Trisha Yearwood is back and gearing up for a very busy fall. On Tuesday evening (Aug. 19) at a press event in Nashville, the Grammy-winning vocalist announced she's signing with Sony Music Nashville, launching her own imprint, Gwendolyn Records, and releasing her 12th studio album, PrizeFighter.
Yearwood, who is joining husband Garth Brooks on a string of sold-out dates this fall, is returning Aug. 23 for five season of Trisha's Southern Kitchen, her Emmy-winning cooking show on the Food Network. She's also set to launch a new cookware line and a line of cutlery as well as publish her third cookbook next April.
Though her culinary career has been a successful sideline, Yearwood fans have been clamoring for new music for several years. The Georgia native's last studio album was 2007's Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love. "It's been a wonderful few years," Yearwood told Billboard. "I haven't released records, but I've been so busy and I've loved the whole second career. The cookbooks and the TV show and everything is doing just great, but it's kind of forced [music] to take a backseat. It just makes sense now that we have this tour in place and we're getting ready to go back out on the road that there is new music, so I'm excited."
Yearwood's signing with Sony follows Brooks' announcement last month that he was signing with the label and would have a new album this fall. "We wanted to be on the same label because we thought it would be easier and more fun because we want to do duet records," Yearwood said. "We wanted to be able to do whatever we wanted and we've never been on the same record label, so it was kind of born out of looking to find a home that wanted to work with both of us, and Sony was that. I'm excited because it's a joint venture and I got my own imprint for the first time. I named my imprint Gwendolyn Records after my mom, so that's special to me."
Yearwood says the title track reminds her of her late mother who passed away in 2011 after battling cancer. "'Prizefighter' is an empowering song about just staying in the fight," Yearwood said. "When I hear this song I see everything about my mom. I think about her. I think about the soldiers I visited at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center]. I think about little kids going to school and getting bullied. There's so many things going through my head. It's a really cool song and it just seemed like the right title for this album."
The release date hasn't been set yet, but the album will mix new songs with some of Yearwood's classic hits. "It's everything you would expect like 'She's in Love With The Boy' and all the way to 'How Do I Live,'" Yearwood said of the songs that range from her breakthrough hit to the Diane Warren-penned power ballad featured in the Nicolas Cage film Con Air. "When we released 'How Do I Live,' we did two versions for the movie. We did the country version and we did the pop version. The country version is what went to radio, but the pop version was released on the album, so the country version has never been on a record. PrizeFighter will be about eight or nine greatest hits and about six new songs, so it should have about 15 songs on it."
The bulk of the album will be produced by Yearwood's longtime producer Garth Fundis with a couple of additional tracks she worked on recently with Mark Miller, Brooks' longtime engineer, who is producing this new record. "I'm still kind of frantically finishing up," Yearwood said of the album.
When asked if she's thinking about country radio as she records the new music, Yearwood responded, "Absolutely! I'm not young. I'm going to be 50 this September and all you hear is, 'Nobody over 30 gets played on radio,' so it's a whole new ballgame, but it's not going to stop me from making good music and I do think about radio. We are recording a little differently. The sound is a lot different on radio now. The vocals are a lot dryer and more in your face, and I like that. It's been a new experience for me and we are recording that way. I feel like musically it sounds like what you hear on radio. Now whether radio will play it or not remains to be seen, and I'm conscious of it. But I'm doing what I've always done, and that is pick songs that I believe in and try to do the best job I can on them and then hope for the best."
Much has been said and written recently about the dearth of women on country radio, and Yearwood admits to being baffled by it. "I don't know why," she mused. "When I was making records in the mid-'90s, women were just taking over the radio. It was me, Faith [Hill], Martina [McBride], Reba [McEntire], Pam Tillis and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Everywhere you turned there was a female on the radio, having No. 1s and selling records. I never thought it would go the other way. I read that there were maybe four female artists that have had No.1 records this past year, so I don't know what happened. The female artists that are doing well are doing great. Everybody's voice needs to be heard. I love Miranda Lambert. I'm a fan and I'm glad that if women are being represented by a few, I'm glad that one of them is her because she is awesome, but we need more."
In addition to working on her album, Yearwood has been readying the new season of her cooking show, which launches this weekend. "I did 15 shows in 16 days, so I'm fresh off of that," Yearwood said, admitting she's still amazed at the show's success because it's so much fun to do. "We ad-lib everything. We don't have a script and they could show a whole show of outtakes because I make so many mistakes. I can't believe they edit it all together and make it look like a show, but it's been fun and I feel like it works because it goes back to being true to what I know. I'm not a chef. I don't pretend to be. I'm a cook like my mama was. I think I cook like most people cook when they are in the kitchen. The biggest compliment is when somebody says, 'I feel like I could be in your kitchen and be your friend.' It's the same way when somebody comes to a concert and says, 'I feel like I got to know you in that two hours and I feel like we could hang out.' That's what I want. I don't want to be the elusive star, whatever that is. I want to be the girl you think you can be buddies with."
Trisha's Southern Kitchen began in April 2012 spurred by the success of her New York Times best-selling cookbooks -- 2008's Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen and 2010's Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood. The cookbooks and TV show have led to Yearwood partnering with GreenPan to launch her Trisha's Precious Metals collection. She'll be introducing two items on In the Kitchen With David on Aug. 24 and will launch the entire line on QVC in November. It goes to Walmart in the spring of 2015. Yearwood is also launching a line of cutlery with Furi.
"The success of those books, which turned into the success of the TV show, brought with it all sorts of opportunity, and I've been really slow to endorse this product or that product because I don't want to endorse anything that I don't believe in," Yearwood said. "I've been working on a cookware line for about two years, just making sure to get it right and make sure it's something that I liked. And I approached them. It's a company called GreenPan, which is what I use. I bought a pan of theirs in Target and I really liked it, so when we were being pitched all these cookware lines, I said, 'Can somebody just call GreenPan to see if they would meet with me?' They are wonderful. They are just a good company that is not only a good product, but is affordable and it's something that I really use. So they worked with me on developing a bunch of pans that are beautiful that I use in my kitchen. They go in the dishwasher, all the things that I require. I don't want some $200 pan that is beautiful and cooks great but I can't put in the dishwasher, so that's something that is coming."
Yearwood says she's also a fan of Furi Knives and is partnering with them to start her own line of cutlery. "They study carpal tunnel syndrome and the whole ergonomic thing about holding a knife and they make amazing knives," she says. "So I'll partner with them too. I'm probably moving slower than everybody in my camp would like, but I'm not going to endorse something that I don't believe in. I just did this Hellmann's Mayonnaise campaign because I've been talking about them for seven years, so they came calling. It's just like looking for songs. You try to find songs that feel like you. If you didn't write them, you still feel like you did when you're done. It's the same thing like these ventures. I'm not going to endorse a pan that I'm not going to use myself."
In the midst of recording the new album and readying her cutlery and cookware lines, Yearwood recently moved back to Nashville, where she and Brooks are settling into a new home. "We both had houses here that we lived in, but we are trying to pare down," she says. (Her previous Nashville home is up for sale as well as a home the couple own in Malibu.)
"We have multiple homes, but we're not really multiple home people," she says with a laugh, "so we're trying to pare down and have just one place in Nashville, and we do still have our place in Oklahoma."
In the next few weeks, the couple will be on the road, starting with a string of 11 sold-out Chicago shows on Sept. 4 and then heading to Atlanta for multiple dates. "It's going to be super cool. You know my husband doesn't do anything halfway," she said. "It's going to be over the top and I get to be a part of this. I'm super excited."
Yearwood is appreciative of where she is now in her career and excited about the future. "When I took a break from music to move to Oklahoma and marry the love of my life, I really didn't know what would happen next," said Yearwood, who has won three Grammys, three CMAs and two ACM Awards. "I'm an artist, so my goal is to continue to make music for as long as I can still sing. I want to sell records and I want to have hits. You always want to be that girl that people are talking about, but my bigger goal in music is really to make music. My role model is somebody like Emmylou Harris. I'm going to buy every Emmylou Harris record that she ever makes. It doesn't matter to me if she is trending on Yahoo or if she's got a No. 1 record or she's not getting played on radio or she is. She's an artist and I want to hear what she has to say, so I model my music career on somebody like her.
"Although I'm not saying I'm not sitting here trying to figure out the best way to market myself so I can sell records and have hits, because this is a good opportunity for me," she continues. "The touring is an opportunity for me, and so is the cooking show. We have an average of 1.2 million viewers every Saturday, so I've got a nice audience there that I'm hoping I can bring along with all this other stuff. I would not have thought that I would have this kind of energy and excitement after almost 25 years of being in this business. It's wonderful and it makes me feel like there's nothing that I can't do. If you can dream it, then figure out a way to do it. And when you do dream it, and it is successful, then you have more confidence to try the next thing. It's like, 'OK, what else can we do?' I've never been busier, but it's good. It's all good."