after some 10 hour rehearsals. (laughs)
Mb: Now, this isn’t the first Christmas tour…
Michelle Wright: This will be our 5th year. We have had some real fun with it. We just started out… we did 7 dates in Ontario our first year and then we’ve taken it across the country. Finally now we have it into regions which I’m very happy about because a few years ago we went from Newfoundland to Vancouver and that was quite a grind in that amount of time…. flying and busing and vans and ridiculous travel to try to get to all the gigs on time.
Mb: This time it looks like a lot of Ontario.
Michelle Wright: It is all Ontario, so I’m very happy. That was one of the goals that I requested. After doing the tour for a couple of years I said “Ok guys, if it’s at all possible let’s see if we can do this regionally every year.”
Mb: So, do you like Christmas?
Michelle Wright: Love it, love it… love it all. Love everything about it.
Mb: So you’re a real Christmas junkie…
Michelle Wright: Ya, I think I’m kind of a family home person, so I love all the things that go around those kinds of holidays. We’re also a faith based home as well so it’s kind of a special time for us in our home… you know?
Mb: So what’s your favourite Christmas song to sing?
Michelle Wright: That’s a little difficult to say. I love the arrangement we did on “Joy to the World” on this Christmas record. It’s very challenging for me, so I look forward to singing it every night. So that would be one I’d think of. And then my friend Patricia Conroy, who’s a great Canadian songwriter and just a lovely human being, wrote a Canadian original on the record which I love, a song called “I Know Santa’s Been Here” which is just cute and fun and it’s got a Texas swing vibe about it that I really like.
Mb: So this new record is your first record in 10 years.
Michelle Wright: It’s my first country record in 10 years. I did a Pop record with Wyndham Hill out of Los Angeles and in 2000 we released a Greatest Hits album that I worked, for a couple of years and toured and then I signed the deal with Wyndham Hill and wrote that wonderful record. That was one of the greatest times in my career. I wrote in Los Angeles and New York and Toronto and Nashville and traveled everywhere and wrote with these wonderful writers and really co-wrote most of that record. I worked that for a couple of years and then decided to do a country record again with a producer, a great producer, but he and I weren’t connecting musically. We spent about a year together working, and then realized “Hmmmm. We don’t seem to be on the same page.” So we decided to go our separate ways and I started working with the guys that ended up producing this record.
Mb: What possessed you to make a Pop record?
Michelle Wright: Well, I knew my record deal with Arista was coming to an end. I’m an artist, but I’m also someone who pays attention? (laughs) You can stick your head in the sand if you want or you can go “Hmm, I’m not selling as many records for this label as I used to. I wonder how they’re feeling.” (laughs) So when I saw that writing on the wall… I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I was like “Well? I wonder if there’s record deal for me.” I got a phone call… Jim Brickman, who was with Wyndham Hill, he and I put a single out called “Your Love” that was pretty big hit for us in Canada and also a top 15 AC hit in America, so with the success of that single, they offered me a record deal. I thought, “That’s nice! You don’t get those everyday, I think I’ll take it!” So they said “Go make the record you want to make”, which was also very cool. It really was a combination of Pop and AC and Country and R&B… I got some support here in Canada and some in America… it didn’t set the charts on fire but it was a great opportunity for me and sustained the career.
Mb: And an opportunity to reinvent yourself?
Michelle Wright: It was an interesting thing. It was really just an extension… my mother was country singer. She had one radio station and no TV and therefore her influences were so limited…but me…. and this generation, it’s unbelievable
what their influences are, and the skill that we’re seeing coming out of the new generations, cause they start so young being exposed to such a diverse number of artists. So the Pop record I did was one way of reinventing myself, but kind of an extension of what I’ve been doing. If you listen to that record and then my country record, it’s not like it’s that different. I guess I’m a contemporary cross over artist. It was a great opportunity and I’m glad I had a chance to do it.
Mb: Did you want to play drums on it?
Michelle Wright: I didn’t! But it’s funny you mention that because I’ve been thinking about getting behind the drums again… we’ll see. My husband just said “Thata girl!” (laughs) My husband’s brother plays in a band and they were just here and we had a fun weekend and he’s the drummer with that band… and he’s so good.
Mb: And you haven’t been practicing?
Michelle Wright: And I have NOT been practicing… not for years! But you know what? And I mean this in a “for one song kinda thing”, it’s not like it’s too foreign a thing cause I do get behind the kit once or twice at every rehearsal.
Mb: Until they tell you to stop?
MW: (laughs) Ya, cause I kinda only know one song. I think it’s Honky Tonk Woman. (laughs)
Mb: To change things up a bit, I want to talk with you about your trip to Afghanistan and the other trip to Zambia with World Vision. What made you do that?
Michelle Wright: Well, you know… people calling me and asking me if I’d like to? That’s where it starts and then choosing to do it and thankful that I have. As you can imagine, those kind of experiences not a lot of people get in their life time. I did it and they were amazing and both experiences altered my life and altered my point of view. It’s actually altered everybody in the organization. When we tour now I bring out a World Vision representative and we set them up in the lobby and tell people “You want? There it is! Sponsor a kid tonight” So every night we change at least one kid’s life, some times 10 or 20.
Mb: And do you sponsor?
Michelle Wright: Oh yes, we have two families actually. My husband has actually built both of the family’s homes. When I told him the story about the suffering for these families it really affected him, so he got on board. So that’s a fascinating thing to think you can use your life and your career to help people. It seems insurmountable, but for that family or that child who is getting fed today, they’re not thinking about much, other than “I feel good today because I’ve got some food in my stomach.” And then the Afghanistan situation was just really… you can’t imagine it until you just go. The most amazing thing that I walked away from that with was, I was so impressed with our Military, these guys and gals with their focus and their disciple. They’re a force to be reckoned with.
Mb: So what other aspirations does Michelle Wright have?
Michelle Wright: It’s always been the same. My desire to sing and play and be on the bus with the band…
Mb: No hobbies? You don’t want to sit home and do puzzles? Become the puzzle champion of the world?
Michelle Wright: Well, I love my home life. I’m a homebody and we have a very cozy place here…but one of things I’m excited about is, we’ve released in Europe again, which I haven’t done since about ’97 or so. We’ve got some dates booked, music being released and distributed and doing it up the right way. We’re going to try to book about 20 dates a year over there. My husband’s going to come and travel a bit with me, cause he’s never really done much of that… you know? Travel and play music that’s what I love to do and I’m looking forward to writing the next record.
Mb: How will the next record come? What are you thinking?
Michelle Wright: You know, maybe this isn’t such a new idea, but I’d like to combine country and Motown. That’s what I’m writing and trying to do, so we will see. I have one song I’ve written so far that has that vibe. What is that vibe? That’s the question. I’m curious to see… I hear the bass part and I hear the rhythm part and then I think…. I just don’t know yet.
Mb: Are you working on your James Brown spins?
Michelle Wright: (laughs) That’s funny. Actually the cape thing is what I need.
Mb: So what do you want to leave our readers with? Come to the show and…..
Michelle Wright: This Christmas show is really a special night out. I almost thought “This Christmas stuff isn’t hip enough”, but I love it. I’m surprised at how much I love it and I think it’s because we’ve created a musical journey throughout the evening from country to the Christmas record that has everything from Reggae to R&B to Pop to Texas Swing to.. I think it’s an interesting night of music. And it’s the vibe we create, as well. We have all the modern technology… video wall… flat screen video on the stage and all those kind of modern technologies as well as your basic Winter Wonderland with the decorations. I just want to tell everyone that it’s just a fun night out of music and Christmas. It’s great for families… we are a family friendly band. (laughs) You’re cheeks will be sore from smiling so much!