Melinda Schneider is at Cabra-Vale Diggers on March 31 for her Great Women of Country show. She's a great woman of country herself, having won six Golden Guitar awards at Tamworth, at last count. Performing and showbusiness has always been part of her life -- her mother is yodelling star Mary Schneider. Though men dominate just about every other industry, women have traditionally come to the fore in country music. Yet for all that, it can still take every ounce of strength for a female singer to stand her ground. Melinda learnt the hard way.
We're all still trying to get it right in life. And this is clearly reflected in The Story of My Life. As a songwriter, how personal are you prepared to be in your lyrics? Where's the fine line between what's shareable publicly and what's not? I've always written honest songs, from the very beginning of my recording career. Authenticity has always been important to me. I love connecting with my audience in that way, to be able to make them laugh and to make them cry. That can only happen when you're honest and come from the heart. In songs, by the sheer nature of them, you're able to hide details of stories or situations, intone certain things without sharing too much, but on my new album, The Woman, due out in July, I'm sharing much more with less of a filter. I think you feel safer to do that in your 40s. You become less worried about what others think of you, so you're less afraid.
The Story of My Life was on the album Happy Tears in 2002. It's matter-of-fact, quite bleak in the way it lists events and people in your life to that point which shaped you. If you had to write another couple verses to bring it up to date what would they be about? Ha ha, you've read my mind! I have written a new verse and chorus for the song which will appear as a bonus track on my new album . . .
I was lost when my baby died,
I was intimidated and scared by a famous songwriter I was working with in Nashville. I swiftly put him back in his place but I never told anyone about it. For all the reasons women stay quiet about these things, I did too.MELINDA SCHNEIDER
Marriage failed and I cried and cried
Found the strength in my daddy's love
Now in heaven above
Finally learned how to love myself
Found a man who is something else
And the greatest gift of joy is our baby boy
Well, it's like I'm dancing on the wind
Looking in his big blue eyes
And now I feel I've finally found
The purpose of my life
And yet here I am before you now
Still trying to get it right
That's the story
That's the story of my life
I was born in 71
Policeman dad and a yodelling mum
I am proud of where I'm from
And who I've become
Is it fair to say that though women have been traditionally and historically pushed to the background in so many fields of endeavour that one area in which women have always been allowed to shine is country music . . . ? To what degree might that be true or false? I think this is true, especially in Nashville in the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s . . . even more so than today. Those decades were full of female artists who were the biggest, most highly-paid artists of the time . . . Tammy, Dolly, Patsy, Loretta, ONJ. It seems to have swung back more to being male-dominated now, with not a lot of strong females coming through with their own individual messages. They don't seem quite as strong as the women of those times. And Dolly is still doing it better than anyone!
Based on your own experience, do you think Dolly, Tammy, Loretta, Linda and Emmy-Lou still had to work harder than the guys in order to make it? You'd have to ask them, but I bet they would have. It was more of a man's world back then than it is now. It would've been very tough and they would've had to be very clever to be able to navigate a male-dominated music industry.
OK, she's not country, but are there any Doris Day numbers in this show from your Doris Day album? And while we've brought her up, what is it about Doris that made her a star and enabled her to transcend that annoying squeaky-clean image? Sometimes I throw in Black Hills of Dakota from Calamity Jane, sure! She was a star because she was beautiful, talented, funny, a triple threat, she had it all. The squeaky-clean image made her very likeable, everyone wanted to be Doris's best friend. But I don't think she ever did transcend that image. She was offered the part of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate but turned it down because it didn't fit with the image, which was a shame. It would've been nice for her to explore other roles and be accepted as she was -- well-rounded with lots of complexities.
I think you feel safer to be vulnerable in your 40s. You become less worried about what others think of you, so you're less afraid.MELINDA SCHNEIDER
A voice is one of the most powerful things anyone has. Clearly, because that's the first thing people try to shut down in situations of abuse of power. What led you to be involved with Tracey Spicer's Now Australia? What is Now Australia doing? Its focus is on workplace harassment -- where do you see evidence of that in your industry? Personally, how do you deal with it? True, people can be silenced by many things -- family, religious beliefs, their country, their partner or fear for their safety. I wrote my song My Voice two years ago, before the #metoo movement broke. I've been silenced in the past, as many people have. It's not fun. When I heard about what Tracey was doing to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, I sent her my song, it was serendipity. I've experienced this kind of thing in Nashville in a songwriting situation. I was intimidated and scared by a famous songwriter I was working with. I swiftly put him back in his place but I never told anyone about it. It was a very male-dominated environment and for all the reasons that women stay quiet about these things, I did the same. It was 18 years ago, so it was a different time. Thank goodness things are changing.
What is it about country music that sets it apart from other genres? What does a song have to have in order to be "country"? Three chords and the truth! It has to have a story, be conversational, be about a situation or friends or family and if the story has a message or a moral, that makes it a real country song.
Ever felt constrained by the "country" label? Yes, I have at times. I'm proud to be called a country artist but I don't like labels. I find they limit a person. I enjoy singing many different styles of music and some people are shocked when they hear me sing a rock song or a jazz standard. Sadly, that's what labels do. I'm all for freedom and my mantra is "be anything you want to be".
Just as Kylie recently did great stuff with her Dolly album, would you like to do a hard rock album, or a pop album, or maybe the blues? Sure, I have lots of different ideas and concepts up my sleeve. It's a long life and I wouldn't rule anything out.
Which track always gets the greatest response when you do the Great Women of Country concert? Blue Bayou by Linda Ronsdadt is a favourite for people, and for me, but there are so many world-class songs in this show, it's hard to pick just one. I love them all for different reasons.
Which track do you look forward to doing the most? I love ballads. Angel of the Morning, I Will Always Love You are both incredible.
- Melinda Schneider's Great Women of Country at Cabra-Vale Diggers on March 31: cabravale.com.au/entertainment/great-women-of-country.