Spitting Fire and Bleeding Out: An Interview with LeAnn Rimes

Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. | July 18th, 2013

leannrimesWhen LeAnn Rimes released Spitfire a little over a month ago, the personal new album was heralded by some as one of the best country records of the year. Indeed, with this release, Rimes—whose affair with and subsequent marriage to Eddie Cibrian, her high-profile engagements with Cibrian’s ex, Brandi Glanville, and her divorce from her first husband, Dean Sheremet, have kept her name in headlines over the last five years more than her music has—leaps back into the country music world with her first album of original material in six years.

Spitfire features Rimes’ searchingly honest songwriting and some of her most scorching, sultry music yet (the Buddy and Julie Miller-penned “Gasoline and Matches” features a searing solo by Jeff Beck and Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas singing harmony), balanced by some aching country ballads (as Merle Haggard told Rimes about one of those songs, “Borrowed”: “Now, that’s a real country song.”) Engine 145 caught up recently with Rimes for a quick conversation about the album and life since its release.

Tell me a little bit about the title of the album and the opening track. Where did they come from? When you wrote “Spitfire” did you know it could be the title track?

I didn’t write this song until after we had some other songs written for the album. The word “spitfire,” came to me in a dream, and though I didn’t know what the dream was about, I woke up, sat down, and wrote down the words. Right then, I pretty much knew it would be the opening track and the album’s title. The emotions just poured out when I started writing this song. It was like the anger statement of the album; I was spitting fire—and yes, I’ve been called a “spitfire,” too—for all these emotions I had been holding in. The song came from how people I didn’t know were talking about my personal life, not just judging me, but making up lies. I couldn’t exactly fight with them—it would just fuel the fire—and watching it helplessly felt like having a piece of tape over my mouth. But it felt good to put all that into a song. It was very cathartic to write the song.

Tell me a little about your writing process.

I love collaborating on songs because it gets me out of my head. I write a lot of songs in my house; I’ll often have writers over and we’ll sit around working on tunes and lyrics. It’s a very laid back process. You know, I never try to force anything; everything depends on whatever emotions I’m feeling when I write. The titles of my songs, as well as the words and music, grow out of my feelings and experiences.

What message do you want listeners to take away from Spitfire?

You know, I was writing this album to bleed out; I was emotionally exhausted after I cut the album. In this album, I’m speaking more honestly than I ever have, from the truth and pain and love in my life and hoping that people connect with those emotions. Listeners are going to take a piece of me away with them when they hear the album. There’s a lot of humanity on Spitfire, and I hope listeners will relate the songs they hear to different situations in their lives. I hope they find themselves in the music and connect with me through my music in a deeper way than ever before.

You’ve been doing this for 18 years now. How have you grown as an artist between “Blue” and now?

Well, we only have five minutes, but I know I’m braver now; I’m more settled in my sound. Of course, I wasn’t writing my own songs back then, and I’m a lot more comfortable now exploring new directions in my music. I feel like I have matured so much. I’m comfortable being honest now, and so I can say that I feel like people never really saw me as a person. I want people who listen to my music to see me, know me, and recognize me as a normal human being who can sing and write. I certainly wouldn’t have been this honest about myself and my work when I first started, but I’ve found the freedom to do so now.

  1. P Calef
    July 18, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Funny how it isn’t getting any airplay. I listen to two local country stations and not one has ever played her albums. She couldn’t fight with the people? Really? Tell that to Kim Smiley and her daughter. A teacher with handicapped kids who Leann is suing AFTER Leann called the teacher and harassed her. Leann has money, Kim is a poorly paid teacher. Leann is so vicious on twitter its disgusting. Not one thing she said here was true.

  2. Warren
    July 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Spitfire is one of the best country albums I’ve ever heard. Every song is fantastic and sung by one of the greatest performers. LeAnn is a very talented performer, sure she made a mistake and is sorry for it, but if you don’t listen to her music, it’s you who loses.

  3. Luckyoldsun
    July 18, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Losing seems to be a way of life with me–I don’t listen to LeAnn Rimes’ music.

  4. BRUCE
    July 19, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Quite frankly, she is an embarrassment. Tabloid fodder is all that is left for her.

  5. Andy
    July 19, 2013 at 5:36 am

    She was one of the big successes at the C2C Festival in London in February. She promoted her stunning single “Borrowed” in the UK with TV and Radio appearances. I cannot understand why Country radio did not add it last December? Considering her previous UK success with “Sittin’ on Top of the World” (#11 UK), “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” (#1 UK) and Top 20’s with “Twisted Angel” (#14) and “I Need You”(Pop) #7 her new album Spitfire only made #3 on the UK Country Albums failing to make the Top 100 UK albums.
    This is her last album with CURB. I expect an Inde Kickstarter album next time with no US radio support.

    Her 10,780 copies bow at #36 Billboard Top 200 / #9 Country Album wasn’t so great and sales have quickly slipped away despite more media appearances. Are the bible belt country fans too judgemental of her rather than embracing the quality of her songs? Amazon.com attracting some 1 STAR hater comments which I was glad to see taken down.

  6. Leeann Ward
    July 19, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Oh, give me a break. It’s laughable for people who are country music fans to be so sanctimonious about her, considering just how many country music artists have storied pasts, especially some of the most revered legends, but certainly not limited to them either. Why is it okay for people like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Glenn Campbell, George Jones, Tracy Lawrence, Randy Travis, etc., etc., etc. to have “embarrassing” pasts, but not this human being (who happens to be female, which answers my question, I suspect)? Has she really done more than any of those people that I’ve listed, some of them having had at least two marriages, some even more?

    At any rate, whether you’re refusing to listen to her album on some arbitrary principle not applied to everyone or she’s just not making the kind of music that you enjoy, I maintain that this is one of the best albums of the year, past or no past. I really could give a damn about her personal life. While it informs this album, I believe that the album stands on its own even if it wasn’t based on her personal life and feelings.

  7. Ken Morton, Jr.
    July 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Very well said, Leeann.

  8. Ben Foster
    July 19, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I think it’s sad that some are so quick to shun a female artist for doing things that countless male artists are forgiven for doing. As far as I’m concerned, musicians are people too. People make mistakes, and people make choices of which other people will not always approve. At any rate, if you dismiss Rimes’ music because of her personal baggage, all you’re doing is depriving yourself of great music.

    Excellent interview, Henry. I particularly enjoyed her response to your final question.

  9. Henry
    July 19, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I second Ken, Leeann. Thank you for your thoughtful words. Some powerful music on this album, and Rimes’ voice is stronger than ever.

  10. Henry
    July 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Sorry, Ben; I didn’t see your note before I finished typing mine. Thanks for your comments, too.

  11. Luckyoldsun
    July 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I really am not all that familiar with LeAnn Rimes’s “past”–I guess I haven’t read “People” or whatever other media’s been covering it. To the extent that it’s “scandalous,” it makes me marginally more interested in hearing her music. I’ve never bought anything of hers, but now I want to at least hear some of this new album.

  12. BRUCE
    July 21, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    We’ll see how well this albun sells and if she still stays relavent via tabloid fodder. BTW, nothing in my previous comment gave my personal views on her talent. What some stated they read into my statement and it will not be dignified.

    My prediction: This album will not sell (regardless if it should or not) and the next thing we hear from her will be from the tabloids. Just wait and see. Not saying it should be that way, it just will.

    No sorry felings for her. She has made her choices and must live with them. Comparisons to others are simply irrelavent.

  13. Leeann Ward
    July 21, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Hmmm…Bruce, your comment is confusing to me. You say in your initial comment that she is “an embarrassment and all that’s left for her is tabloid fodder”, but then claim that we’re reading into your comment and talk around admitting that it’s your personal opinion. Then you say that comparisons (presumably the ones that I made) are irrelevant? To me, they’re relevant, because it points out blatant hypocrisy. She’s not the first, in the least, to take up tabloid space, but she’s certainly much more than just tabloid fodder, just like those other artists that I mentioned above. So, the comparisons are apt/relevant. How is she in her own league, the only one who deserves to be disregarded as just tabloid fodder? We’re talking about a genre with a whole lot of people who stumble when it comes to the moral highground. So, if I’m going to keep listening to country music, I’m just going to have to accept that and not base my music listening choices on the tabloids.

    I, too, can’t predict how the album will sell. She wouldn’t be the first good artist not to sell impressive numbers though. But I do know that this album has been critically praised in various places, so she’ll at least be known in history for also making quality music, which is certainly beyond just tabloid fodder.

  14. Leeann Ward
    July 22, 2013 at 12:01 am

    I see now that you said “personal views on her talent”, which, I suppose, is different. But I’ll submit that I also didn’t claim that you commented on her talent. In fact, my problem with your comment was that you could only focus on the tabloid crap and not on her talent. There was no reading into anything there. I think it was pretty obvious.

  15. Luckyoldsun
    July 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Hey Bruce,

    Just one question: Since you deem LeAnn Rimes “an embarrassment”–Do you call Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash and George Jones all “embarrassments”?

  16. BRUCE
    July 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    At times but they didn’t live for the tabloid. I know it was a different time then but Rimes seems to have fallen into the trap of Hollywood tabloid fodder. It’s my opinion and it it not a subject for me to continue discussing. There are worthier subjects.

  17. Leeann Ward
    July 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Ha. You’re certainly right that there are more worthy subjects to talk about, but I’m guessing that most of us don’t come here to read and comment because it’s the most important or “worthy” thing, but rather, an entertaining thing…particularly learning about great music. I have a response to your latest comment, but I’m glad to let this rest, since you seem most interested to shut down the debate that you kinda started.

  18. Max Berean
    August 24, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Her music is not selling because she is not singing about how country she is. If she sang about her pickup truck, riding down dirt roads, and working hard out in the field then maybe she could get on the radio. Oh, she should call herself a redneck also.

  19. Luckyoldsun
    August 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    That’s an idea,… but it doesn’t seem to be working for Gretchen Wilson.

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