After her longest break between studio albums and her first taste of motherhood, it’s easy to see why country music star Carrie Underwood chose Smoke Break as her comeback track.
“It’s about taking a step away. Taking a couple of minutes to clear your head. There are just so many hats that we have to wear, I feel like that’s something we can all relate to nowadays.”
“We came up with the title first,” she explains. “It just sounded like a good old country song and we went from there”.
It tells the story of hard working small-town men and women, something which resonates with the 32-year-old, who was raised on her parents’ farm in rural Oklahoma.
“When you never taking nothing and doing nothing but giving / It’s hard to be a good wife and a good mom and a good Christian,” she sings.
The lyrics lend themselves to her warm and controlled voice before she belts out the song’s chorus: “I don’t smoke, but sometimes I need a long drag / Yeah, I know that might sound bad but sometimes I need a smoke break.”
‘I feel like people are watching me’
Underwood has, like so many of her female country contemporaries, consistently maintained a wholesome public image. But with Smoke Break are we hearing a touch of rebellion?
“I do feel like people are watching me, especially coming off a show like American Idol. I definitely want to set a good example but I also try to live my life. We’re all human and we all make mistakes.”
She readily admits that the men in her line of work rarely come under the same scrutiny: “You have outlaw country singers who are expected to drink and get into a little bit of trouble every once in a while… but I really don’t mind too much when I hear somebody say that they’re glad their daughter listens to me. I think I do alright.
Underwood gave birth to her first child, Isaiah, in February, after marrying ice hockey player Mike Fisher in 2010.
She can already count their seven-month-old as a fan.
“He likes it when I sing I think. If he’s playing with a toy and then some commercial that’s got a song in comes on the TV, he’ll immediately stop what he’s doing and be glued to the screen.”
‘I’m still me’
Though she is happy to talk about motherhood, it’s clear the singer does not want to be defined by her new family role: “A lot of people expected me to write an album full of mummy songs or lullabies but I’m still me.”
But her son has “worked his way a little bit into the album… I feel like that’s one more dimension that I have that I can write about.”
Mainly though, Underwood is looking to tell great stories with her album – as its title Storyteller suggests.
“I want each track to be like listening to a mini movie through your speakers where you have to get to the end of the song to figure out how it all plays out.”
Blown Away, Underwood’s last album, won two Grammys and sold nearly 1.8 million copies in the US alone.
Musically, there’s been an evolution, giving this record “a different overall feel, with a little more twang”.
While superstar contemporaries like Taylor Swift have made a concerted decision to move away from their country roots to appeal to a wider top 40 radio audience, Underwood is aiming for a “a bit more of a traditional sound”.
“I think early on there was a lot of talk with people that I worked with trying to push me more in that direction,” she explains. “That’s not me. That’s just not what I grew up listening to. I can’t see myself doing anything like that. I’m happy where I am.”
The US’s biggest music market is country and Underwood is its biggest female star, so its small wonder the artist – who has sold 58 million records worldwide – is content to keep her fans pleased.
Making music longer
“Country music fans are the most loyal fans anybody could hope for,” she says. “You definitely have a greater chance of being able to make music longer – to find new things to write and sing about – and people will stay with you through it all.”
Recently, there has been a resurgent interest in country music in the UK.
Dolly Parton was a hit at last year’s Glastonbury festival; British country act The Shires recently charted in the UK top 10 and the country music concert series C2C, which Underwood is headlining this year, is selling out arenas nationwide.
Does she think that people outside the US have been relatively slow to accept country until now?
“Definitely. Even in the States it’s always had some stereotypes attached to it,” she admits, “But I want people everywhere to realise how relatable country music is to everyone.”
She says that it’s ability to connect is down to the song writing: “It’s about life. They’re real life lyrics. It’s not just about dancing or your fancy car.”
‘One week at a time’
Ten years of success, and a Greatest Hits album already under the belt in her early thirties may beg the question as to what’s left for Underwood to achieve.
“I take it one week at a time,” she laughs. “My husband’s hockey season starts back up so we’ll be going through that as a family. If I look too far ahead I’m pretty overwhelmed.”
Ultimately, the aim, she says, is simple.
“I just want to be able to keep making music that I love, and that I believe in.”
Storyteller is released globally on 23 October.
Originally featured on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-34591551