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INTERVIEW: Jo Dee Messina on her most personal album yet, ME

A native of the storied coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina, Julie Sprankles has been a lover of words her entire life. As a Southerner, she certainly has what her mama calls “the gift of gab.” When she’s not writing, Julie can be...

She's back and better than ever

Since bursting onto the country music scene in 1996 with the smash hit "Heads Carolina, Tails California," Jo Dee Messina has logged nine No. 1 songs and scored three No. 1 albums. Back with her first record in nearly a decade, the charming singer gives us the scoop on making ME and being a mommy.
Jo Dee MessinaPhoto credit: PFA

Here's something you should know about Jo Dee Messina: she has, quite possibly, the best laugh in the business. During our interview with the redheaded country crooner, we heard it often. It is one of the many things that endeared Messina to us during our chat: She isn't a woman afraid to giggle, or to laugh with gusto.

That seems to be a pretty apt metaphor for Messina as an artist, too. She isn't afraid to be silly or to speak her mind — as you might have guessed from chart-toppers like "Bye-Bye," "My Give a Damn's Busted" and most recently, "A Woman's Rant."

And while you might expect a woman who has churned out more than half a dozen No. 1 hits, sold more than five million albums and shared the stage with the likes of Tim McGraw to be a bit self-important, Messina isn't in the least. When we broach the positive response to her new album, ME, she genuinely marvels that "people are actually digging my tunes."

Her fifth studio album, ME was a true labor of love for Messina. After breaking with her longtime record label, Messina decided to launch her own, Dreambound Records. She then turned to the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter to source her next move. Her fans turned out in force, raising more than $100,000 and making her campaign one of the largest funded music campaigns in the site's history.

To pay tribute to her loyal supporters — who Messina regularly engages with on social media — she gave them a voice. She presented songs she wrote (or cowrote), and the fans chose which ones made the cut. "This is a project I wanted to do with the input of the public and the people and the fans who have been so supportive of my music all along," Messina said.

The resulting album marks Messina's most personal effort to date. Released in March, ME represents the brand of forward-thinking country music Messina has long wanted to make. "I think there is a sense of freedom, because so many times I ran into people's fear," she explained. "They were too afraid to say whether they liked a song or not because they were sure if it was a 'hit.' And really, there is no magic for a hit — it's like catching lightning in a bottle."

Of course, the album is rife with potential hits. From the pop-tinged "I'm Free" to the feisty "A Woman's Rant" to the straightforward "Strong Shot of You," ME has a little something for everyone.

"You know, no two people have the same opinion, and the record reflects that because I gave the public the choice of the songs," Messina remarked. "You can hear the different styles of song that people like on the record."

Remarkably, and perhaps a testament to the fact that music continues to hold its novelty for her after all these years, Messina still gets surprised at times by fan response. "The song I hear commented on a lot, which is a huge surprise, is 'Say Goodbye to Superman' — I put it on last, 'cause I was like, 'You can't even follow this song… it's so sad and depressing!'" she laughed.

These days, though, music isn't the only gig keeping Messina on her toes. She may be a country icon to many, but to 5-year-old Noah and 2-year-old Jonah, she's mainly just Mom.

So what's her secret for juggling both?

"I have none," she said, busting out in a deep belly laugh. "I have no secrets. I have no balance. I'm constantly walking around with my head spinning on top of my neck. I'm white-knucklin' it all the way... just trying my best to do everything for everybody, and at the end of the day I find that I do very little for myself. That is a luxury, my friend."

Check out Messina's new album, ME, here. Or check out The Rocket's Red Glare, a children's audio book she voiced, here.

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