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Robin Meade Discusses Debut Country Album, Working With John Rich and Sharing the Stage With Kenny Chesney

Robin MeadeFrom writing news stories to writing country songs? Yep: News anchor Robin Meade is officially going country with the upcoming release of her debut album, ‘Brand New Day.’ However, her dedicated news audience doesn’t need to worry — Meade won’t be leaving her position as lead news anchor for HLN’s morning show ‘Morning Express with Robin Meade’ any time soon. She’s simply expressing another side of herself through her lifelong passion for singing and songwriting.

‘Brand New Day,’ which was produced by Victoria Shaw, will be released on June 21. The album contains 12 songs, six of which Meade co-wrote, and includes many notable guest appearances on the tracks. Fans will have the chance to get up close and personal with Meade this June during CMA Fest in Nashville, where she’ll be performing and signing copies of her new CD.

Meade dished to Taste of Country about her love for music, what it was like to write with John Rich, singing on the Opry stage for the first time, performing live with Kenny Chesney — and how she plans to balance it all.

Most people know you as Robin Meade the news anchor. Do you think your audience will be surprised to also now know you as a country artist?
Whenever we have a music piece [on HLN], or maybe saying so and so’s album’s out, it’s pretty obvious that I have a really great background knowledge of music. It’s pretty obvious that I’m very passionate about it. So they’re not going to be surprised, because I’ve been talking a little bit about it … I’ve been telling them it’s coming for a while [laughs]. Well, the big thing for me wasn’t just about singing. I wanted to learn how to write songs, because in my life, I’ve been writing news stories [for what] feels like forever. And that is writing people’s stories for air, for the news. So I wanted to do what I thought was a natural progression, which was learn to write people’s stories for music. You know, the formats are very similar but yet very different. So I thought this is a great way to learn how to do that with some really fabulous writers, in addition to singing. It wasn’t just about I can sing, but I wanted to make sure I could write.

You’re the daughter of a minister, so did you grow up singing in the church? Is that where your love for music originated?
Yes, bingo! You hit it right on the head. I remember the first song that I learned at church, and that’s some of first memories of life! Isn’t that funny? I remember the page number, I knew the words, I was so proud to go show my dad  that I knew it [laughs]. And that was one of my first memories, even before kindergarten. And it’s funny because to me … maybe growing up in the church, you know, you learn harmonies and you learn just the joy of music. But for me it was just more natural to sing in front of people as a performer. I never really got nervous as a child. It seemed very natural. Matter of fact, I do remember the first time that I did get stage fright, and that was only because someone had introduced it to me. They were like, “Now today when you sing, don’t get nervous.” And I thought, “Oh, I’m supposed to get nervous?” Because it seemed so natural as a youngster. On the other hand, I was not a very good public speaker at all. I would get knock-kneed and have a lot of stage fright speaking in front of someone, and it’s kind of that thing where your void becomes your value. Because I could not speak very good in front of people, in front of a crowd, that’s what I coveted. So it’s funny that my career came out of learning to be a public speaker — because it was my void and that’s why I valued it.

Now music, on the other hand, was just as natural as anything and it’s been my real joy all my life. And about 10-15 years ago, I started experiencing panic attacks on the air, which is kind of hard to have on live TV. It’s kind of hard to deliver the news when you can’t breathe [laughs].  I can laugh about it now, but it was excruciating and painful. And music was the one thing that I could go back to and it was very soothing to me during that time when I kept questioning [that] maybe I can’t be a newscaster anymore. I can’t even speak on the air. It was almost like the return of the fear of speaking in front of people. But the music is what soothed me, and I would ask people to play songs for me before the newscast. I would hum things to myself. It was a great mood enhancer for me.

So, that’s what I hope this album is. I hope it’s a great mood enhancer for people.  I feel like people might need a little pick me up at the beginning of their day, and the album is called ‘Brand New Day’ and it should start off as a pick me up for people! And I hope that’s what it does for them — the same thing that music did for me.

Victoria Shaw, who produced Lady Antebellum’s first album, also produced your debut album. How did you get connected with her?
Well, I love Lady Antebellum and I remember getting their first album and reading the liner notes. And I read in the liner notes, you know, [that it was] produced by Paul Worley and Victoria Shaw. And I thought, “Man.” I still had the intention then to really learn how to write music, after writing people’s stories in news for years and years, and I thought, I’m going to work with her someday. I honestly said that to my husband: “I’m going to work with her someday!” It’s almost like I wished her out of thin air [laughs].  But the truth of the matter is I noticed her name, and then GAC — because they know my love of music — at that time asked me if I would come and guest host their ‘Next GAC Star’ finale which was a live broadcast, and they knew that I do four hours of live TV every day. And I think they thought, “Well, she knows music and she does live TV.” So I went and I hosted it, and Victoria was one of the judges.

So I introduced myself to her — I was very upfront, got her contact information and just said, “I’d really like to write some songs with you. Would you be so generous to do that?” And she did! And we just kept writing with people like Gary Burr — he’s a Hall of Fame writer who’s had like 14 number ones — [and] Matt Lopez from Due West. Before too long, I looked around and we had like five songs. So then I said, “Well, why don’t we do an album? So she got suckered into it all the way around [laughs]. But luckily, she’s generous with her time and talent.

Tell us about the album release. Will you be putting out a first single?
It will be out Tuesday, June 21 at all Target stores. It’s going to be on an interactive display, so it’s not in the CD section.  It’s actually up in the greeting card section. It’s right on the aisle. It has Jim Brickman’s music in it, some instrumental music’s in it and it’ll have my music in it. You can kind of push my face and sample the music before you buy the CD. It will also be on iTunes. I’m going to say that ‘Put My High Heels On’ will be the first song I’ll be promoting. I actually wrote that song with John Rich and Victoria Shaw.

Was it at all intimidating writing with such accomplished writers, like John Rich?
I mean, these people are geniuses! And all of Nashville has been like this: very welcoming and very, very helpful. So I was intimidated, [but] I was just fascinated! So what I figured out was, you know, at least when I was songwriting it was maybe I brought the idea, the concept of the song [and] Victoria started shooting out some cords [and] maybe John started writing some words. It was just a really great collaborative effort. And then two minutes later, maybe the roles would change. Maybe I would sing a melody line of what someone else wrote, and maybe John was the one saying, “Let’s do this chord,” or maybe I was saying, “Oh, let’s not say it that way, let’s say it this way.” So it was just a fascinating experience, one I was really grateful for.

Speaking of John Rich, have you been watching ‘Celebrity Apprentice’?
Heck yeah! Well, I go to bed early, so I have to TiVo it, but I’m just so impressed with how smart he is — and [he's] such a good business man. What I gathered is — and I’ve never done a reality show — you have to be so strategic. Like, you can’t take what other people say at face value because they want to win too [laughs]. I think he’s been very smart in it.

You also have some guest stars appearing on the album besides John Rich, including Bo Bice, Kix Brooks, Sarah Buxton and more. How excited were you to have them a part of your project?
You know what, I knew that people might look at my album and go, “Huh? Now what does she know about music?” So I wanted to make sure that I surrounded myself with people who have wonderful music credibility and country credibility, so I was very happy that all these people agreed to do it. Once again, just very generous, talented people who are willing to help. I think that this album is very good because so many people were willing to give their time, and that includes the people who appear on the album. So Bo Bice from ‘American Idol‘ does a duet with me on a cover of Richard Marx’s old song ‘Right Here Waiting,’ and I met him  at a charity event in Nashville and just kept in contact with him and asked him then to come and be on the album.

John Rich I actually met doing a story in Nashville and kept in contact for a few years now with him, and so I wanted to know that he’d write with me and sing with me on this album, and he did. Kix Brooks, I was in Nashville once and he looked up and said, “Morning Sunshine!” So I was like, bingo! I knew right then that he watched the show. So that’s how I asked him to do [the song] ‘Dirty Laundry.’ He’s in what I call the ‘Dirty Laundry’ choir [laughs]. And Sarah Buxton, I’m a fan of and Victoria Shaw worked closely with her, so that’s how I got Sarah. Billy Dean is a friend of mine. I met him at the CMA Awards. I just went as an audience member, and he and his wife watch the morning show  I just adored them from the second I met them and just kept in contact with them. So it’s just all people that I’ve been in contact with for a while and  admired their work. I was surprised and grateful that they agreed to help me with this, and I hope that they are pleased with the outcome, too.

Kenny Chesney once pulled you up on stage with him during a concert to sing ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ with him.  How fun was that?
You know what, this is a funny story. I actually got to do that twice [laughs]. It became known to us at HLN that Kenny would watch the morning show — I think when he was not on tour, like when he was working out in the morning. When he came to town, maybe three years ago, one of his managers said, “Why don’t you come out and interview Kenny?” And it wasn’t that long after the whole Renee Zellweger thing, and I can’t put words in his mouth, but I don’t know that he was real comfortable with the media at that point. So I made sure when I interviewed him just to make him comfortable, so we could see the real Kenny. He must have felt good about it because he said that day, “Why don’t you come back tonight to the show?”

You see, earlier, I had picked up one of the guitars and he said, “Hey, how much do I have to give you to come out here and play that tonight?” I said, “I don’t play the guitar but I sing! But if you let me sing, I’ll come on out.” He said, “Well, why don’t you do Uncle Kracker’s part for ‘When The Sun Goes Down’? And I said, “Yes! I’ll do it!” I went home after the interview and I told my husband, “Get ready for the concert.” And I thought to myself, “You know, he was just probably being sweet. He’ll probably forget all about it. But just in case, buddy, I better make sure I knew those words!” [laughs]. And low and behold, I was standing backstage and when that song came on, they handed me a mic and out I went [out] singing in front of 20,000 people, and I loved it! Then I went offstage and my husband said, “You know Robin, you ain’t right. You didn’t even get nervous? I would have been like vomiting.  You didn’t even get nervous, you ain’t right!” [laughs]. Then Kenny came offstage during that song or right after it, and said — I’ll never forget it — “You can sang! You can really sang!” … which I think is better than sing [laughs].

So that was the first time, and then last summer he came again to Atlanta. I made sure to just kind of go and visit with him before the show and hang out backstage, and I said, “Man, I’m up late today. You know, I took the day off tomorrow so I could come and see you perform.” I think it made him feel a little guilty because he said, “Well, since you took the day off tomorrow, you can come out and sing the Uncle Kracker part again!” [laughs].

This past November, you performed at the Grand Ole Opry.  Can you describe the feeling you had during your performance on that legendary stage?
I thought if I shuffled around enough during that song, I thought that maybe I’d hit a part of the wood where maybe Loretta [Lynn] stood or Patsy Cline stood [laughs]. It was at the Ryman Auditorium, so I knew the historical significance of being there, and I knew how fortunate I was to be welcomed there to sing with Victoria Shaw and Jim Brickman. We performed a song that I did on his album — and it’ll appear on my album too — called ‘Welcome Home.’ And when I recorded it, I recorded it with the troops in mind. You know, every day on our show we do a salute to the troops. It’s from military families or loved ones who just want to say, “Hi! I want to salute my dad. He’s serving in Afghanistan. Look at these pictures and I love him so much.”

So when I recorded ‘Welcome Home’ in the booth, I was thinking about that military member and when they finally get home for the first time in who knows how long, and that spouse looks up and sees that loved one in the door. That’s what I wanted to be thinking about when recording ‘Welcome Home.’ So when we performed it at the Grand Ole Opry, I knew that there were probably a lot of veterans in the audience. I talked to them about their service and then I sang that song, and I couldn’t believe it but they gave a standing ovation, which the people at the Opry said is very rare. And I was just really grateful for it and I thought it was probably for the message of the song that they stood up for. I’ll be back performing at the Opry June 18!

Watch Robin Meade Sing ‘Welcome Home’ and ‘Morning Sunshine’

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