Recently Gretchen Wilson travelled to Switzerland to perform at one of Europe’s best and longest running country music festivals. Country Night Gstaad, traditionally held on a September Friday and Saturday night in this picturesque alpine village, celebrated it’s 25th anniversary with a great line up which also included LeAnn Rimes, The Time Jumper and Flynville Train.
Gretchen took the time to sit down and talk to us on the Saturday afternoon to tell us about her music, career and experiences along the way.
Would you like some water before we begin?
No I don’t touch that stuff!
How are you doing?
I feel pretty good considering I didn’t go on stage till midnight last night. But it felt pretty good. It’s a little difficult as I’m used to an American crowd that’s rowdy, they jump up and are right at the front of the stage the whole time, you know; slapping hands, partying and screaming. The Swiss are a lot more reserved. I feel like I’m the kind of entertainer that has to work a little harder to get everybody to join my party.
And don’t forget, the audience is not allowed to drink in this concert hall.
Yeah but there’s alcohol outside! There’s whiskey and local beer that’s pretty stout. That stuff is pretty strong, I can’t even drink it it’s so strong. I’m a light beer drinker.
You’re used to the rowdy crowds. Out here everyone’s reserved and it’s a seated crowd. So it’s different to what you’re used to. You also mentioned they were making you a little nervous?
Well that’s just because it’s a different environment. In the States, even if it’s a reserved audience they just disobey the rules. They just do, haha. When the security is flashing the flashlight, telling them to sit down they still do what they want so I don’t normally have an audience seated for so long. I’m used to them sitting for the first song or two but not for as long as they did out here. The show felt a lot more comfortable for me once the audience was released to come up near us because I’m the kind of entertainer that plays off and feeds off the audience and have them feed off of me. It really depends on the audience, how the show goes for us. When the people are having a great time, you can see it in their body language and you can hear them screaming at you, that inspires me to work harder and to give a better performance.
Why didn’t you ask them to stand up and cheer?
I was told I couldn’t as it’s a televised festival. I was allowed to do so about three quarters of the way into my show. By that time I do a lot of interactive singing with the audience and it’s a lot easier to get them to understand what I’m doing when they’re closer to me.
US radio stations don’t seem to wanna play your music and seem to focus more on teen artists. How does this affect you?
I had a really great six and a half years with a major label. We did a lot of touring and visiting with radio stations and my experience is that when you’re with a major label you tend to get on those planes, get out there, visit them, say hi and do all the things they want you to do. Opening my own label, which I did about 3 years ago, I opened Redneck Records. I took all the experience that I learned from being with a major label, all the good and all the bad, and decided I was going to do this the way I saw fit. When I got to Nashville I realised that the music business is a lot more about the business then it is about the music. That was the thing that frustrated me more then anything. The only thing I can really say to that is, I make music for fans! I don’t make music for country radio stations, I don’t make music for presidents of record company’s and I don’t make music for all the corporate people that are involved in the money that’s going on in the business of the music. I make music that I think is the best I can make and I make music for fans. I do send my music to radio. It’s up to them weather they wanna play it or not. When you listen to the smaller radio stations in the US, they play me, they play Travis Tritt, they play George Jones. When you listen to the major market radio stations they play the same 12 songs over and over again. I deliver my music and I tell them I hope that they like it and hope that they find a place to play it. If they do that’s wonderful, if not I’m fully dependent on myself and my record label and the way that we do things. I’m not really concerned about it. It’d be lovely if they played me more though.
Social media is probably a big part of your career and important for fans out here as well. It’s a really good revenue to get your music out and get in touch with all your fans. How has social media influenced your career and do you actively run your own Twitter and Facebook?
I actually do. In the beginning when all that stuff was really starting out I was still with the major label and they immediately put people in place to become me and to start talking to fans pretending to be me and I didn’t like that at all. You’re not gonna see a tweet from me come out every day but that’s how you know it is really me. When I feel like I got something to share or even when it’s just something comical like “Well, here I am doing laundry again in a city that I don’t know the name off’” you know. I think that kinda stuff is fun to share with people or to give them news. So yes, I do handle the social media myself. I think it’s a pretty awesome thing. It’s a really nice way to be able to just, really quickly and easily, kinda show everyone that’s out there “hey look I’m human, I’m just like you. I’m doing laundry at a laundromat on the road on my day off”. It’s a great way to jump out there and talk to people and it’s fun! Some times when I’m sitting on the bus I have conversations with fans on twitter. A little girl will say: “it’s my mom’s birthday” and I’ll just tweet “Happy birthday mom” and they’ll freak out. So much fun.
You performed ‘Angel from Montgomery’ last night. You don’t do many ballads or covers. What makes you pick these songs and what do they mean to you.
I try to only record songs that mean something to me, weather they’re a ballad or an uptempo song. I think that’s the reason why I’ve been successful. I’ve always just been real, I’ve been who I am and I think that people can expect when they see me on stage that I’m not gonna sit up there and try to sell them on something that I don’t know. If I’m gonna sing a song about heartbreak, I can promise you I’ve experienced it. I don’t hide any part of myself, I put myself out there. So recording songs I believe in is the only way I can do it.
You’ve been very productive this year in recording three albums including a rock cover album. What will be next for you?
Well you know what, I’m always trying to move forward and do what feels right at the moment. I’ve never been a follower. I don’t sit around and listen to country radio to figure out what I can copy. I try to make new waves. I can’t answer what will be the next thing that will creatively come out of me when I sit down to write it. It will just be what it is but what ever it is, it’ll be genuine.
A rock beat has been there from the get go. I’m southern rock. I come from a place where the jukebox at the local honky tonk has got Lynyrd Skynyrd right next to Patsy Cline. It all goes hand in hand for me. I don’t really differentiate between rock and country. If you sit and listen to the cover album, all of that stuff is from the 70’s. When you listen to Jackson Browne, the Eagles and Bob Seger it’s really not that different then some of the music that out on country radio right now. I used to say that the one thing I would never do is pop but I can’t even say that anymore with a 12 year old daughter that loves One Direction. So who knows what will come out next. I think over the next ten years I’m probably going to write a lot more. I wrote a lot early on but somehow got away from it. I wish I would write more.
I’ve been touring for nine years. A lot of people will say “It’s good to have you back” and I’ll just think to myself “Back?! Where did I go?!” A lot of people think that if you’re not on a three act tour, you’re not on tour at all but I’ve played every Friday and Saturday night for the last nine years. All of that work somehow made me not that excited about writing songs. But in the song writing I will find what the trend will be. You can’t sit down and look at a co-writer, or even at yourself, and say “This is what I expect to come up with today”. I have to let the song go where it’s gonna go.
Gretchen’s debut holiday album, Christmas in my Heart, will be released today. The 10-song cd will include a mix of traditional carols, holiday favorites and a few future classics. You can order it at iTunes here.
For more information on Country Night Gstaad go to www.countrynight-gstaad.ch