Jo Dee Messina weaves new faith into catalog of country hits on Friday

Jo Dee Messina moved to Nashville when she was 19-years-old. By 1996, she had become a household name among country radio fans with her first single, “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” Her sophomore album, I’m Alright, featured three singles that stayed atop the country charts for multiple weeks: the title track, “Bye, Bye” and “Stand Beside Me.” She was the first female country artist to accomplish the feat.

Since that success, she has taken time to raise two boys and somehow, she’s found time to keep touring non-stop. These days, she writes much more about the faith that she found over the past decade. Before her visit to Birmingham, she talked about her journey with Christianity, her boys, women and country music and her relationship with Fox News.

You released a couple of new singles last year. Will a full-length be coming behind that? Will those singles be part of a longer project?

We’re in the process, right now, of talking with record labels to see where they’re at; if they even know where they would market me.

Is Christian music the route you’d pursue now? 

I’m a country artist who knows Jesus Christ. He has flipped my heart around, and my focus is always toward Him. It’s really difficult. Some of the music falls into a Christian category; some of the music doesn’t fall into any category. And that’s, I think, where people are baffled. Because the music at this point is not fitting into a box. Once we find someone that can do something with that – come to the show, you’ll see it! It all fits together with the flow. It all fits together with the story. When you come to the show, you’ll see – it won’t be, “Oh, that’s a different style of song. That’s a different format.” It’s just – this is music. It all fits together.

It’s hard for me to put a label on it and say, “I’m going to go the country route. Or the Christian route.” Or whatever. Because it just doesn’t have a label. It doesn’t have a box.

Is your spirituality – your Christianity – is it something that has always been important to you? Even when you were doing more traditional country music?

No. I knew about God my whole life; I met Jesus Christ about four years ago, five years ago. My whole world just spun around.

How did that impact your life in such a significant way?

It was after years of trying to sustain a life by myself. I was trying to sustain career and family and do all of that stuff with minimal assistance and I finally got to a point where I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” It was at that point where I wasn’t in a church; I wasn’t at an alter; I wasn’t at a rally or a revival. I was on my front porch, and my spirit was moved by Jesus. [laughs] I don’t know how to explain it to you! I knew it was Him. I knew it was Him. And I became hungry to know more about Him. I would pick up the Bible to read it and not understand it. I went from that to picking up the Bible and every word came to life. I did not gain that understanding by going to a school or whatever. I gained that understanding in my spirit.

I was on a plane yesterday. And I became frustrated because – as a writer, you know – “How do you put things down so that people can comprehend it?” I was frustrated with – I was praying – “God, how can I take you and find the words in my finite brain to let people know about you and your realness?” It’s really frustrating to me! I couldn’t come up with that. Explaining it to you, I have just as hard of a time. [laughs] And I don’t want a “rehearsed” answer. Then it’s not honest. It’s more rehearsed and it’s not of Him. So I don’t have a rehearsed answer for you. Except that, “Jesus Christ walked into my life, spun my heart around and He is the greatest love of my life.”

You now have at least one son that is elementary school aged…

They’re seven and 10.

Two of them! Both boys?

Both boys: Jonah and Noah. They’re seven and 10. My day is structured. I wake up. I read the bible, I read sermons, I pray. I spend time with the Lord. Then the kids get up, I get them ready for school, I take them to school and I try to get all the work done that I can during the school day, because when 2 p.m. hits, I’m done. They get 100% of my attention; whether we’re doing homework, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, swimming in the pool, digging in the yard, playing at the park. They’re getting 100% of my attention.

So you’re able to compartmentalize being a mom and being a musician. And that time is while they’re away?

Yeah. That’s when I have time. I have a keyboard and a guitar in the middle of my dining room. I walk past it and I sit down and I start to play. It’s engrained into my day; who I am. Sometimes I can’t put into words the things that I want to write; they’ll come. I just have to be patient.

I am working on a song. I read this book that was absolutely amazing, and I have to write this song. But it’s not the song that I want it to be. So every time I go by the keyboard, I sit down and try to piddle with it. [laughs]

Your spirituality has obviously impacted the way you write now. Do you still incorporate the older parts of your catalog into your show?

Oh yeah. I do. I think it’s important. That’s a gift! God allows that. He loves for me to have those songs, and to connect with those songs. My style has changed. Each song has its own thing. We’ve got some pretty hard rocking stuff in there that comes from a place of living life and finding out that people that were in my life were not who they made themselves out to be. I still take life lessons and incorporate them into music.

Do you deliberately put some sort of limit on how much you’re on the road now because of the boys?

I do! I tour weekends during the school year, and in the summer, we hit it the hardest. I work all year long, but it’s heavier during the summer.

You were the first woman that had three, multiple-week number one country singles on the same record. You had a lot of mainstream country radio success. Over the last 20 years, that has declined, and it’s been more difficult for women to succeed in country radio. Do you know why it has regressed?

I think it ebbs and flows. We went through this before, and then me and Shania [Twain] and Faith [Hill] and Martina [McBride] – it was woman heavy. And now, it’s going back to being man heavy. Then it will go back…it just ebbs and flows throughout the history of country music. [laughs] It’s just a pattern.

Over the past few years, you’ve joined with Mike Huckabee and done some country shows. How important has that been in allowing your new or current message to reach a different or wider audience?

I enjoy doing the Mike Huckabee show because he allows me to talk about my relationship with God. I don’t have any political stances; I don’t know anything about it. It’d be like me asking you what you think about menstrual cramps. You can’t tell me a thing about it. I don’t even want to try to talk about it. I like Mike because he welcomes the mention of my savior – of our savior. Of our God. That’s a huge deal. Not every TV show allows that. They edit out things. I’ve had things edited out of interviews because it talks about God, and that’s not what he does. And that’s not a canned answer. It’s really from my heart. I’ve had people ask, “Do you know who his daughter is?” or something like that. And I’m like, “I don’t care.” My kid doesn’t like broccoli; I can’t fathom that. But I can’t tell him…I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know people’s opinions; I want to know truth. For me, I find it in the Bible.

Jo Dee Messina comes to Iron City on Friday, June 21. Tickets are $39.50-$54.50. Doors are at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Birmingham’s own Taylor Hunnicutt opens the show.

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