Web Exclusive: More from Our Favorite Women Who Rock

Joan Jett, Gladys Knight, Yoko Ono, and Emmylou Harris talk about what they’ve learned and where they’re headed.

By Holly George-Warren

Joan Jett, 49Q. You initiated the idea of the independent artist by starting your own label to release your albums. A. We had to create Blackheart Records or we wouldn’t have had anything out. Now we own the rights to our music, and I think people see the benefit in that. A lot of artists are trying to go that route.Q. How do you write your songs? A. In a couple of different ways. Once in a blue, blue moon, everything happens at once: You get the lyrics and the melody and you come out with a song almost completed. But that doesn’t usually happen for me. I write a lot of riffs and melodies, and I’ll get ideas for song titles, and I’ll sort of put them together. I can’t plan it; I can’t say, "Okay, today at two o’clock I’m going to sit down and write for a couple of hours." I’m more impulsive.Q. You’ve got some political songs on your latest album, Sinner: "Riddles," which uses Bush and Rumsfeld sound bites, and "Change the World." What motivated you to speak out on political issues? A. I just had to comment. It would be great if people were more politically aware, but you can’t force it. Until things directly impact their lives, they’re not going to be involved. They’ll say, "Wow, that’s too bad, but…" I get it. I’m sure I do that in a lot of instances too. But I was wondering if anybody else was seeing what I was seeing, and I wanted to talk about how this specific administration uses language to confuse and blur what’s really happening.Q. When you were in your 20s, how did you envision yourself at the age you are now? A. I lived every day for the moment, and I wasn’t looking forward. Every day is new.Gladys Knight, 63Q. What were your musical influences? A. Growing up, we listened to everybody. Radio wasn’t as dissected as it is now — you could hear Frank Sinatra one minute and the Midnighters or something like "Earth Angel" the next. Q. How do you choose your songs? A. I’ve always, no matter what genre it was, chosen a song for its lyrical content. I want to know what it’s saying first, and then I’ll see if the melody moves my spirit. I generally have been blessed enough to sing whatever I want to sing.Q. What’s your secret to looking so great? A. I don’t have any regimen. I try to eat right, and I don’t succeed at that all the time. I absolutely love tennis, and if I could play every day, I would. I’ve played with Serena, Venus, Martina, Billie Jean…Q. You must be good! A. I’m not that good. They have fun with me, that’s all.Q. Did becoming a mother change you as a musician and singer? A. Absolutely. I think it strengthened me because I had to learn how to follow a dream and to be responsible at the same time. You can’t just do whatever you want to do. My mom used to tell us, "Once you have babies, your life is not your own anymore. You want to go to the party? Too bad!"Q. You never seem to get tired of performing; you seem to thrive on it. How do you explain that? A. We do it for the love of it, like when we started out. I want to give people the best of me.Yoko Ono, 74Q. In July you performed at the cutting-edge Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. What was that like? A. Usually I perform with Sean [Ono Lennon, her son] and his band, but Sean had a gig in Europe and couldn’t come, so I had to have a whole new band, and actually it was great — very young, good people. I was so nervous, but when I finally did the show, it really gave me some strength.Q. How has it been collaborating with Sean? A. I wasn’t thinking it was going to be a partnership forever; I wanted to do things with him to encourage him to be himself, and that’s what’s happening now. He’s going on tour now. I think, if anything, I helped him by not being too overwhelming. When John and I were doing Double Fantasy, he was there in the studio, and it just came naturally to him. I never tried to educate him about what I did, and John didn’t either. So I was surprised that he listened to everything, and he knew every little lick of all of our songs, including the Beatles’.Q. Are you gratified that younger artists are doing remixes of your songs, on this year’s Yes, I’m a Witch and Open Your Box? A. I’m very happy, very thankful. I think indie music is it now — that’s the future. Each time when I was creating something, it was just a suggestion to other artists and the people who listened to it, too. If the suggestion is taken, I’m very happy. The first record that John and I put out together, Two Virgins, was called Unfinished Music No. 1. I felt it was unfinished until people put their own thing on it, perceptually or physically. But nobody did that — I think they just trashed it. Finally the instructions are being fulfilled.Q. Did it take a lot of courage to pose nude on the cover of Rolling Stone with John in 1968? A. From my point of view it was not that brave, because I come from an art background, where nudity was not particularly different.Q. What do you know now that you wish you’d known at 25? A. Life can be so long, and more and more beautiful, because you learn to appreciate it more.Emmylou Harris, 60Q. You’ve been "one of the guys" with your bands — is there a different vibe when you’re touring with women? A. Oh, yes, with [harmony singers] Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy, we’ve been like girlfriends who hardly ever get to see each other — and when we do, it’s as if we picked up on a conversation that just ended the night before. I’ve been able to see a lot more of them in the last couple of years. We’ve been doing some recording and then going out on the road.Q. What are your on-the-road survival tips? A. Don’t eat pizza after the show! You have to watch the ol’ indigestion. And it’s important to get a lot of sleep. I actually sleep really well on the bus. I also recommend having a dog; if you want a creature that is just going to always get you up, get you out, and put you at ease, there’s nothing like a dog.Q. What part of your career has been the most meaningful to you? A. I suppose it will always be meeting Gram Parsons [the influential singer-songwriter with whom Harris sang in the early ’70s; he died at age 26]. He opened my eyes and ears to the music I was supposed to make. He helped me discover my voice — not just what my voice sounds like, but what I could do with it. I don’t know if I would have found that on my own.Q. What do you know now that you wish you’d known at 25? A. Maybe there are a lot of things that it’s good you don’t know. Everything seems a lot easier when you’re younger. No one realizes how much hard work motherhood is. I’ve been very lucky — my girls have turned out great. They don’t play the guilt card; I wasn’t around much. But they’re in my life now, and you never stop being a mother. Originally published on MORE.com, October 2007.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:03

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