“I’ve come out the other side”

She was one of the big­gest mu­sic stars of the ’90s and now, as Sha­nia Twain re­leases her first al­bum in 15 years, she opens up about her tur­bu­lent pri­vate life and how song­writ­ing has helped her heal.

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by TIF­FANY BAKKER

It’s a warm evening in New York City – and Sha­nia Twain isn’t get­ting the chance to make the most of it. The Cana­dian-born singing su­per­star, who dom­i­nated ra­dio air­waves in the ’90s with her ir­re­sistible hit sin­gles that blended clas­sic coun­try mu­sic and chart-grab­bing pop, is in­stead hun­kered down in­side Elec­tric Lady Stu­dios, one of the city’s most storied record­ing spa­ces.

It feels apt that such an iconic stu­dio – founded by Jimi Hen­drix in 1970, it’s seen the likes of the Rolling Stones, Blondie, David Bowie, Patti Smith and Prince walk through its doors – should play host to one of the most suc­cess­ful fe­male coun­try mu­sic stars of all time. Twain was a onewoman jug­ger­naut in her hey­day, mov­ing more than 85 mil­lion records thanks to hits like ‘From This Mo­ment On’, ‘You’re Still The One’, ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’ and ‘That Don’t Im­press Me Much’.

But that was a life­time ago – just as Twain was em­bark­ing on her chart dom­i­na­tion, Tay­lor Swift was en­ter­ing Year 1. It’s been 15 years since Twain last re­leased a new stu­dio al­bum, so she’s un­der­stand­ably un­set­tled as she walks to the front of the room to in­tro­duce songs from her lat­est al­bum, Now, to a pack

of excitable record la­bel em­ploy­ees and a sprin­kling of me­dia. The 52-year-old clears her throat. “I’m ac­tu­ally re­ally ner­vous,” she laughs. “I hope you re­mem­ber my voice.”

Who could for­get it? Judg­ing by the eu­phoric re­sponse from the room, not many. A few weeks later, Twain is home in Switzer­land, where she has lived for the bet­ter part of the past two decades. Asked about that loved-up re­ac­tion dur­ing the lis­ten­ing ses­sion, Twain ad­mits she is still star­tled by all the good­will. “It re­ally is great,” she tells Stel­lar, “and it’s un­ex­pected. I’m feel­ing missed and I’m feel­ing wel­come. It’s won­der­ful – and I’m en­joy­ing every minute of it.”

New mu­sic from Twain has been a long time com­ing, and for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, most of which played out publicly in the press over the past 10 years. She went through a messy di­vorce from hus­band and long­time mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tor Robert “Mutt” Lange (with whom she has a 16-year-old son, Eja). She also en­dured a de­bil­i­tat­ing vo­cal cord in­jury brought on by Lyme dis­ease, which left her barely able to talk – singing, she was ini­tially told, would most likely not be pos­si­ble again.

“I feel like I’m at the other side of the tran­si­tion, but then again, I feel like I’ve been in a tran­si­tion for a long time,” Twain says, with an­other laugh. “So I kind of feel like I’ve seen the light at the end of the tun­nel and now I’m in the light.”

Twain and Lange di­vorced in 2010, though their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships came to an abrupt end in 2008 when the singer found out her hus­band had be­ing hav­ing an af­fair with her best friend, Marie-anne Thiébaud. Things got even stranger when Twain an­nounced, in late 2010, that she was en­gaged to Thiébaud’s ex-hus­band, Frédéric. Twain ad­mits to feel­ing “scared” about record­ing new mu­sic with­out Lange, who col­lab­o­rated on all of her post-1993 cat­a­logue, in­clud­ing her 1997 smash Come On Over, which re­mains the best­selling coun­try al­bum of all time.

“Any writ­ing for me is very iso­lat­ing, but I would be writ­ing, and I’d al­ways think to my­self, ‘Oh, I won­der what Mutt’s go­ing to think of this,’” she says. “You know, this was the per­son I had col­lab­o­rated with for 15 years and sud­denly he wasn’t there any­more.

“For the long­est time I just wasn’t ready,” she con­tin­ues. “I didn’t have the songs and I was milling around won­der­ing where to even be­gin: ‘What type of songs do I write and what do I say, what don’t I say?’ The self-doubt creeps in. But now it’s like I’ve em­braced where I’ve been, which has been tough, and I’ve come out the other side of it. It’s been a bit of an emo­tional vent­ing process.” SHA­NIA TWAIN WROTE her first song when she was eight, and tells Stel­lar that art has al­ways helped her deal with per­sonal pain. Her fam­ily strug­gled fi­nan­cially, which meant she had to sing in late-night bars – also from the time she was eight – to earn money for her par­ents. Then she lost her mum and step­dad in a car ac­ci­dent, which left her, at 22, the sole guardian to her three younger sib­lings.

“I’m lucky to have song­writ­ing be­cause it’s my ther­a­pist,” Twain says. “It doesn’t judge me, it doesn’t talk back… but it forces me to re­flect, and it’s al­ways very true and very hon­est.

“Some­times I say it’s sim­i­lar to talk­ing to your dog: they don’t ar­gue or judge you. What’s so great about song­writ­ing is the truth comes out. You feel sorry for your­self; there are all these un­com­fort­able ranges of emo­tion – you can be happy and sad in the same five min­utes. So why not lay that all out there?”

The al­bum’s first sin­gle, which was re­leased in June, is ‘Life’s About To Get Good’. Jaunty as it is, it also be­lies a darker un­der­belly. Twain says that di­chotomy can be found through­out the whole project: “The ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing from dark to light, from pain to hap­pi­ness… I’ve worked through so many things just by writ­ing this al­bum.”

While mak­ing Now she was also forced to work with her “new voice”, given her vo­cal cords were se­verely dam­aged by the Lyme dis­ease she con­tracted years ago, af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a tick. She now ad­mits that, “I’m a dif­fer­ent singer now – I’m an in­jured singer, and I just have to do the work.”

“For the long­est time I just wasn’t ready… the self­doubt creeps in”

This means reg­u­lar – and dif­fi­cult – vo­cal phys­io­ther­apy ses­sions. It also means that she’ll never be able to sing at the drop of a hat again, with­out a lengthy warm-up, or, as she quips, “No more friends’ wed­dings.”

Was Twain ever wor­ried she wouldn’t sing again at all? “I mean, the mys­tery was worse,” she main­tains, ref­er­enc­ing the pe­riod be­fore her di­ag­no­sis. “It’s like know­ing you’re not well – but you don’t know what’s wrong with you.

“It took me a long time to de­ter­mine what was even wrong. Ini­tially I had just set­tled for the fact that it must be stress – I felt like my voice was clos­ing and I didn’t have con­trol over it. But over that long pe­riod of time, and feel­ing like there was no an­swer, I did feel like, ‘Well, if there’s no ex­pla­na­tion, how can I fix it?’

“So now I’m happy I know, and I know what I can do to man­age it. I’ll never be able to fix it, but I can man­age it.”

Twain says her hia­tus from mu­sic pro­vided an un­ex­pected bonus: al­low­ing her to “re­flect” on the suc­cess she achieved in the ’90s and early 2000s. “In ret­ro­spect,” she says, “I’m amazed by it and feel very, very lucky and for­tu­nate. But in the mo­ment, I was just an over­worked, hard-work­ing artist and I wasn’t re­ally liv­ing the plea­sure of the suc­cess in the mo­ment. Now I’m ac­tu­ally liv­ing it, af­ter all of this time.”

She refers to the over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse to her re­turn as an ex­am­ple. “I’m among peo­ple again – fans and in­dus­try – who I’ve been away from om for so long, and they’re so ap­pre­cia­tive that I have new mu­sic. They are so ex­pres­sive about miss­ing my mu­sic and look­ing for­ward to hear­ing my mu­sic. So this re­sponse is like, ‘Wow’. I didn’t re­alise the im­pact I’d had. I re­alise it now.”

Twain is thrilled when she con­sid­ers the slew of artists who have cov­ered her songs: Kelly Clark­son, Car­rie Un­der­wood and Luke Bryan have all per­formed her tunes; even Mi­randa Kerr trilled ‘You’re Still The One’ at her wed­ding to Evan Spiegel in May. More re­cently, US pop rock band HAIM stripped back ‘That Don’t Im­press Me Much’ for Triple J. “How cool was that?!” Twain ex­claims. “It was a huge com­pli­ment. I’d love to hear my whole al­bum done like that. It re­ally made me… proud is not the right word, as I don’t want to take credit for what they did to the song. They just com­ple­mented the song. I was like, ‘Yes! This is a re­ally good song!’”

Twain is bullish about the cur­rent state of mu­sic, sug­gest­ing the in­dus­try is “more di­verse now than we were even 10 years ago”. She’s a fan of Ari­ana Grande (“her voice is in­cred­i­ble”) and Ed Sheeran (“the singer-song­writer of our time”), while 16-year-old son Eja has turned her on to Shawn Men­des and Twenty One Pilots. But hold up: does Eja re­alise his mum is, er, Sha­nia Twain? Twain lets out a long laugh. “Um, he does now, but he didn’t be­fore!” The singer, a self-con­fessed homebody, says she didn’t raise Eja (pro­nounced Asia) as a “back­stage kid”; she was not tour­ing or work­ing dur­ing his younger years. “I was very much there mak­ing ba­nana bread and pan­cakes, and hav­ing sit-down fam­ily din­ners,” she adds. “I “I’m a nur­tur­ing per­son. I love to be with the kids and their friend friends and the dog and just live a very n nor­mal, down-to-earth life.” Ej Eja only started to re­alise his moth mother’s far-reach­ing fame when she be­gan a Las Ve­gas res­i­dency in 2 2012. “That’s when I think he re­al­lyr grasped it, and could abs ab­sorb it. By now, a few years late later, he’s ma­ture enough to be able to get it.” Twain has not made a dec de­ci­sion on how ex­ten­sively she will tour the new al­bum – tha that will de­pend on the health of he her voice. For now, she’s lined up dates in the United States and Canada from May to Au­gust next year. She also says she has an­other batch of songs per­co­lat­ing – so the next al­bum should take less than 15 years to ar­rive. And she’d like to get back to Aus­tralia, given her trip here in 1999 dur­ing the Come On Over world tour sticks in her mem­ory for more rea­sons than one. “I had a fan­tas­tic time in Aus­tralia,” she re­calls. “I mean, the tour­ing part was ex­cit­ing be­cause the fans are crazy in Aus­tralia, by which I mean crazy good.” The nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment agreed with her, too. “I went horse­back rid­ing,” she re­mem­bers. “And it was awe­some. That’s what I took back with me: ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the na­ture of Aus­tralia. It was won­der­ful. It was very spe­cial to me.”

As for the sis­ter who joined her on the tour? Twain laughs. “My sis­ter is pet­ri­fied of cock­roaches. She’d never seen cock­roaches that big in her en­tire life. The cock­roaches are crazy in Aus­tralia! She didn’t get a lot of sleep on that tour.” Now is re­leased on Fri­day.

“I’ve seen the light at the end of the tun­nel – now I’m in the light”

STILL (clock­wiseAfter tur­bu­len­tSha­nia an THE Twain emo­tion­al­ly­decade,from ONE found left) writin­gal­bum a her cathar­tic­new ex­pe­ri­ence; with fel­low Cana­dian singer Michael Bublé (right), hus­band Frédéric and son Eja in 2013; on­stage at Cae­sars Palace dur­ing her 2012 Las Ve­gas res­i­dency.

NOW AND THEN (clock­wise from top) The iconic video for Twain’s 1999 sin­gle ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’; the singer is “en­joy­ing every minute” of mak­ing mu­sic again; with Car­rie Un­der­wood (cen­tre) and Faith Hill (right) in 2013; 1998’s ‘That Don’t Im­press Me Much’.

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