To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of her landmark debut “Shiver,” Jamie O’Neal is offering fans a reimagined take on the tracks that led her to platinum success. Nashline Country talks to the Grammy, CMA, and ACM-nominated songwriter about those early days on the radio, plus the process of making this album.
It’s been twenty years since your first album came out. And in the early 2000s, you had radio hits, and you’re scoring tons of nominations and awards. I’m sure it was a hectic schedule! Were you able to truly enjoy it at the moment, or did those years fly? It seems like re-recording some of these songs gave you time to reflect.
I think a little bit of both. It was very hectic and overwhelming and a bit of a blur just because I was getting married and engaged. Getting married, the album coming out, and then I had two family members that had cancer. I found that everything coming at me at once gave me some anxiety that I didn’t even recognize at that time. I had to have back surgery. It was one thing after the other.
But at the same time, I had, of course, a great time. I appreciated everything that was happening in my career. Getting the fans that recognized my music, to me, was number one. And I tried to focus on that. It’s all about the music; it’s all about the connection. It was all I ever wanted. You have to constantly remind yourself, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted.’ My dream was coming true. Whenever I would get overwhelmed, I would try to tell myself that.
It was a great time in my mind as far as my career went, and getting to re-record the songs with some of the artists like Lauren Alaina, Martina McBride, and Sara Evans brought the songs to a whole new level for me. Because of course you get sick of singing them night after night for twenty-one years, and I wrote them so long ago. It made me kind of love the songs again because it refreshed them for me.
You mentioned both Martina McBride and Sara Evans are both on this album. What are some of your memories from when you all toured on Reba’s Girls Night Out Tour in 2001?
It was a lot of fun. We had margarita and Mexican night quite a bit. You could tell it was a girl’s tour, you know, with all the decorations, the catering. Everyone was there with their kids. I hadn’t had my daughter yet, but Sara had her kids. I remember Martina riding down the hallway on a little bitty tricycle with her kids on her back. I just loved the fact that they were moms first. They brought their kids along, and that inspired me when I had my child to say, ‘There’s nothing I can’t do. I can take my kid to work.’ And Aliyah traveled with me as a baby the whole time. When she was born, she was off on the road at two months old.
Both your daughter and your husband are on this album, too. That must be so special to have your Aliyah sing “Somebody’s Hero” with you all these years later.
Yes! It was so moving. She was in the video when she was two, so just going from a little bitty toddler being in the video to being able to sing it with her is special and meant a lot to me. My husband gets waterworks just thinking about her, his little girl growing up.
It’s been a great experience. He and I have worked together in the studio for years. With this quarantine, we’ve been together constantly just working on music, and it’s been a godsend because it’s been such a hard time. To have music to escape to is everything.
Let’s go back to 2001. When the Grammy nominations were announced that year, you received two nominations in the same category for Country Song of the Year – which is rare, and only Loretta Lynn has done it since. You were also up for Best Female Country Performance. What did it mean to you to have the country community and entire music industry supporting you like that?
It was a lifelong dream. Everybody wants to get nominated and win awards as part of the recognition, I guess. But to be on stage with people like Stevie Nicks and Beyonce and presenting awards to peoplelike U2, it was mind-blowing to me. I had only been around for a short time, even though behind the scenes, I had been trying to make it for years. To be accepted and to be part of that was huge and amazing. I think I was nominated against Sheryl Crow and Dolly Parton, so I was like, ‘Oh, two of my favorites right there.’
I loved that early 2000s movement where you had such a diverse group of new females like yourself, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Kellie Coffey, Tammy Cochran, Jennifer Hanson, and so many others. And it ended up being one of the last periods where you had so many women on the radio. You’ve become a mentor and producer for up-and-coming acts. What advice do you have for those looking to break into the industry?
My first thing to always tell artists is not to copy someone else. Not to wear what they wore just because they wore it. But to be your own person, sound like yourself, you know, be an individual. Nobody ever makes it as a copycat.
I can’t think of one artist who hasn’t busted out because of their unique distinctive voice or song choice. Everybody from Miranda Lambert to Taylor Swift to Carrie Underwood – three extremely different artists who have all made it, and nobody sounds like the other one. They have worked at being the best version of themselves, not the best copycat of someone else.
That’s the trap that I see a lot of the younger artists come to town, and they’re so busy trying to be like someone else or, ‘Well Taylor Swift always wore the cowboy boots with the summer dresses, so I’m going to wear that.’ It’s like, ‘Nah, you can’t make it that way.’
This album is a perfect mix of revisiting the past, plus some great new songs. What’s next that you hope to accomplish, musically?
To me, it’s about connecting with the fans who might remember these songs and go, ‘Oh, wow, I always loved this song.’ But it’s also about people who have never heard these songs discovering them as if they were brand new to them. I think a song like “There Is No Arizona” is timeless, and I feel like even if you listen to the original record on the radio today, I don’t think it sounds like it’s vintage or anything like that even though it’s twenty years old.
“Sometimes,” the new album by Jamie O’Neal, is available here.