Faith Hill hasn't toured in a year and it's been nearly three since she released an album. But she's back—with "This Kiss" skyrocketing on the charts, a new album and a coveted spot on George Strait's festival tour.
In just 18 months, Faith's life has changed dramatically, first becoming a wife in October 1996 when she married Tim McGraw, and a mother last year with the birth of Gracie Katherine. Now, Faith, who's expecting again this summer, is ready to re-claim the country music spotlight.
"I had a great year off," Faith says. "But then I tell ya, I just jumped right back in. Like in a barrel of hot coals, head first!
"Gracie travels really well, which makes things a lot easier. She's been on the road since she was three weeks old. She is very accustomed to traveling. If it was hard on her, it would be different for me right now."
Taking her daughter on tour didn't require many changes on Faith's tour bus. "We added a crib," she says. "That's really about it. We've covered all of the outlets and tried to baby-proof it as much as possible, as fast as she's growing -- and she is WILD! A wild child. So we really have to keep an eye on her all the time."
Almost a year old, Gracie is a constant in Faith's life. "She goes everywhere with me," the proud mother states. "Everywhere."
And that includes the recording studio, where, Faith says, keeping Gracie by her side was a big help because "I didn't have to worry about being away from her. Only towards the end, when I was pulling the 12-14 hour shift days, I wouldn't bring her. She would come in when we'd break for dinner or something.
"The studio environment is not suitable for a child, really. It's tough enough for an adult -- for me. But for her, there wasn't enough there to stimulate her brain. So home was better for her during that last month of recording."
For the new album, Faith took on plenty to stimulate her brain—co-producing the project with Byron Gallimore and Dan Huff. While she wasn't exactly up to speed on the hands-on technology of the recording world, she was at the center of the creative action.
"I certainly didn't turn the knobs!" Faith laughs. "But creatively, I was a part of deciding what microphone sounded the best, what sounds I wanted on the guitar, on instruments, on song arrangements. It was a real team effort. Byron and Dan deserve so much more of the credit than I do.
"It was a very creative process for me. I found two people I really could work with in that way. We bounced ideas off of each other, and it just worked. It really, really worked well."
When it came to enlisting new producers for this album, Faith had some pretty good referrals. "Tim, obviously, was a big part of that, because of his involvement with Byron, who produced all of his albums. I just love what he does. We fight like brother and sister, but we love each other completely."
Shania Twain helped to add the other ingredient, with an assist from husband/producer Mutt Lange. "Shania and I were visiting after last year's ACM show," Faith explains. "We were talking about producers. She said that Mutt Lange said that Dan Huff had incredible talent—a diamond in the rough. So I took her advice and called up Dan, and that's kind of where all this madness started."
Faith also got a few tips from her husband. "Tim helped me—he gives advice and input on just about everything I do," she says. "We have the same musical tastes but different influences, I guess is the way to say it.
"I think just being in this relationship, my life changing so much, has changed the way I interpret my music."
In many ways, Faith's music has always been a reflection of her life. Her chart-topping debut single, "Wild One", proclaimed she was ready to take on the world, while her first album, Take Me As I Am, challenged fans to do just that. When she released It Matters to Me in 1995, Faith chose songs that reflected issues directly relating to contemporary women. Now, on her new album, Faith, she sings songs of love and joy.
"How you feel at a certain time in your life is going to dictate what you release," she explains. "It was real hard for me to sing about something sad when I just wasn't. There's so much overwhelming joy in my life after Gracie and with Tim, it's hard to see another side. That's just the way I feel in my life right now. Very, very happy.
"My idea for this record was to focus a little more on the music than I do in my live shows," Faith says, "which is a lot livelier than anything I've ever put on record."
The album's first single, "This Kiss", has been an instant fan favorite. It's special to Faith because it allowed her to sing with one of her favorites, Beth Nielsen Chapman, who co-wrote the song. "Beth is such a fantastic artist and so respected by her peers in this business," Faith says. "Because she co-wrote 'This Kiss,' we invited her to sing on it and she ended up creating a completely new harmony section which totally changed the entire sound. We already had a great song, but Beth was capable of taking it even further. It was really incredible."
Vince Gill also appears on the album, adding harmony on "Let Me Let Go". "From the moment he opened his mouth, we knew it was more than just harmony," Faith says. "Vince has such a distinctive style that he brought pure magic to the song."
And of course, husband Tim McGraw joins her for "Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me". "Dan found this really great Diane Warren song, and after listening to it, it was obvious that Tim should come in and sing, because the song says so perfectly what we both feel," Faith says. "It's just a sweet love song that talks about how important those three words are in a relationship."
Although most of the songs on the album explore the positive, "up" side of love, "My Wild Frontier" goes a little deeper. The tune deals with a young wife first giving birth, then losing her husband, and it ultimately delivers a positive message about how the bond of love can be stronger than life itself.
"Her soulmate passes away, but he leaves this child that is a part of him," Faith explains. "Even though he is gone, there is still a bond that is stronger than anything else on earth."
"The Secret Of Life" answers an age-old question, with a surprising lack of complexity. It's the story of two men drinking in a bar who are trying to find the answers to life's toughest questions. Faith loved the song because it's a bit of a "wake-up call" for everyone.
"It's really so simple," she says. "You just need to recognize where it is."
Faith soon turns the conversation to her family, revealing how Tim's rapport with children first drew her to him.
"It was the way he handled children," she says. "I'd seen him on the road with young fans, I just thought he had this incredible ability to communicate with a child.
"More so than just liking children. They had his attention, and he had theirs. At that point, it was like, this guy's it. I'm going to climb the wall for this guy."
Now that she's back on the road, Faith looks at Reba McEntire as a role model, successfully balancing music with motherhood.
"She does it so very well," Faith says. "Shelby is an incredible child, and Reba's career just keeps going and going and going."
But, she adds, "role models don't have to be in our business. They're not just celebrities. Career women who maintain a good home for their family, who are wives and moms. They're an inspiration, too. People do it every day, every single day."
With another baby due in late August, Faith's routine is so well managed that she doesn't foresee any big interruptions. "I'm going to work through July, have the baby and go back to work in October," she says. "Just a normal pregnancy leave."
Still, she knows there's no such thing as a "normal" routine. "It's going to be a challenge. It will be fine, but it certainly will be a lot of work, there's no question about it. I've got a partner in this who is not going to leave me alone to handle this load."
Faith and Tim's family will almost certainly continue to grow.
"When we first got together, we talked about all of that—making sure that we were on the same page before we got too involved," she explains. "I wanted a big family, he wanted a big family. When we retire, we want to be able to be at our home and have all of our kids there and grandkids on Christmas and all those sort of wacky little dream things.
"You can have everything in the world, but to have that family, to have that foundation there's just nothing like it. You have to work for that. It's hard to find it. And it's hard to keep it."
Faith and Tim live in the spotlight as superstars but a simple life is important to them.
"Tim craves a simple life, a normal life, but he also is an artist. That's a tough hand to be dealt," Faith says. "But I'm the same way. I want to be able to walk away from it and enjoy just being me and enjoy my family without being concerned whether or not my album did well, or whether this or whether that. "You've got to do that for your own sanity. Or when it's all done and gone, you're going to be crazy. It is an absolute fight to make sure you keep on track and keep your feet on the ground. But it's that important to us."