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Get to Know Gretchen Wilson

Gretchen Wilson, 30, recently invited CMT.com aboard her tour bus to talk about the washing machine scene in her video, the consortium of songwriters and musicians known as the Muzik Mafia - and being recognized as the "Redneck Woman."

CMT: Where did you film the video for "Redneck Woman"?
Gretchen: One of the members of the Muzik Mafia - Pino, the Italian immigrant bongo player - has a club close to Music Row, and he let us use his building for the first day. And the second day of shooting we did at Fontanel in Whites Creek, which is Barbara Mandrell's old home.

CMT: Was it cleaned out? All traces of Barbara are gone?
Gretchen: Oh yeah, yeah. We actually didn't use the house at all in the video. We just used the property out in front for the four-wheeling and stuff like that.

CMT: What do you remember the most about making that video?
Gretchen: I'd have to say it would be the trailer scene with Bobby [Kid Rock] and Hank [Williams Jr.]. That was really the first time I got to hang with Hank for a little while and talk to him. He's a riot; he's a lot of fun.

CMT: Were you thinking, I'm grabbing this cigar out of Hank Jr.'s hand! Did that freak you out a little bit?
Gretchen: Yeah. Every time he did the jump thing, I almost jumped too. I had to keep myself from jumping because he really looked like he was sleeping there with that cigar lit.

CMT: Was it your idea to take off the shirt and throw it into the laundry? Where did that come from?
Gretchen: I just thought that after a long day of muddin' and hanging out with the boys and stuff that it would be cool. Actually that scene is supposed to be about the washing machine. I know it's not, but ...(laughs). I've been told, "Yeah, right!" When the director and I were all discussing all this in the beginning, I'd written it in because it's just something that I've done in the past, and I always thought it was pretty funny. I don't know if every woman in the world does this, but I do, and I've got to think that some other women do. But when you're at the end of a long day, and you're running around, gathering up the kids' clothes and the old man's clothes, getting everything together - you get to the washing machine, and you're throwing it all in, you realize, "I'm about to jump into the shower, so I may as well wash this stuff, too." That's the way it was supposed to come out, you know. (laughs)

CMT: How often are you recognized on the street now?
Gretchen: Not too bad. It's really not too bad. I don't mind it actually. I still go to Wal-Mart kinda looking pretty shabby (laughs) ...so I'm really hoping that I don't run into any fans there. I guess once the record's on the shelf there, I might have to be a little more careful. (laughs) Be standing over there looking at my own record and somebody going, "Wait a minute." I know I've been told that I look a lot like her, but...

CMT: Do you have any girls yelling "Hell yeah!" at you?
Gretchen: No, I have a lot of women just saying, "Hey, are you the Redneck Woman?" At the airport the other day, there was a young girl when I was flying out to New York, and she was with her family, her dad, and I guess a whole group of them were musical. They had come to town for some kind of band thing, probably a school band thing or something. But she looked at me from across the room and said, "You look like that Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson." And I just kind of smiled and went, "Yeah," and I didn't say anything else, and she sat like three seats away from me on the flight, and she kept kind of staring at me a little bit here and there, and she was really polite and didn't say much. But when we were leaving the plane, her mother walked up to me and she said, "My daughter's just too shy to say anything to you, but are you that girl? Are you the Gretchen Wilson that she thinks you are?" And I said, "Yeah," and she started screaming, and her mother [said], "I told you it was her! Come over here and talk to her." It was pretty cute actually. She was really cute.

CMT: Listening to "Redneck Woman," I have to ask...What's your favorite Charlie Daniels song?
Gretchen: Everybody would probably say "Devil Went Down to Georgia," but I think my favorite is probably "In America."

CMT: How about Tanya Tucker?
Gretchen: Gotta be "Delta Dawn," it has to be.

CMT: How about Bocephus?
Gretchen: Oh man, (sings) "I get whiskey bent and hell bound."

CMT: After listening to your song "Homewrecker," I'm also curious about your favorite Loretta Lynn song?
Gretchen: My favorite Loretta Lynn song is "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man."

CMT: Have you been a fan of her music for a long time?
Gretchen: My first live performances that I ever did, I had eight songs - background music tapes that I was singing along to. And I had eight songs - and four of them were Patsy Cline, and four of them were Loretta Lynn. And I'd book three-hour gigs and sing the same eight songs over and over again. (laughs)

CMT: At least until you get a few more hits, I have a feeling you'll be known as "The Redneck Woman," like you were talking about. Are you OK with that, or are you worried that maybe they're going to miss the rest of the stuff on your record?
Gretchen: No, I'm not worried. I think we put a great record together, and I like the record. I was hoping to put a record together that was something that I would want to go buy. And I think there's a lot of stories on that record and a lot of different attitudes on that record, and it's definitely all me. But no, I don't think they're going to miss anything. I think it's all right there.

CMT: One song I really liked a lot was "Chariot," although I must say I was stunned a little bit by the rap in the middle of it because I wasn't expecting it. Did you have to practice that one a lot, or did that just come naturally once you got into that point of the song?
Gretchen: No, it just kind of came out. I listen to all different kinds of music, and for me it's just a different way of singing. It's more of an attitude, talking-in-time thing for me. I wouldn't consider myself to be a rapper. I have to be honest: I was a little bit hesitant about doing it. I mean, I think I made the comment that, "Oh, I'm going to be known as the redneck rapping woman." But actually I like the way it came out, the way they put some little effects and stuff on the vocal and the way they moved it back and forth from the left to the right. It's really kind of neat.

CMT: [We] has a lot of viewers who enjoy Kenny Chesney as much as they enjoy Kid Rock. Why do you think that rap and country audiences are starting to complement each other so much?
Gretchen: I don't think that it's just really rap. I think it's that people are starting to learn from each other. I think that by combining different styles of music, everybody gets a chance to learn from each other and gets to interpret different things into their musical style, and it makes them grow in their own genre.

CMT: At the Muzik Mafia, you get the chance to sing some edgier country music. Do your audiences there accept everything that you play, no matter the style?
Gretchen: Absolutely. Good music is good music. I grew up listening to Tanya and Hank and Merle and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, I was listening to Skynyrd and AC/DC. ... Today, if you were to look at my CD collection, it might scare some people. (laughs) It just depends on what mood you're in. I think music can heal your soul if you'll let it. It can also bring you up if you're down. It can also bring you down if you're too up. It's a mood thing. I think everybody should like all different kinds of music. I don't think anybody should be stuck to just one thing. It should be what you like, not what it's classified as.

CMT: So what has been the biggest benefit of playing with the Muzik Mafia?
Gretchen: Oh, just exactly that - just being able to watch their artistry and every different person and learning. I learn something new about myself every time I deal with Muzik Mafia.

CMT: Such as what?
Gretchen: Just different things that I didn't know I liked before. A chord change in one of John Nicholson's songs can send me into a place where I might have been thinking about a song that I'm going to write in a couple of months - some idea that's been floating around in my head. And something that I hear him do might make me think, "Ooh, that'd be a great place to go in this one part of my song." Something that typical country music wouldn't have allowed for, but I can hear it there, and I can find a way to make that work in my head and make my song a little bit spunkier.

CMT: Is it hard to find a balance between what you have in your head and what Nashville expects you to be?
Gretchen: No. I mean, I think I was born to be a country singer. I think that regardless of what the tracks do or regardless of ... where the music goes, it's always going to be country when it's all said and done. I mean even "Chariot" says "redneck" in it. I mean, come on! (laughs)

CMT: What do you remember the most about growing up in Pocahontas, Illinois?
Gretchen: Not much of anything. Riding bikes and hanging out with friends. There's really not a lot to do in Pocahontas, except watch the cars go by and do the old finger wave and the head nod and try to keep out of trouble. We'd ride motorcycles and three-wheelers and find a rock pile to climb up and sit up there and sing, and just try to stay out of trouble mostly. Most people that live there either work on a farm or get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and drive an hour and a-half into the city to work in a factory. There's really not a lot going on outside of just your family things and getting together with your friends.

CMT: Do people say, "You're from Illinois. You can't be a redneck!"
Gretchen: That's when I tell them, "You can come home with me sometime! (laughs) Look around."

CMT: What were the circumstances that led you to start working as a bartender when you were 15?
Gretchen: Well, one thing is we needed money, and I started singing. My mom was always with me at all these things. We worked for [the bar] Big O. My mom was already working for Big O, so I initially came in and started singing my little karaoke thing and then graduated into picking up the plates after the lunch crowd came in and helping my mom in the back with the dishes. And then pretty soon before you knew it, I was covering for her an hour here, an hour there. It was one of those things that everybody knows everybody around there. It might sound ridiculous to some people to think that a kid would be in there handling something like that. You know, if I was behind the bar, I knew every single person sitting at that bar, and I knew their moms, and I knew their wives, and if they caused me any trouble, I'd get them in trouble. (laughs) So it was one of those things. I don't feel like I was ever in any danger.

CMT: When you moved to Nashville, did you enjoy the anonymity of it, or did you kind of miss the familiarity?
Gretchen: No, I like it. I can't wait to move further out into the country. I like my privacy. I guess it's probably because of growing up with everybody knowing your business. There's something about having some privacy that's really appealing.

CMT: What does your mom think of all this now?
Gretchen: Oh, my mom doesn't know what to think. Every time I look at her, she's getting all red in the face, and she starts sweating. She says, "I just don't know, maybe I need some kind of medication because I'm so nervous about this and nervous about that." I say, "Mom, I'm the one that has to sing and do this."

CMT: Does she still live in Pocahontas, or did she move down here with you?
Gretchen: She's moved down here and is living with us. [My boyfriend and I] have a 3-year-old daughter, and my mom has decided to move down here and help us and be a mainstay in my daughter's life.

CMT: Is there any difference between a small-town barfly and a big-town barfly?
Gretchen: No, just one's wearing a suit, and one's wearing overalls. Not between the barflies. There's a big difference in working behind a bar in a city like this as opposed to there. I think the most difficult drink I ever made up there was a Jack and Coke. I moved down here, and they're asking for Mai Tais and one of those drinks was called an Eight-Liquor Ass-Kicker. I had to have a Rolodex with drinks on them, just trying to figure out everything was. I walked in and applied for the job acting like I'd bartended. "I've been bartending all my life." I had to have the job. So I was telling them all kinds of lies like, "Well, I can handle this. There's nothing to it. I've been bartending since I was 15 years old." I had to struggle for the first few nights. I think I made a lot of wrong drinks for the first few nights and took my Rolodex home and studied.

CMT: As a bartender, you probably see a lot of people develop drinking problems. How have you personally avoided that situation, being in the bar for a lot of your life?
Gretchen: I think that growing up early like I did and being around in the bars and stuff, I was a firsthand witness to a lot of things. You can learn from other people's mistakes, and you can be a silent eyewitness to a lot of catastrophes and things that go wrong and watch alcohol be the reason behind 90% of it. And secondly, any wildness that I did have certainly came to an end when I had my little girl. I mean, it gives you an entirely different outlook on life. Going out and having a couple of drinks is always fun, but hangovers and 3-year-olds aren't. (laughs)

CMT: What' s your ultimate goal in your career?
Gretchen: I can't sit here and tell you, "My goal is to make lots of money and retire on a private yacht in the ocean," because what I want to do is just keep doing this as long as I can. I've been doing this my whole life and this is home. I mean, not this. (looking around her bus) This is new to me, but the whole performance thing and songwriting and studio stuff is home for me. That's what I love to do. So as long as time will allow me to do it, that's what I want to do.
 
CMT: How are you adjusting to life on the bus?
Gretchen: I haven't really had to do a real hard bus run yet, but it's coming soon. And as long as I've got digital pictures coming in of my little girl and cell phones and stuff, I think I'll be all right. I'm sure I'll be busy, probably too busy to worry about how I feel about it. (laughs)

CMT: Is there anything else you want readers to know about you?
Gretchen: I just want to make sure that they hear me say, "Thank you." I've been keeping up and reading some of the chat room stuff, and I've been itching to post something on there and they keep saying, "Oh no, no, just let them talk a little bit." But I'm e-mailing my manager in the middle of the night saying, "C'mon, c'mon. I'll make it anonymous. Let me put something." And [they go], "Oh no, no, just let it go. We'll figure out a time for that, and you can just say something, and we'll work it out."

CMT: So what do you want to say?
Gretchen: Oh, I just want to say thank you. I just want to say thanks for everybody who's ...(laughs) There are friends and family out there that are on there all the time, and I think they take things to heart too much. And they get on there and the''ll start yelling and screaming at somebody, "I don't know if you know what you're talking about, but where I come from you can hang a Kid Rock poster next to a ___." I'm sitting there reading all this stuff, and I don't want my family and friends to be upset by things that other people say, because, you know, everybody has an opinion, and I'm enjoying hearing them all, really.

CMT: One more question about the song "Redneck Woman." Do you have your Christmas lights up all year?
Gretchen: Last year I did. This last time I took them down, but we did leave the Christmas tree on the porch until last month when we did the spring lawn care and trimming of the bushes. Then we finally had a pile for the chipper service to come by and pick up, and we threw the Christmas tree in that pile. It still had the shiny tinsel around it. You know they left that in the yard. They yanked that off the tree and left it in the yard. (laughs)

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