November 23, 2016 at 2:44 pm EST | by Brian Walmer
Catching up with Chely Wright
Chely Wright, gay news, Washington Blade

Chely Wright says she was ecstatic to hear her new album compared to classics by Carole King and Roseanne Cash. (Photo courtesy Wright)

Chely Wright and Amy Ray
Monday, Nov. 28
7:30 p.m.
The Birchmere
3701 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, Va.

It’s been six years since Chely Wright, a country singer known for hits like “Shut Up and Drive” and “Single White Female,” came out as a lesbian.

Her last album was 2010’s “Lifted Off the Ground,” which coincided with her coming out. Since then she’s gotten married, gave birth to twin boys and has spoken out for LGBT rights.

Now that her life has settled, Wright is back to the business of releasing music and touring. Her eighth album “I Am the Rain” was released in September and she plays the Birchmere on Monday, Nov. 28 in a co-headlining show with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls.

The always-loquacious Wright darts around to many topics during a Tuesday afternoon phone chat.

On touring with Ray:  “Amy and Emily knew before I came out that I was coming out and they were incredibly supportive. … I was so pleased and honored that they recorded a song I had written called ‘It Really Is a Wonderful Life’ and asked me to come on stage at a couple of their shows with them. Any time an artist can get in front of an Indigo Girls audience, which is a highly informed, highly evolved, very loyal fan base, I said, ‘You betcha.’”

On losing fans by coming out: “You know, it’s hard to tell. Of course I lost some fans, but I also gained some, right? There have been a couple hundred new ones supporting me and coming to my shows that may not have known me before. It’s kind of a wash.”

On being a fan-friendly artist:  “I think fans enjoy it, but I think I enjoy it nearly as much as they have. It’s just what makes country music special and it’s just part of who I am. Just like being an Americana artist and less commercial, I guess that’s something I’m always going to do.”

On possibly singing with Ray: “(The tour) didn’t sneak up on us, but we didn’t really have the time to get something together to come up with what would make sense to collaborate on, so hopefully as the tour goes on we can work something out. I love to sing harmony so hopefully she’ll let me sing harmony with her on a couple songs.”

On her set: “I’ve just been focusing on the new music and then a couple of the hits, because I really wanted to, selfishly, play this new music and bounce it out there. As a live performer, there’s nothing more gratifying than playing new music and seeing the response.”

On coming out strategically: “I wanted to come out in a smart, productive way. I wanted to use my voice in a way that kinda moved the needle. I know a lot of people have been touched or comforted by my book, my movie or my coming out or they’ve been … well, enlightened by it. Whether they were a person who thought they never knew and loved a gay person and then their favorite country artist comes out, well if that’s what got them to read my book or watch “Wish Me Away,” well that’s a mission accomplished.”

On her new album: “When you listen to it as a body of work with my older records, it doesn’t seem so different like, ‘Oh my God, that doesn’t even sound like her.’ I’ve said this before, but if ‘Lifted Off The Ground’ was steps away from ‘The Metropolitan Hotel,’ then ‘I Am The Rain’ is a marathon away from ‘Lifted Off The Ground.’”

On working with producer Joe Henry: “When one is lucky is enough to have Joe Henry pirate the ship, an artist — a smart artist — will get out of the way and let Joe Henry do what he was hired to do. One of the multitude of skills Joe brings to the table is his sensibility about which songs should be recorded. Obviously, it’s my record, but his vision for it was critically important or I would’ve just produced it myself. It’s like a ghost artist — some books have a ghost writer, but he’s like a ghost collaborator, but we call him producer. I’ve often said, he’s the rising tide that lifts all ships so he just makes you better and more vulnerable and more emotional and more triumphant. That’s the thing that Joe does that nobody else that I know of does.”

On duetting with Emmylou Harris: “That song, just to hear Emmylou Harris singing notes and words that I authored and composed just kind of blows me away and she did it so beautifully. She said when she was recording that, ‘I just want to be where Chely is emotionally,’ and boy, did she.”

On belonging: “I had high hopes that the gay community would have a place for me and that the straight community would have a place for me and the country music would have a place for me. I don’t know if the country music industry has acknowledged that they have a place for me, but they do have a place for me because I claimed it. I think what I was feeling that day when I was begging for a couple of different groups to validate me me is that looking at it now I realize the power I had that I didn’t know I had. I don’t need a group to grant me entrance. I, by the nature of who I am, I have my entry.”

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