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Jo Dee Messina is well aware of her critics. The singer has read plenty of backlash about her Kickstarter campaign , as many ponder why a multiplatinum-selling artist would ask fans to fund her next album. After all, Kickstarter prides itself as being an online platform that “makes dreams come true,” and the lauded country star has certainly already seen that happen . . . but never on her own terms. Now that she’s free of an 18-year contract with Curb Records, Messina’s main term is to cater to fans, not music industry executives.
The tenacious singer likens her Kickstarter venture to a garage sale: She’s selling a bunch of unique items and will use the money to make an album. Depending on their level of contribution, backers can be compensated with everything from autographed photos to a private dinner and concert. It’s a win/win situation, but one with a looming expiration date. Messina must raise $100,000 by June 23 or lose every Kickstarter penny.
The free-spirited singer visited Country Weekly just after paying her daily morning visit to her ailing mother in a Nashville hospital. But her tone was consistently upbeat as she spoke of the many demanding hats she wears: mother, daughter, wife, recording artist, road warrior and one new hat—business partner to her fans.
Why fund this album through Kickstarter instead of finding a new record label?
The theme [of the campaign] is “My Time. Our Music”: It’s my time to make the album of my dreams, and I wanted the people it mattered to the most to get involved. I’ll put up a song on Facebook , Twitter  or YouTube  and say, “Should this be on the record?” Then I read all of their comments, taking to heart what they feel. A frustration of mine through my career was, I would tell the powers-that-be that this is what people want to hear, and it fell on deaf ears. Being free from a label, the first project I wanted to do was listen to the fans and make it all about them.
Have any fans been brutally honest?
People don’t think I read my Facebook, because a lot of artists have their “people” read it. So there’s been some nasty stuff on there, mainly from people who don’t understand Kickstarter. They don’t understand that for each person who becomes a backer, I do something for that person. They’re missing that this is an amazing opportunity. To have Hunter Hayes over to your house to cook you dinner . . . that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. He’s really busy! [Laughs] But we’ve blocked out time for something like singing at your barbeque or writing your kid a lullaby. Kickstarter is for the new guy, yes, but it’s also for the guy with the fresh approach.
You just ended your deal with Curb Records last year, but the label had not released new music from you since 2004, even though you were consistently recording. That took the wind out of your sails, but you don’t seem to let anger overshadow your determination.
If you’re mad at someone and you never see them, but you cuss them out every day, the only one that’s affecting is you. The other person doesn’t feel it and doesn’t care. I get my feelings hurt, too. But if I was sitting there being so angry at the situation, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to put into a record that is now almost done.
I was on Curb Records for 18 years. There are many people there I care about, one of them being Mike Curb. I will forever be grateful for the fact that he gave me the opportunity to live my dreams. I drive by Mike’s house every day on my way to the hospital to see my mom, and every day I nod my head and say a thank-you prayer when I drive by.
You had such a long battle with Curb. On the day the ties were finally severed, did you have a smile on your face, tears in your eyes or both?
I just sat in my car and was like, “Is this real?” It’s like when you have a dog and you’re kennel training them, and then one day you open the gate but he stays in the kennel! [Laughs] It took me months to realize my potential. But that day, I texted [former Curb artist] Tim McGraw, saying something like, “I have my walking papers.” And he texted back, “The best is yet to come.”
Several songs from the upcoming album are already generating a lot of buzz, including “A Woman’s Rant.” What inspired it?
It was inspired by my husband and my newborn. My newborn wouldn’t sleep through the night and my husband would. [Laughs] So I would have to get my butt up, sick or not. Then with the line, When I walk through those pearly gates, I’m gonna have a talk with Eve, that’s from my ninth month of pregnancy. There were moments where I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable I was! So that was a funny catchphrase I said through the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I don’t know what that apple tasted like, but I’m sure it wasn’t worth it.
If backers contribute enough to your Kickstarter campaign, they can sing with you on “He’s Messed Up.” How are you going to pull that off if they can’t sing?
[Laughs] All they have to do is just chant with me, “He’s messed up!” It’s about a guy in the industry I kind of watched from afar, and the whole gist is, he’s never gonna change. Go on and walk away, because he’s messed up.
You dabble in a little bluegrass and rock on this album. Is that something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
It’s all because of the freedom to record anything. You’ve only seen one side of me, but with this record you see so much more. This whole album is not just me as an artist but me as a person. You haven’t heard the rock, R&B or pop stuff I’ve written. You’ve barely heard the country stuff! But you get to hear that now.
Did your husband or sons inspire any of the new songs?
In a song called “Me,” the last line says, I’m someone’s direction to find their way in this world. I’ve realized, I have two kids and don’t know what I’m doing! I’m just as clueless as I was five years ago about leading someone through this world and making them be a good person. I’m still trying to be a good person myself.
What is your strategy for balancing career and family?
I’m there for my mom whenever I’m home, but when I’m away I feel guilty. Then when I’m at the hospital making sure she’s being taken care of, I miss my boys. Being there for someone is the most important. But my husband tells me, “If you don’t make this music, you can’t take care of all the people you’ve taken care of.”
With the Kickstarter campaign, people are like, “How dare she do this?” But they don’t have a clue about where my heart is. Going to the studio is fun, but it’s also the way I provide for my family. There’s a lot of praying going on right now, that I will figure out this juggling act as I go.
There are only nine days left to help Jo Dee reach her goal. If you’d like to be a part of her latest album, make a pledge to Jo Dee’s Kickstarter project .