Jo Dee Messina

by Shawna Ortega

Searing energy and an uncommonly positive approach to life is what Jo Dee Messina is all about. Some say her music has an attitude - and it does: an optimistic, no-nonsense attitude, glazed liberally with laughter and a modicum of modesty. Her aces are on the table, so what you see is what you get. And that's a good thing.
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): The first of your songs that's got me curious is "Where Were You?" If you could take me through that one.

Jo Dee Messina: That song - it's so funny, because it's autobiographical, and so many people think it's about them. (laughs) It's kind of like my Carly Simon "You're So Vain," and everybody's like, "I bet you it's about this person, I bet you it's about that person." The truth of the matter is that Delicious Surprise took forever to come out. Took like 3 or 4 years for that record to get released because of silly things going on at the record label. Well, we had just come off a couple of huge albums, and then we hit this pause. During the pause, my phone stopped ringing, and I couldn't get in touch with people that were supposedly my friends. It was like, You know what? Where were you when I needed somebody? Then we come back with "My Give A Damn's Busted." It was a great success, and people started calling, and I was like no, no, no, no, no - wait a minute, when I needed a friend, where were you then? You didn't even return my phone calls. So there's a lot of angst in that song, yes. (laughs)

Songfacts: Is it serendipitous that "My Give A Damn's Busted" came right at the same time as that? Do they coincide at all?

Jo Dee: No. Somebody else wrote "My Give A Damn's Busted," and I wouldn't even apply that to the same situation.

Songfacts: How about the song "Life Is Good."

Jo Dee: That's my general outlook. I got married in October 2007. Every morning I get up when we're at home and I'm like, "Oh my God, it is so beautiful out. Isn't it just beautiful?" I mean, my husband hears it every single day. And it's great, because he's like, "Yeah, it sure is." He's right there with me. But I think my general outlook, that's kind of like me as a whole, like my existence. I get up, I get to see the day, put my feet on the ground, and just a chance to get to live through the day or see another day, that's a blessing, and I'm just really grateful.

Songfacts: Has your attitude always been like that?

Jo Dee: I think so.

Songfacts: You gotta like people that get up and look in the mirror and smile every morning. My sister's like that. You gotta like that.

Jo Dee: (laughs) I don't look in the mirror and smile. I look outside and smile. I look in the mirror and I'm like, "Good God, I need more sleep." I'm kidding. My days are filled with gratitude as far as I'm so grateful for my family, and my husband, and my home, and my job, and people that I work with like my band and crew. So I think that's just my general overview of life.

Songfacts: Well, there could be a lot worse overviews of life, I've talked to people who have had them. In "No Time For Tears," is that again kind of a general philosophy thing?

Jo Dee: Oh my God, "No Time For Tears." Jeez, that's old. That was just a getting-over-somebody song.

Songfacts: Somebody worth writing a song over?

Jo Dee: (laughs)

Songfacts: I ask that because I read where you said that your new song "I'm Done" is about a guy that you dated for about a minute?

Jo Dee: Oh, about a minute and a half.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about that one?

Jo Dee: Yeah. I dated this guy, and it's so funny, because I thought it was weird that here's a guy, 30-some-odd years old, that would call his mother every day and get advice on stuff. And then after a while he would always be like, "Mom says… Mom says…" First of all, she's not my mother, and what?"

Songfacts: And, "you're how old?"

Jo Dee: He started to call his ex-girlfriend, and he was like, "Well, my ex-girlfriend thinks that…" And I'm like, "Dude, that's weird." I'm thinking that there's too many people in this relationship. And she was going around town telling everybody, "He's been calling me. Oh yes, he's gonna come back to me." And you know, she's trying to prove that she has him. She's spending her time, she's wasting my time trying to prove that she has him. It's very literal. When I was writing this I spoke the words that are now part of the song, that she's spending her time, she's wasting mine in the process trying to prove that she has him. Truth is, she can have him, because I'm done with him. I'm done with that crap. I don't need that in my life. That's bad juju. That's some bad energy.

Songfacts: God, you remind me so much of one of my friends.

Jo Dee: Everybody says that.

Songfacts: Really?

Jo Dee: Yeah, I remind everybody of one of their friends.

Songfacts: You exude energy in a good way.

Jo Dee: Good. (laughs) That's good. Energy in this drudgery of life. Morbid, dark, heavy (makes weird sound in her throat)…

Songfacts: I don't know how I'm going to put that into an article. (laughs)

Jo Dee: Yeah, spell that. (laughs)

Songfacts: We'll give it a try. All of the songs that I have looked through and listened to of yours, there is nothing in here that I can find that says, "Oh, I feel sorry for myself. Somebody did me wrong." You're just, "I'm done, I'm onward, it's all good, you've just gotta turn the page and keep going." And that's quite an attitude to have.

Jo Dee: We have no choice. I mean, whether you want to see it or not, it's coming. I just heard a song that I want to try to squeeze in on this record that's coming out this year. It says - (singing) "Whatever hurts you won't kill you, it's all but a dream in the end. Whatever bends you won't break you, so rise out of the fall and get up again, get up again." I love that song, and that's kind of the premise of what you were saying: just keep going. Rise out of the fall.

Songfacts: Can you tell me what it is about these songs: "Bye Bye," "My Give A Damn's Busted," "I'm Done," these songs that have a little attitude. Are there specific things that you look for in these songs?

Jo Dee: No, it's just that I really gravitate towards songs that I relate to, and I think that a lot of those are how I'm structured as a person. I'm an Irish/Italian girl from Boston, so I'm not a big bullsh*tter. And I think a lot of the times people don't know how to take me. A lot of times in business, people don't know how to take it. Instead of sugar-coating something by saying, "Well, maybe we could possibly try another avenue," I'm like, "No." So I think my songs are that way, and people are like, "Wow, what attitude!" And I'm like, "That's nothing. You should see the people I grew up with. Their give a damn would be busted, and they'd kick your ass." (laughs) So I think a lot of that stuff is really reflective of my raising, which was a lot of Italians around me. And it's kind of a no-bull way of dealing with stuff.

Songfacts: Kind of in-your-face.

Jo Dee: No, I wouldn't say "in-your-face," because it's not. It says it in "Life Is Good." I love to get stuff done. If somebody's like, "Hey, let's try this," I'm like, "Okay." And I try it. I found this out in the last couple of years, I've seen it everywhere. It's like, "Hey, let's try this," and I'm like, "Good idea." And nothing ever happens. So I'm always like, "Let's just try it." And then if it doesn't work, move on. But I like to get stuff done. I hate it when people spin around in circles.

You can go to any restaurant in Nashville right now and see 5 different tables filled with people from the music industry. Not all there for the same reason, just all doing lunch. The one common conversation that you're going to hear is, "It's tough out there right now. Man, things are changing. It is so tough, man, that chart is tight, things don't move like they used to," blah blah blah blah blah. And I've realized these people that I had worked with a few months ago, people that I was working with, they would sit around and discuss the problem so much that they never moved forward. It's like coming to an intersection that was once a 2-way stop, and it's now a 4-way stop, and going, Oh my God, it was never a 4-way stop! Can you believe we have so many options? I don't know what to do! And meanwhile, you ain't moving. You're just sitting in the problem instead of moving beyond it. That is something I witness a lot, and I'm not a fan of it. I don't like to discuss the problem. I like to find the solution. (laughs) Haven't you had girlfriends, or friends or family or whatever, that would just sit around and discuss a problem, and nothing gets done?

Songfacts: Oh my gosh, yes.

Jo Dee: And plus you're focusing on the wrong thing. When you're running and you look at the people behind you, you're going to lose your pace. You slow down. It's a proven fact. If you're not focused on the finish in front of you and you look back, it slows you down.

A lot of people jump on the bandwagon. They jump on the bitch wagon is what they do. It's like, "Here's my situation, my boyfriend forgot my birthday, whatever…" My husband - my husband doesn't forget my birthday. He gets me flowers every month on our anniversary from the day we met.

Songfacts: Oh, you have the perfect man.

Jo Dee: But someone will tell you a problem, for example, "Oh, gee, my father forgot my birthday," and you can either jump on the bandwagon, which is "Oh my God, I can't believe it! Your own father? Oh!" And they chuck gas on it, throw gas on the fire. Or they can be like, "I'm sure it's just an oversight. Don't worry about it. Move on." Done with that conversation.

Songfacts: Don't dwell. Come on over here and let me just hit you, and then you can keep going.

Jo Dee: It's no way to spend your time. And you'll see that in a lot of the stuff that I sing about and I write about. It's very low energy, it takes its toll on you physically, it affects you when you're sitting in that humdrum… look at the person that gripes all the time. Look at their face. It's written all over their face. They don't smile, they've got these really deep creases, the frown lines, you can see it. And the guys that sit there and it's all over their face. They're like constantly angry. I don't want that

Songfacts: I want to go to the Jo Dee Messina School of Life.

Jo Dee: All you have to do is come to a show. I tell stories all the time.

Songfacts: I have a couple of questions that I solicited from some of your fans.

Jo Dee: Oh boy.

Songfacts: In "Bring On The Rain," a duet with Tim McGraw, what was it like to work with him, and who would you like to work with in the future?

Jo Dee: Well, with Tim, we knew each other for years, so we knew each other before either one of us were famous. So to go in the studio and work with him, it was fun, because it was like hanging out with friends. You know, just kind of like jamming with a friend of yours. And if I had my pick of anyone to do, I would try to do that Crossroads show… you know that CMT thing?

Songfacts: Yeah.

Jo Dee: My dream Crossroads would be with Bonnie Raitt.

Songfacts: With Bonnie Raitt... don't they try to take kind of opposite people?

Jo Dee: Well, it's country and a different format of music. But imagine all that coolness on stage. (laughs) And the modesty. That would be the coolest show ever!

Songfacts: Have you attempted to get that together?

Jo Dee: I think my manager at one point in time called her, and they're like, "She don't do that." "I'm kind of a big deal!" Come on! (channeling Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy): "I have books with leather bindings, and my apartment smells like mahogany."

Songfacts: What was it like for you growing up in Massachusetts and wanting to get into country music back when country music wasn't cool?

Jo Dee: Barbara Mandrell. See, again, I'm not really focusing on how hard it was. I kept busy. I was playing four or five nights a week. So there's a circuit up there, there's a country music circuit all over New England, or in any state - just takes a little searching out. I didn't realize that. I didn't realize you couldn't work in country music in Massachusetts or New England. I kept busy.

Songfacts: So it wasn't like you had doors slamming in your face or anything? People were very accepting?

Jo Dee: (dramatic pause) Not that I know of. Maybe I was just too oblivious to look at it as a slamming door. But I kept busy. Girl, I worked my butt off.

Songfacts: And you started when you were, what, 12?

Jo Dee: I was 13. I got up and sang with the house band, and at 15, 16, I put my own band together and worked the circuit there for a few years. Then I moved to Nashville.

Songfacts: At that age were you nervous?

Jo Dee: You know what? I was nervous, and then I'd get the kind of roller coaster ride feeling. You're really nervous, you barely remember the ride, but when you get off, you're like, "Oh, my God, I want to do it again!" I'd get up and I'd sing a song, and I'd be so terrified. I'd get through the song, and then I was like, Oh my God, I barely remember performing that, I was so scared out of my mind. But I want to go do it again, it was so much fun!

Songfacts: What is your favorite song to perform live?

Jo Dee: I don't have one. All depends on the day. I like 'em all. That's kind of like a stock answer, but it does depend on the day. I mean, if I'm having a rough day, maybe "Bring On The Rain." If I'm feeling sassy, it could be "My Give A Damn's Busted." Kind of like a listener of my music, you gravitate towards whatever kind of a song that fits whatever day you're having, that reflects the day you're having.

Her newest CD contains something her fans have never before witnessed: a heartfelt love song written by Jo Dee herself exposing the soul of her love for the world to see. It's a different dimension - and kind of a big deal.
Songfacts: What's a song on the new album you're really proud of?

Jo Dee: The Unmistakable album is the first album that I have a straightforward love song on. I actually wrote one with Chris Farren, the producer, called "I'm Home." And I wrote it about my husband. The first time you will get to see mush penned by me. (laughs) Mushy, lovey-dovey song penned by me.

Songfacts: A drippy Jo Dee Messina song. And when did you write the song? Before or after you got married?

Jo Dee: Oh, before. Produced by Chris Farren, "Big time record producer." (laughs) He worked on "Strawberry Wine," and produced a lot of Deana Carter's stuff. He's just a really class act. Oh, God, I was so blessed to be able to work with him for this record. He's just a classy guy.

Songfacts: Did you write a lot of the songs off of this new album?

Jo Dee: I'd say I've got four or five on there. And we've cut 14 sides, so I don't know what's going to make the record, and what's not going to make the record. That's the label's decision.

Songfacts: Oh, really? I didn't realize that the label made those decisions. I thought for some reason that the artist got to.

Jo Dee: (laughs) Yeah. You know what, I have a pretty good relationship with Mike Curb, though, so I'm like, "Okay, I like this, I don't like this," and he'll be like, "I agree, I disagree," whatever.

Songfacts: "Bye Bye" is probably my favorite of your songs so far. And I'm wondering if you really connected to that song.

Jo Dee: That one was pretty easy. We got pitched the song, and I loved the strength behind it, and the whole, "You know what, I'm outta here, I deserve better than this." Not in an arrogant sense, but everyone deserves to be treated well, and everyone deserves to be happy. And I love that that song was like, You know what? I'm never looking back. You've given me the runaround, I really deserve better than that. Everyone does. So I love the strength in that song, and then the whole, "I'm going to take care of me."

Songfacts: It wasn't something that you were personally going through that you just went, Oh wow, this nails me?

Jo Dee: At the time, yeah, I definitely related to that. (laughs)

Songfacts: I have taken strength from that song on probably 3 or 4 occasions myself.

Jo Dee: So your dating life is going well? (laughs)

Songfacts: Well, you have a fabulous attitude and fabulous energy.

Jo Dee: This has been fun. You're a cool hang.

Songfacts: Well, thanks, as were you.

Jo Dee: “I'm kind of a big deal!” (laughs)

We spoke with Jo Dee on May 6, 2008. Her website is jodeemessina.com
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 3

  • Henry German from Watertown South Dakota 57201I want to say thank you. A number of years ago I lost a job I truly loved. I was a tool and die maker for a company that made part's for telecommunications industry and it was all shipped over seas. I was really bummed out after losing my job ,as I was driving home your song "bring on the rain " came on the radio. It really spoke to me, the lyrics were talking to me. Tomorrow is another day I was thirsty anyway. I never found a job like that again but I did different things and enjoyed more freedoms. You are a very beautiful person both inside and out I can hear it in your music. And may god bless.
  • AnonymousYou just can not beat Jo Dee's
    "Lesson in Leavin"
    Her Voice, The guitar, fantastic.
  • AnonymousJust in case Jo Dee Messina ever sees this (yeah, right) I love her music very much. She is my favorite female artist. She and I share the same birthday, August 25.
    I'm from a small town about 50 miles from where Tim McGraw grew up, so we have a lot in common. My favorite songs done by Jo Dee were not single releases: "Even God Must Get the Blues" and "Silver Thunderbird."
see more comments

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