Jo Dee Messina doesn’t have any quit in her. It’s the spunky red-head’s can-do attitude that’s allowed her to manage the recording and promotion of a new CD and touring, in between being a mother to two small children and caring for her own mother, whose been in and out of the hospital since undergoing heart surgery in April. I asked her how she balances it all.
“I don’t. I’m insane. I’ve lost my mind,” she jokes.
Messina became a country music force after coming on the scene in 1996 with her first effort on Curb Records. She charted nearly two-dozen singles over the course of 13 years and sold more than 5 million albums.
She says she’s looking forward now but in spite of her success for Curb, it got to a point where the label wouldn’t release her music, causing her to lose career momentum and exposure.
“It’s frustrating when you record a record and its not released. The last song I ever cut for Curb Records was a song called ‘Put Me in the Ground’. And they were just like ‘we don’t hear it’ and they wouldn’t commit to releasing it as a single.”
A year later, the song, retitled “Better Dig Two”, became a number one hit for The Band Perry.
So Messina faced a reality most musicians face, especially in recent years. Successful music careers take a combination of talent, luck, good timing – and adaptability. For Messina, the changing music business has resulted in her long time fans becoming something more, playing a major role in the content and creation of her new album.
After parting ways with Curb Records last year, Messina decided to make a new record, her way, on her own label – her first since 2005. She turned to Kickstarter, a fan funding platform that invites fans to contribute financially to creative projects in exchange for some perks, like advance copies of CDs or, for the big spenders, private concerts. The catch for the artist is if they don’t raise their target amount, they don’t get anything. Messina admits during the fundraising process she had her doubts she’d reach her ambitious goal.
“I was nervous. I was sitting at my mother’s bedside. She’s sleeping and I’m like ok everybody I need your help, gotta get this done,” she explains. “We had already begun the recording process and to be quite honest, I had taken out a loan to make the record and if we didn’t make it, that’s where the money was coming from.”
But her fans came through, raising more than the $100,000 goal.
“[I felt] like I could breathe! Like the elephant on my chest stepped off.”
Messina is leaving nothing to chance on this project. She’s got her hands in every piece of it, from taking a more active role in the writing, to selecting the players to stuffing envelopes with t-shirts, CD’s, and posters to send to her Kickstarter backers.
“It will be me that sends [Kickstarter rewards] to you personally. I told my assistant I need a bottle of wine and a lot of stamps.”
In addition to playing a financial role in the recording of the CD, fans also played a creative one. Through live shows and social media posts, Messina gathered feedback from fans, which helped decide the final track listing. Fans also chose “Peace Sign” as the first single. The songs lyrics are reminiscent of other cheeky breakup songs she’s recorded including “My Give a Damn’s Busted”. In the last line of the chorus, she sings, “I’m just saying goodbye / One finger shy of the peace sign.”
The single was released to radio in late last month. And without a major label behind her, Messina is leading the charge to promote the new music.
“It’s lots of hard work – but that’s the way I was raised. You know a lot of folks have taken a more laid back approach to things and I’m like you can’t do that….we have to not wait for the phone to ring.”
So she’s hitting the pavement hard, contacting radio stations of all sizes in hopes of getting some good airplay. Messina says she wants this album to prove that she’s still relevant.
“A lot of people are like, ‘where did you go?’ I haven’t gone anywhere. You just haven’t heard all of the stuff that I’ve been creating….so I think it’s important to say, ‘hey I’m still relevant in country music. I still love it, I still sing and it’s still my life’.”
Throughout the making of this record, Messina made herself very accessible to fans, chronicling her struggles and triumphs, personal and professional, through her very active Facebook account and personal blog. She says it helps her feel a very strong connection to her fans and she admits that she couldn’t have made this record without their support.
“Oh my God I love my fans… if they could only look into my heart and see how they are truly appreciated. I can’t even tell you.”
As she awaits the fall release of her new CD (no official date has been announced) Messina continues to juggle all the aspects of her very busy life, while hoping her latest project is a success.
I asked her how she’s persevered through the ups and downs that often come with being a singer. And like everything else about Messina, she replies with an honest down-to-earth answer.
“I just keep going. I just keep doing my thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s insanity. You just keep running into a wall over and over again. But I love it so much. If it wasn’t for music, a piece of me would be missing.”
Story By: Meredith Rainey