Dolly Parton Talks New Album and Tour, Her 45-Year Marriage + Who She’d Cast in the Movie of Her Life
With the release of her new album, 'Better Day,' Dolly Parton had one thing on her mind. "Everybody's so down in the dumps, and all this doomsday attitude with the economy so bad and all the wars and the bad weather," she tells Taste of Country. "People really need to be uplifted a little bit right now." And so, Parton went ahead and did what she does best to try to do her part: write songs. 'Better Day' -- which is available now -- features a collection of positive tunes, including the hopeful first single, 'Together You and I.'
In the midst of promoting the record, Parton took the time to sit down and answer several career-spanning questions for Taste of Country, from giving the behind-the-scenes scoop on planning her new album, video and tour to sharing the secret to making her long-lasting relationship with husband Carl Dean work. With a wink and a smile highlighting just about every remark from the legendary country star, having a conversation with Dolly Parton is an instant way to have a 'Better Day.'
What's the story behind your new single, 'Together You and I'?
Well, 'Together You and I is one of my favorite love songs that I've written, and I've always been a sucker for romance. We all kind of have that fantasy that once you fall in love it's gonna be forever. I think people still dream of that even when love goes bad. Actually, it's a song I wrote many, many years ago, and when I actually started to put this album together -- of very positive, uplifting songs, not just about life but and the world in general, but about love -- I wanted to have some real positive, uplifting things. So 'Together You and I' just kind of popped up and it just seemed to be the perfect one. We kind of brought it up-to-date with the arrangement and the production ... and it made it sound very mainstream, and everybody seemed to love it the most out of all the ones we had on the CD. So that's the one that actually popped its pretty little head up and made the first single!
It's such an uplifting song. Tell us about making the music video for it.
The video for 'Together You and I' is really special, I think. It was not my idea; Trey Fanjoy, who actually did the video, had this one cool idea to it more of a universal love, of like love between just mankind just trying to get along together in this world -- in addition to that male-female, or boy-girl, boy-boy, girl-girl, whatever kind of love that we find in this world. She also thought that it would be very universal to actually have it be something that really covered a wider scope, so she actually put together things from all over the world, and we did our part, of course, with all the special people that I'm actually with in the video. I just thought that was a wonderful approach for it, and hopefully people are gonna be moved by it in every way.
Tell us about the overall sound and theme of your new album, and what songs you're especially excited for people to hear.
The 'Better Day' CD, I thought, was a good idea at this time because everybody's so down in the dumps, and all this doomsday attitude with the economy so bad and all the wars and the bad weather. Everybody's just worrying so much about everything. I thought, you know, I am doin' a new CD, and I didn't wanna sing a bunch of sad songs -- although I love to write 'em, and as a singer I love to sing sad songs! Even when I'm happy, I still love to sing a sad song. But I thought, well, people really need to be uplifted a little bit right now. I need to be uplifted myself! So I started writing a bunch of songs that were really more positive. Even the songs that actually talk about loss, the end result is I'm gonna put these pieces back together and I might be stronger than I know, and I've gotta to get on with it. I really felt like it was just a good time to do an album like that where all the songs had a wonderful message of hope.
And there are several songs in the CD that I especially love. Kind of getting back to what I just was talking about -- how people down and feeling so doomsday-ish, and hearing people talk about the end of the world -- of course it's gonna come one of these days, but nobody knows that but God, not some silly fanatic somewhere telling you that the world's gonna end tomorrow. I choose to try to have faith that I need to try to make a difference in this world ... at least when it does happen, I can answer to God in a sensible way to say, "Hey, I did the best I could, tryin' to love my fellow man, tryin' to make the most of who I am and the gifts that you've gave me and tryin' to do good!" So the song 'In the Meantime' kind of talks to that, and that's one of my favorites.
Another song is 'The Sacrifice' -- that talks about kind of what all people that are dreamers, people that dream of being successful whether it's in show business or any other form of business, where you're really trying to make it. You have to work hard night and day in order for that to happen, and you make a lot of sacrifices. So the song 'The Sacrifice' is also very important to me ... along with all the others! They're my kids. I wrote 'em all. I always say my songs are my children, and I expect 'em to support me when I'm old [laughs].
Of all the facets of your career -- music, movies, attractions -- what has made you feel the biggest sense of accomplishment, and why?
I have been so lucky that I've been able to do so many things in this business. I've had the chance to do my music and write my songs, which is what brought me out of the mountains. Everything I've ever done has been because of a song and my music. And I've had the wonderful opportunity to get to actually do movies. I get to do Broadway. I wrote a musical, which I was very proud of -- the fact that I got to do it, that I could do it, that I had the opportunity to do that. And then my theme park, Dollywood, and a lot of the business things I've done ... but it all started with a song. Once you get in a position to do things, it's great. And they're all very important to me. I often get asked, do I have one thing that stands out? I'm very happy about the Imagination Library, my literacy program [to give] books to the children. But to actually say that one thing means more to me than the others, I don't think that's true 'cause it takes all that to make that whole little thing that is your career, that is your life. It's all important.
You've been married for 45 years. What do you and your husband do to keep things fresh and make the relationship work?
I get asked probably as much as anything about my looong marriage. I met my husband in 1964, when I first came to Nashville. We married two years later, and we're still at it. People always wanna know the secret. I always say, I stay gone! Stay apart. You can't be in each other's face all the time [laughs]. Actually, I think that has been the best formula for us, the fact that we appreciate each other when we are together. We don't have to be together all the time. He's a very independent person. I'm a very independent person. He's proud of what I am and what I do. I'm proud of him for who he is and what he does and how we do it. When we're together, we're really good friends. I do believe that that is the key to most all relationships that last a long time. You've gotta be great friends. And you've gotta be able to be accepting and just kind of know that you're not gonna change that person, because you married him because you loved 'em for what they were. So don't start getting into that relationship and then try to change people. Just say, "OK, it's time for me to get out of here. I know that you need to go to go to the barn, or don't you need to go on the road?" That's how we do it. We just don't let things blow over. We get out of each other's face in time!
What's one great song that you didn't write that you wish you had?
As a songwriter, you respect and appreciate the writings of other people, and I often get asked, are there songs out there I wish I'd written? Yes. There's many of them! Every time I hear a great song with a great line, with a great hook, I know that I shoulda thought of that before they did, and I'm always thinking, "Why didn't I think of that?" or "I shoulda wrote that song!" And of course, there's tons of 'em out there, especially when you hear a song that's just incredible, like 'I Hope You Dance' and things like that, and a song that goes [sings] "sometimes all I need is the air I breathe and to love you." Or songs like 'Sometimes When We Touch.' I honestly have to say, I think that song, with anybody's that's had deep relationships with other people, that there are those things where you're just so connected to each other than you're separate but yet you're not. Anything that goes on in that relationship kind of pulls and tugs, and there are those things that you have, those feelings that you can't express. When Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote that great, great song, which I assume had to do with their relationship since they've been together so many years, it's a song that I just go, "Man. That is so deep. That is so real. That is so touching." I've always wished that I had written that song.
What made you decide to sign autographs at CMA Fest this year, for the first time in over 30 years?
Well, at the CMA Fest I had the opportunity to meet and greet a lot of my fans. I didn't actually get a chance to get out and sign every autograph like I used to in the early days. I was at the ery first Fan Fair 40 years ago. It's not true that I have not bee at Fan Fair in 30 years -- I've been in and out of there doing different things, and even walking on with other artists and performing. But I haven't had a chance to actually call it a "meet and greet" [in a while]. I used to have my booths set up at the Fan Fair in the early days, and I would go every year. My sister Cassie had my fan club set up there, and we'd do our little things and it was great. But of course, because of my fans, I got very busy! I got very successful, thanks to them. And so you get out in the world and use it [and] when the times comes for Fan Fair, you're booked somewhere else or you're in the middle of a movie or something where you actually can't get away. So this was fun, and I was actually in town working on my tour and doing the finishing touches on my CD and promoting that, so we were in Nashville. It was only right that we got over there and took the time to see as many fans as we could. I just want to take this time to say thanks to all the fans -- the ones I got to see and the ones I didn't get to see. Just know that I'm loving you all the time and appreciating you always.
What surprises and set lists do you have in store for the Better Day World Tour?
The Better Day World Tour is gonna be a lot of fun. We've been on tour two or three times in the last few years, and I know it would be stale and kind of redundant to just do the same old things over and over. Of course I have to do the songs that you expect to hear, like 'Jolene,' 'I Will Always Love You,' '9 to 5,' 'Coat of Many Colors' ... all of those songs are just givens. But we wanted to do some different things, so we have worked up some fun stuff, some little things that my fans have not had a chance to see me do. I even do a little bit of choreography that I'm not used to doing in my shows. And of course we've got some fun things where I interact a little more with the band, who will play different little instrumentals ... but we've got some fun things and some surprises, I think! And some stuff from the 'Joyful Noise' movie -- I do a few of the songs that we do from that. There are some little medleys. So I think it's gonna be fun and entertaining, certainly to my true, true fans that love to see me do anything different. I think they'll have a few little treats!
You've said that you'd like to play yourself in a film about your life, but who would you cast as a young Dolly?
I have talked for years about writing my life story as a musical, and I actually have been writing songs for that for years now. I write down dialogue all the time because I'm that I'll be very involved in the book, the story ... and also in the production of that. It's very important that it be right in my mind, so that's why I'm taking my time. I'm gonna have it pretty much completed before I decide on directors and get all the other people involved, but I thought it would be a wonderful way to tell my story and of course I want that to be onstage for sure. But I also would love to do a movie of my life that also has some pieces of the music in it as well. So it's actually two things, and hopefully I'll get a chance to at least sing all the music for the movie, and then have some great person like maybe Kristin Chenoweth do it for stage, and who knows who might be in the movie! It could be any number of people. Reese Witherspoon -- we could get her a big old boob job, or Scarlett Johansson who's got some nice ones, but we can pump 'em up a little bit. But by the time I get it done, they'll probably be old women! So I'll be thinking of some new people. We'll see [laughs].
Watch Dolly Parton's Full Interview With Taste of Country