Writer’s Room: LeAnn Rimes—”Finding My Voice”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Written by LeAnn Rimes

I have been singing, recording music, and creating melodic and poetic bodies of work since I was 11 years old. Every project always evokes a mixed bag of emotions, but the happiness I found in singing all those years ago as a tiny little girl still brings me much joy to this day. I feel extremely blessed and humbled by my journey throughout the 26-plus years since my record Blue was released. And what a wild, expansive, and beautiful exploration it continues to be.

I found my voice as a singer incredibly early in life. And when I say early, I mean EARLY! I began to figure out how to use my singing voice to communicate by the age of 2. Old tapes, yes, TAPES, my dad recorded of me singing at that age reveal a literal baby, unable to communicate fully when speaking, but when the music kicked in, that little baby knew intuitively how to find the pitch, open her heart, and somehow string words together that she was clearly just learning through song.

Now, discovering the other facets of my voice has been, and still is, its own, one-of-a-kind path to traverse or transverse. And finding my voice as a songwriter has been one of those facets that has blossomed over the years on its own time, slowly building with each album as I’ve lived life or let life live me and become more and more fearless in my expression as a human, woman, and writer.

As you know, I have had the honor of recording many brilliant songwriters’ songs woven throughout my vast catalog and still continue to record outside of my songs. However, it can be challenging sometimes to find the song that represents exactly what I want to communicate in the way I want to communicate it. When I began to come up against that rub, that is when I knew my soul was telling me, loud and clear, “It’s time to write your own story in your own way.” The story that is longing to be written and told through your personal eyes and pulsing spirit.

My first turn at truly writing a song that was firmly grounded in my whole truth was “What I Cannot Change” (co-written with my longtime friend and collaborator Darrell Brown) for my Family album. I went over to Darrell’s for dinner one night and instead of immediately sitting down to dinner, we got into one of our usual, deep therapy-esque conversations, and I had to share a troubling phone call that occurred on the way to his home.

As I poured out my experience, with all the roller coaster ride of feelings I was riding from the call, little did I know, Darrell was quietly typing away at his computer, trying to secretly take notes on everything I was saying. I asked, “Are you listening?” He then turned the computer around and there was my truth, tear by tear spilled across the screen. We spent the next hour or so arranging everything into couplets of lyrics and started working out the chords, melody, and arrangement.

I remember the first time I performed that song live was at a show in Las Vegas. With my eyes shut tight, I sang this new, vulnerable song about my complicated relationship with my parents in front of a tipsy-ass, gambling Vegas crowd, and I found myself deeper than deep, enveloped in truth, the words and emotions vibrating up and out of my mouth while some hard-earned, hidden tears came running down my cheeks. When I finally opened my eyes, I could see the first couple rows of the audience crying right along with me. In that moment, performing such an honest song of pure truth, I was forever changed. It was my first authentic experience of finding my voice as a writer. My singing voice intertwined with my writing voice, and I knew right then, at that moment, I was never turning back. I wanted to dive back into the dark, clear waters of inspiration and see what else my soul could pull out of the creative current. What was going to be written next? It all was a dance and a mystery, but one that I have become very intimate with. I was up for trying anything and allowing the creative current to take me anywhere, as long as it resonated authentically with my spirit and heart.

With the floodgates opened, I started writing my “confessional” album, Spitfire. It was an album that exposed all my shadows and longings, as if I was singing directly from the pages of my most secretive journal.

Then, my Remnants album followed. This is where I began to shine a light on all of the fragmentation of my spirit and heart and the spirit and heart of the collective, singing out as loud as I could that through love, and only love, would I and we begin to build a new kingdom from our remnants. Remnants was the beginning of a journey of reclamation.

And now, here we are, arriving at god’s work. This new album sinks its teeth even deeper into the journey of reclamation of our human and our holy, not only for me but for the collective. It questions the foundations of which our worlds have been built upon and reimagines a better way forward. A way that is full of love, connection, community, forgiveness, compassion, and a return home to wholeness and our inherent innocence.

To me, the real success as a songwriter, the kind of success no one can ever take away from you, doesn’t start with your first cut, or your first single, or your first hit. It starts when you finally find your true voice as a songwriter. Not the voice others want you to have, but the voice that is carved out of your unique, one-of-a-kind, god-given life.

Find THAT voice, and you are on the path of not only unique and beautiful creations, but the path of freedom.

Keeping and nurturing that voice as a songwriter is a continuous walk. One that requires us to stay open, to keep listening to that still, small whisper inside of us saying to stay vulnerable and be true to our own, one-of-a-kind essence. 

And when you follow that voice, do not think that just because you’re being true to yourself that everyone is going to love it. I’ve got news for you: They won’t. But you can’t please everyone, so why not love yourself enough to please yourself first and foremost? Stay the course and success will come. But every time you deny your truth, you ultimately betray yourself, and for who or what? That next big hit song that will give you a hit of dopamine and then have you crashing back down the next day or the next year when radio has moved on to the “next big thing” and you’re left with a song you really didn’t like in the first place and eventually may not ever sing again? (I’m speaking from experience there!) 

Or to please the powers that be, most of whom have no clue what they are really doing either, but are usually basing their opinions off the last thing that was successful, so they try and get you to replicate what’s hot and chase success? Let me tell you friends, that game will suck your soul dry! 

The ultimate high in this life is living out your truth and allowing your essence to speak and connect with the hearts of others. THAT, my brilliant loves, is what lasting “success” and joy is built on.

Photo: Norman Seeff / Sunshine Sachs Morgan & Lylis

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