“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.
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’.