Michelle Wright is a survivor. Just look back 25 years or so to the time of her first album Do Right By Me, and count how many other Canadian country artists from that time are still delivering the goods. There really aren’t many who have held on for that long.
“Held on is probably the right phrase because there have been some pretty mean and lean years.” Michelle confesses over the phone line, having just wrapped a Canadian tour in Kingston. “You can be down but then something happens and you get the support to keep on going. It’s really no different than when I was growing up and playing in the clubs. You always have to have a vision, surround yourself with people that can help you and just hunker down for the ride.”
Michelle hunkered down for quite a while on her recent road trip when she hit 30 cities on her Songs from the Halls Tour, inspired by her recent Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame induction. She may not have much down time, however, given the imminent release of a new album that should spark radio airplay. Michelle has no qualms about doing another tour in short order as, to quote George Jones, ‘(she) don’t need no rockin’ chair’ just yet.
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“When you’re inducted into the Hall of Fame some see it as the twilight of your career,” she says. “If you’re 60 or 70 you can maybe accept that it’s time to go home, but I’m a young Hall of Famer and I love the idea of going back on tour. If you don’t love the road and all of the things that come with it, it can be a miserable experience. Last time our agents filled in a couple of open dates on our schedule with high school gymnasium gigs. I was kind of scratching my head over some of the venues, but they turned into some of our best nights. The bottom line is that the people are there and it doesn’t really matter where it’s at.”
On the road Michelle keeps things country with the help of her steel guitar player of 25 years, Lee Warren. The harder edge comes courtesy of Pete Lesperance, who played guitar for Canadian rockers Harem Scarem in the 90’s. The boys in the band can also lock into a solid R&B groove when required, and that soulfulness is required for some of Michelle’s work including her fabulous cover of The Persuasions’ People Get Ready, and the infectious beat of her most recent single Another Good Day.
“R&B, Soul and Motown are a big part of my influence, “Michelle says. “But I think it’s a cautionary thing for me to try and pull off that R&B thing without sounding like a country singer. The new album is a mix of country and pop, which kind of closes the chapter on things so far. Maybe after this I’ll try something a little different.”
Fittingly, the working title of the new album is Strong, and it’s also the name of Wright’s next single which, based on fan reaction to date, should make a big splash on the charts. A socially riveting number which Wright co-wrote, the song deals with matters such as school bullying and single parenting, and it appears to have struck a common chord with the masses.
“I have never seen such a reaction to one of my songs” she says. “People are just shooting up out of their seats and applauding. Those of us that have overcome and those of us that push ourselves can identify with that song. It’s not just about my own strength but it’s also the strength that I see in so many people who inspire me.”
Michelle likes to share some of her inspirations with fans on her Facebook page. (“I try and put positive things out there that will encourage people.”) Perhaps her outlook on life can best be summed up by the key line from her last single when she sings “I feel another good day coming on.” Still, she knows it’s not always a bed of roses and there are days when it truly is all about staying strong.
“I’m optimistic but it’s a constant discipline for me to manage what I’m doing and to be proactive, from my physical fitness to the songs I’m writing to the career that I’m still forging. It’s all a challenge.”