LeAnn Rimes: ‘Guns have more rights than women in America’

The musician goes in at the deep end with Leonie Cooper, discussing her brand new album, Britney and the trials of teenage stardom, and her friendship with the late Taylor Hawkins

Friday 16 September 2022 14:30 BST
LeAnn Rimes: ‘There’s so much that I want to share with people’
LeAnn Rimes: ‘There’s so much that I want to share with people’ (Norman Seeff)

When LeAnn Rimes says “I’m not one for small talk”, she means it. On the phone to the singer at her home in Los Angeles, it quickly becomes clear that this is someone who, unlike other polished pop stars, favours big issues over hollow platitudes. For the past couple of years, the singer, actor and all-round megastar has also done what many other pop stars have done: start a podcast. But hers goes deeper than most.

In Wholly Human, Rimes digs into the human psyche and, more often than not, her emotional wounds. “Every episode is a form of therapy,” she laughs, suggesting that the concept of sharing her innermost thoughts with strangers might not be as heavy-going as it sounds.

“I’m a very curious person,” she adds. “I just wanted to have a space where I could connect with people and learn alongside them on a human level.”

Considering she is a former child star, who forsook a normal teenage life for the isolation of celebrity, Rimes’s need for connection is understandable. The Mississippi-born and Texas-raised singer turned 40 last month, but was just 13 when she was thrust onto the global stage.

Her powerful version of Fifties country classic “Blue” went stratospheric and was followed by the smash hit power ballad “How Do I Live” in 1997. At 14, she was the youngest solo artist to win a Grammy award, for Best New Artist, and the following year she became the first country singer to win Artist of the Year at the Billboard Music Awards. And yet success came at a cost. “I grew up as ‘the little girl with the big voice’,” she reflects. “But so much of my humanity was left out.”

Rimes has long been keen to show other sides to herself. “Yes, I have this great voice, and yes, I am a songwriter and I create art, but there’s so much that I want to share with people,” she says. There’s certainly plenty of that on her 15th studio album, God’s Work, with its searching, perceptive songwriting about struggle and acceptance. Wholly Human, with its “deeper conversations”, has helped to address Rimes’s endless curiosity, too. Guests on the podcast so far have included life coach Martha Beck, motivational speaker Mel Robbins, and author Bethany Webster.

With Webster, Rimes discussed the “mother wound”, a theory that your relationship with your mother affects every other relationship in your life. It’s an episode Rimes says was particularly challenging, and in it she brands her relationship with her mother “traumatic”. “That conversation was pretty intense,” says Rimes now. “I thought I projected my daddy issues onto my husband – and I’ve just recognised it’s not my daddy issues, it’s my mommy issues,” she confesses with a gasp on the podcast.

Rimes and her mother became a tight unit when they moved to California together in 1997 following her parents’ divorce. Then, in 2000, Rimes became embroiled in a lawsuit with her father, Wilbur C Rimes, and her former manager, Lyle Walker, alleging they had cheated her out of around $7m (£6.16m) worth of earnings from the previous five years. With Rimes still a minor, her mother Belinda Rimes filed the suit on her behalf.

Though not as extreme as the case of Britney Spears’s conservatorship, which was run by Spears’s father, there’s a clear comparison in these experiences. “I definitely see a lot of similarities,” says Rimes, who is just nine months younger than Spears. Not only did the two come up together in the late Nineties pop era, and have less-than-conventional working relationships with their fathers, but both suffered in an industry in which young women are often made to feel as if they are for sale.

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“When you’re in the public eye, everybody wants to make money off of that at the end of the day,” says Rimes. “You become a commodity instead of a human being, and that’s what breaks my heart. And I’ve been there – I’ve experienced a lot of the same things. My heart deeply goes out to her.”

Leave this poor woman alone! She’s been through enough!

LeAnn Rimes on Britney Spears

The pair aren’t close, but Rimes has felt protective of her fellow artist nonetheless. “I just saw something about her ex-husband and his family doing an interview about her, and my first thought was, ‘Leave this poor woman alone! She’s been through enough!’”

Rimes will be the first to admit that breaking through as a child was terrifying. “No one can prepare you for fame, especially the way that I skyrocketed to success at such a young age,” she says. “I was never prepared for that.” At her peak, she played 500 shows in three and a half years. And that was before “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” came out.

The song was a huge hit from the 2000 film Coyote Ugly – in which she also starred as herself – but by the time it was released, Rimes was ready to take a back seat. “I did zero press for that song,” she remembers, “Zero TV appearances while it was No 1 in 11 countries. There was a good solid eight months where I was like, ‘I’m over this, I can’t do this any more.’”

This was all happening at the same time as Rimes was embroiled in the lawsuit with her father and label. A compilation, I Need You, was released in January 2001 to help Rimes complete her contract obligations, but she quickly disowned the album. In 2002 she was finally able to branch out on her own. The pop-leaning Twisted Angel would be Rimes’s first record made away from her father’s management company, and the first on which he would not serve as producer. Rimes took the executive producer title for herself.

In that same year, Rimes married professional dancer Dean Sheremet. Four more albums followed Twisted Angel in the 2000s, until Rimes hit the tabloid headlines again, almost a decade after her legal battle, with news of an affair with Eddie Cibrian, her co-star in the 2009 TV movie Northern Lights. In 2014, the pair – who married in 2011 – went on to star in their own VH1 reality show.

“We had gone through so much publicly in the press, and it was our way to take back the narrative,” says Rimes. “You either crumble under the weight of that or try to have a sense of humour about it, and I think it was our way to poke fun at everything.” Despite this, a flirtation with reality stardom is not a move Rimes is likely to repeat. “Would we do it again now? Absolutely not!”

Rimes performing at MusiCares Person of the Year in 2020
Rimes performing at MusiCares Person of the Year in 2020 (Getty for The Recording Academy)

In 2019, Rimes embarked on an even more unlikely collaboration, lending her powerhouse vocals to “C U in Hell”, a lavish, prog-leaning rock anthem on Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders’ 2019 album Got the Money. Later this month she will appear at the Los Angeles tribute concert for the much-loved Foo Fighters drummer, who died earlier this year. Perhaps one of the more surprising names on the bill, Rimes was in fact close friends with Hawkins. Neighbours in LA, they also found a common connection in their Texan upbringings.

“I saw him practically every day, riding his bike or walking with his wife,” says Rimes. “Our sons went to the same school.” After Hawkins saw Rimes performing at a school event, he reached out with collaboration on his mind. “He was like, ‘Oh my God, we need to do something together.’ He was honestly one of the kindest, most generous and unassuming people you would ever meet,” she adds. “So joyful. It breaks my heart still, to this day, to think that he’s not here any more.”

Since winning the 2020 US season of The Masked Singer as the crowd-pleasing Sun, Rimes has been laser-focused on her creative projects. As well as the podcast, there’s God’s Work, which comes six years after 2016’s Remnants. “It’s probably the longest it’s ever taken me to make a record,” says Rimes of God’s Work. “I didn’t have writer’s block, but I was a bit uninspired,” she explains. For better or worse, the trials of Covid-19 gave Rimes a fresh perspective. “As a creator, I allowed life to influence me as it was unfolding.”

One song in particular, the feminist battle cry of “The Wild” – which features co-vocals from country star Mickey Guyton and drumming from the legendary Sheila E. – is thought by many to be about recent setbacks in women’s reproductive health, opening with the raging lines: “The persecution of the woman/ The burning has gone on for too f***ing long”. “When people listen to the song here in America, they think that I wrote it about that,” she says. “I’m like, nope, but it sure does apply!”

Though the song was recorded well before the overturning of Roe v Wade, abortion rights are still an issue that Rimes feels passionately about. “This is not a new narrative,” she says. “This has been played out since the beginning of time, where women have not been able to be our full sovereign selves in this world. Guns have more rights than women do at this moment in time, here in America.”

“I am hoping this album makes people think and makes them question,” she adds. “Do I really believe everything that I’ve been fed? How can I show up in a more loving way and a more compassionate way? I’m hoping that I leave a piece of that in this world, with this kind of record.”

‘God’s Work’ is released 16 September

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