Nearly a dozen years after LeAnn Rimes burst onto the music scene with the megahit "Blue" at the age of 13, the all-grown-up "little girl with the big voice" bares her soul on Family, the first album on which she wrote or co-wrote all of the songs. Opening up about the AIDS-related death of a close relative for the first time, the Grammy winner speaks her blue state of mind about her gay drinking buddies, lesbian admirers and unfortunately straight husband.
By Brandon Voss
HX: How conscious are you of your gay fan base?
Leann Rimes: Extremely! I have so many gay fans that come to my shows, and they're always the first ones to approach me on the street. My gay fans explore all different sides of my music and aren't as close-minded about what genre I need to stick to, so I really appreciate that. And they're really big fans of my dance mixes.
Do you go out dancing in gay clubs?
Yeah, sometimes I'll go with my gay friends to their favorite clubs, and I always have a blast. Those are actually my favorite places to go, because they play the best music — and I can go in, not feel threatened and completely lose myself. The guys are so funny — I become their best friend.
Did any gay friends inspire your new track "Good Friend and a Glass of Wine"?
Several of my gay friends inspired that song. I have one or two true girl friends, but the rest of my friends are mostly gay guys. Actually, Darrell Brown, one of the guys who wrote on the record with me, is gay, and he inspires me every day of my life. He's one of my very best friends and gives the best advice, so he's one that I share a glass of wine with every once in a while.
Tell me about your late uncle, whom you reference in the album's title track.
My uncle died of AIDS when I was 11, and I was incredibly close to him. Growing up in a Southern family, you didn't really talk about the gay lifestyle or AIDS. Actually, my family and I have never even really discussed it — it's been a very taboo thing. When I was writing, thinking about what the song is about - accepting your family and yourself, realizing that you've hurt each other, but you love each other — that was one of the first things that came to mind. It felt like a release to be able to talk about it so freely when it's been so suppressed for so long.
How do you reconcile your gay fan base with your more conservative country-fan base?
I just try to be as honest and as true to myself, my views and my opinions as I possibly can. I pretty much keep my political views to myself, but sometimes they do come out in my music. Not everyone's going to agree with what you say, but I'm a very open-minded person and I just have compassion for human beings.
Does your naughty Southern alter ego in your new single, "Nothin' Better to Do," ever come out in real life?
She comes out often around my true friends. That mischievous side hasn't really come out in the past because everyone wanted me to be "America's sweetheart" — and I've always had people around telling me what to do and say. But now, with writing my own material and being married for almost six years now, I have such confidence as a woman. I'm not a celebrity and then a different person behind closed doors — those two sides are melding together. I've always had a lot of responsibility, so that carries its weight with me, but when I let my hair down, I really know how to have fun.
How have you avoided the problems that have befallen another small-town "country" girl thrust into the spotlight at a young age: Britney Spears?
You know, I have to give a lot of credit to my parents — they raised me correctly. And I have a lot of respect for myself. I also have a stubborn streak, so I've always wanted to prove people wrong and show that when you start out as a child star, it doesn't have to go down the wrong path. I've had my moments — that's for damn sure — but instead of continuing to make mistakes, I've learned from them and moved on. I have such a drive for what I do, and I don't want anything to overshadow my talents.
Your husband, Dean Sheremet, not only co-wrote the song but also choreographed the Chicago-esque dance number in the "Nothin' Better to Do" video. What was it like having him tell you what to do?
It was fun to work with him in that capacity. Sometimes, we'll get on each other's nerves, but we try not to be husband and wife in those moments so we can learn from each other. It was so funny to watch him teach a bunch of girls how to priss around and be sexy, because he was sexier than all of us put together!
Yes, speaking on behalf of the general gay population: Dean is totally hot.
I know! It's so funny because there have been so many rumors. I think every gay man wants my husband to be gay because he's absolutely gorgeous, but fortunately for me and unfortunately for you guys, he's not. Even my gay friends joke constantly about wanting my husband! I have to watch out.
Do you ever get hit on by women?
Yeah, definitely. Not long ago we were in a restaurant in Nashville where the chef is a lesbian, so there's a big lesbian crowd that hangs out there. When I went down to the bathroom and walked past this one woman, she leaned over to Dean and said, "Man, she is so fine." [Laughs] Dean and I are both always flattered that people still take notice.
Having enjoyed the experience of writing or co-writing all your material on the new album, are you too much of a control freak now to record other people's songs again?
I'm definitely a control freak, that's for sure! I'm never going to turn down a great hit song. But I've had such a wonderful experience making a record from such an honest, personal, vulnerable place, I don't think I could ever make another record from any other place. I'm only 25, so there's much more of this that's going to continue to come out of me, and there's going to be so many great places to write from. I write all the time — I've pretty much got half the next record written. I want to be known as a songwriter and pitch my songs to other artists.
Might one of those new places involve motherhood?
Yeah, eventually we would love to have kids. We talk about it often, but we keep moving it back. After every tour we say, "We'll try at the end of this year," but then we can't because I have an album coming out. Maybe next year.
HX, October 2007; extended online version.