By John Polly
“To each his own. F–k it! Who cares!”
Apologies, dear readers for that initial burst of coarse language; it seemed best to get that out of the way right up front. Not inappropriately, allow that brief exclamation to set the carefree, loose cannon tone of a conversation with the country music-ingenue-turned-rootsy pop singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne.
In fact, said retort was Lynne’s own response as she recently summarized her take on the overly fussy, somewhat hypocritical music biz world of Nashville, of judgmental folks, and all those overcomplicated needy types out there.
It’s also a fitting sentiment to accompany the relaxed and simultaneously devil-may-care vibe of Lynne’s new album, “Suit Yourself” (out May 24 from Capitol Records). Recorded partially at Lynne’s own Palm Springs home, about half of the record’s songs convey the simplicity and honesty of an artist putting forth her heart and her talents as directly as possible.
“It’s not a science project,” laughs Lynne, in her trademark Alabama-raised twang, calling on the horn from her home in the desert. “There was no big plan involved; just a group of musicians making a record. That’s what I do.”
ON THE ROAD – AGAIN
Making music is what Lynne has been doing since she was a teenager. She spent her late teen years and twenty-something days and nights in the biz in Nashville, making records and being guided through the country music machine. Good work and acclaim resulted but soon insistence upon taking the reins of her own artistic career resulted in several label changes – and records that she now doesn’t care to recall. “I’ve made records that I can’t and won’t listen to,” Lynne admits. “And it’s not that they’re bad; they’re just from a time in my life when I wasn’t in control of it. And there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Once she finally did gain control, good things followed. Namely, the 2000 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. But it was with that laurel-garnered record, “I Am Shelby Lynne,” that Lynne came into her own.
All the while, Lynne has been carrying on the love affair that’s sustained her the longest: playing music live onstage. “I do love performing,” Lynne says. “I feel lucky to do it. I’m addicted to it; it’s my drug.”
This year, Lynne has taken her affinity to performing to a wholly new place, by appearing in the Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash film biopic “Walk the Line,” which is due in theaters come November. Starring alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (as Johnny and June, respectively), Lynne appears as none other than Johnny Cash’s mother, Carrie Cash.
Lynne wasn’t afraid to dive into the role completely. “The movie spans from 1935 to 1968,” she explains. “So you can watch me age on film.” While she describes the old-woman wrinkle makeup she had to don as “obnoxious,” that wasn’t the worst part.
“The hardest was the hair,” Lynne offers. “We’re talking serious 1967 old lady beehive hair! That shit was like concrete. You could have hit it with a hurricane! And the amazing part is that it was my real hair. I’m a bleach blonde, but when I took on the role they dyed my hair back to its original darkness. It was closer to its real color than I’ve wanted to see in years. I remember thinking, ‘Man, I’ve paid thousands of dollars not to look like this!'”
Still, it was worth it. “There were no two other people like Johnny and June,” says Lynne. “Suit Yourself” includes her own musical tribute to the pair entitled “Johnny Met June,” which she wrote the morning she heard of Cash’s death. “I always felt that they just kind of shined together.”
OUT OF NASHVILLE
Lynne is living testament to living life authentically. As anyone who’s ever interviewed her seems happy to relate, there’s no delicate parsing of words or hesitation when it comes to Lynne. When asked what her thoughts are on the likelihood of an openly gay musician succeeding in Nashville, Lynne is bracingly direct.
“I don’t know why you’re asking me,” she says. “That’s not even my town, now. But I seriously doubt that that’s possible.” She quickly opens up and explains further, after being reminded of how artists such as Elton John, k.d. lang or Melissa Etheridge have come out only after establishing themselves: “I don’t think it matters anyway. I don’t feel like anybody should be forced into making such an announcement about themselves, because the bottom line is that it’s not anybody’s business. And why state the obvious?” Lynne laughs and adds, “Good grief! How much attention does a performer need?”
Beyond the music and performing, the rest of the showbiz machine holds no allure for Lynne. When it’s pointed out that some country artists have gone so far as having theme parks or dinner theaters named after them Lynne almost audibly cringes. “Don’t worry, that’s not gonna happen for me,” she says. “There will never be a ‘Shelby Lynne Dinner Theater.’ Don’t worry. That’s insane! We won’t even fantasize about such things.” Laughing, she begs off when it’s suggested that she could be depriving an eager populace of entertainments such as “The Shelby Lynne Dancers” and delicacies such as “Shelby Lynne Fried Cheese Sticks” or “Shelby Lynne Shrimp Cocktail.”
“Oh, noooo…” Lynne laughs. “Time for me to go. You’re making me need a drink with that kind of talk.” And, to suit herself, the interview is done. She’d much rather think about making music anyway. F–k it. To each his own.