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Jo Dee Messina on Recording ‘Me’: ‘It Was the Toughest Thing I Ever Had to Do’

Jo Dee Messina
Krista Lee

Fans who follow Jo Dee Messina on Facebook or Twitter may have found themselves asking why she crammed recording a new album into 2013 — a year that was emotionally devastating and exhausting for her.

‘Me’ was cut between tour stops, mommy duty and many, many trips and overnight stays at the hospital to be with her mother as she went in and out of intensive care following open heart surgery. Serious concerns about Messina’s mother’s health and healthcare continued into the fall, winter and now early 2014. So, why?

Messina says she had no choice, and she’s not just exaggerating or justifying some sort of artistic whimsy to take advantage of an emotionally charged moment. ‘Me’ was recorded using funds from a Kickstarter campaign. If she didn’t spend the money in 2013, she’d be taxed on the more than $100,000 she raised.

"There were days Julian King (co-producer) would send me home. He would be like, ‘Not today. You’re too tired. You’re too run down. I can hear it in your voice.’ "

“I had thousands of people that backed this record that were expecting certain things,” the 44-year-old singer tells Taste of Country from her home one February morning. She sips on a latte from Starbucks as she gives honest, charged answers about how real life and her profession got all tangled up in 2013.

“I had to push through it. It was the toughest thing that I ever had to do,” she admits. “And while doing it, getting pummeled, people that didn’t understand what Kickstarter was or people in the industry that didn’t understand why I had to do things this way. They’re like, ‘What is she doing?’ I’m like, ‘I’m really just trying to keep my music alive.’”

Messina says it was the worst time to record an album, but she put the wheels in motion before her mother had surgery. “She was fine, and then all of a sudden in a moment my life became keeping her alive,” she explains.

While Mary is now out of the hospital, off the tracheotomy and off of oxygen, she’s still unable to walk and is confused. She lives with Messina, so while the family has limited help, it’s up to the songstress and her husband to provide much of the care.

The song ‘Like a Kid Again’ is the one from ‘Me’ that best expresses what Messina went through and still works through today. It was the last song she put her vocals on.

“There’s a line in it at the end of the chorus that says, ‘I’d trade all this real just to feel like a kid again,’” Messina says of the mid-tempo, poignant country-pop song. “I couldn’t get through the line because I would have at any moment traded all the real at that point to be a kid again.”

“There were days Julian King (co-producer) would send me home. He would be like, ‘Not today. You’re too tired. You’re too run down. I can hear it in your voice.’ And so he would call it,” she shares.

"The famous redhead doesn’t just wear her emotions on her sleeve on this album. If feelings were made of cloth, she’d be draped in a burka with silk to spare."

‘Me’ isn’t defined by these events, however. The other major drama in Messina’s life takes center stage. In 2012, she left Curb records after a long and tumultuous relationship that produced a dozen Top 10 singles, but no studio albums after ‘Delicious Surprise’ in 2005. ‘Take It,’ ‘I’m Free’ and ‘Not Dead Yet’ — the opening track — make a statement. There’s more attitude on ‘Peace Sign’ and the current single ‘A Woman’s Rant.’ The famous redhead doesn’t just wear her emotions on her sleeve on this album. If feelings were made of cloth, she’d be draped in a burka with silk to spare.

“Some people think that I turned my back on major labels,” Messina says. “I didn’t have that option. When I got out of my record deal, that was not an option for me to go sign with another label. So what did I do? I had to find my way around. Find my way to get my music out there without taking the standard route, without following the same template as everyone else.”

Her cousin, Alex Preston (currently a Top 10 finalist on ‘American Idol’), suggested Kickstarter, a crowd-funded initiative that requires an artist to set a fundraising goal and provide rewards for different levels of donations. This concept is new to country music, although Tracy Lawrence and Julie Roberts have turned to similar funding efforts recently. Terri Clark and Jason Michael Carroll are also currently raising money (Clark is using PledgeMusic).

Messina loved her Kickstarter experience, but found it frustrating at times. Many people — including fans and members of the industry — thought she was just begging for money.

"I had some guy say, ‘What did you do with the millions of dollars Tim McGraw made you?’"

“I had some guy say, ‘What did you do with the millions of dollars Tim McGraw made you?’” she spills.

“They didn’t realize for every backer I have to physically do something, so the hard part was … besides making the record, I then had to package up all these packages and order the T-shirts and approve the pictures and autograph the pictures and pack the envelopes and pay for the postage and get the poster made and make these trips and pay the band for these free concerts in the backyard and … there was a lot of stuff to do after the campaign ‘ended,’” Messina furthers.

“I don’t know if I’d say that was a bad thing, but that’s just part of it, you know,” she says. “The bad part was people didn’t understand what was going on. They would just be so quick to judge and so quick to bash what I was doing. And keep in mind, they were bashing my efforts when I was already beaten down from what was going on in my personal situation. It was a tough thing to get through.”

Fans chose the album title and ‘Peace Sign’ as the album’s first single. Their opinions also weighed heavily on Messina, as she chose the comical country-rocker ‘A Woman’s Rant’ as her second single. “I’m gonna have a come-to-Jesus / You can guarantee / When I walk through those pearly gates I’m gonna have a talk with Eve,” she sings as the song ends.

"I couldn’t get through the line, because I would have at any moment traded all the real at that point to be a kid again."

“That was literally a line I used to say when I was pregnant. I performed until — I did a show Dec. 19 and my son was born Jan. 11,” she shares, “so I was big, and I was pregnant and the baby was up in my lungs. So I’d push down on my stomach and be like, ‘I’m so gonna have it out with Eve when this is all done.’”

“Bland” is not a word you’d use to describe ‘Me,’ an album Messina says is rock-solid from start to finish. The 12 songs dive deep into her personal life in ways most artists aren’t familiar with. She’s extraordinarily honest on the phone, on Facebook and Twitter and in front of a microphone. Knowing so much about what she was dealing with as she recorded ‘Me’ makes the album somewhat of a voyeuristic experience, but she’s careful not to cross a line with fans.

“I’m honest,” the singer admits. “If I don’t wanna talk about it, I don’t talk about it.”

Look for ‘Me’ at digital retailers on March 18.

Next: Listen to Jo Dee Messina, 'Peace Sign'

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