At this time in 2016, Meghan Trainor had a multi-platinum record with “All About That Bass” (that was recently certified diamond), a fresh best new artist Grammy, and a new album on the way. But by the time the 2017 Grammys rolled around, the now-24-year-old singer/songwriter wasn’t riding the same high that she was just a year prior: Instead, she was going under for vocal surgery, her second procedure in two years.
“I thought all my dreams were taken away from me,” she admits. “Those were dark days.”
Adding more frustration to the mix, Trainor had just started dating her now-fiancé, actor Daryl Sabara, meaning the first few months of their relationship were spent communicating through sign language and writing things down. While he was nothing but supportive — along with her family and crew, who were by her side through the entire surgery and recovery process — Trainor definitely had doubts about her future.
Once her no-talking recovery days were done and it was time to get back into the studio, anxiety followed Trainor as she began recording songs for her third album. Yet, thanks to the encouragement from those around her, she pushed through any lingering fear and pain, and now she’s ready to unveil what she considers to be “my best work yet.” The third M-Train chapter starts Thursday (March 1), as the singer unveiled her new single, “No Excuses” — a mantra she’s now living by after what she went through.
Billboard caught up with Trainor about her journey to the sassy call for respect that is “No Excuses” (and how it has nothing to do with her very happy relationship), which involved turning her anxiety into happiness through self-love and, in turn, “unlocked some magic” on her next set of material.
You would think that a girl who’s in love would release a single about that… what made you decide to put out “No Excuses” as the first introduction to your next chapter instead of something a little more lovey dovey?
I knew it’d be too obvious — I can’t give them what they want yet! [Laughs] But I’ve given the fans some lyrics and I’m happy they’re not taking them as “Oh no, what did Daryl do?” and they don’t already assume it’s him because it’s not. He is good to me and I love him, he’s so supportive. And if it wasn’t this song, it was gonna be a dance song, so the love songs are saved for the album and later singles, hopefully.
You’ve also been playing on the phrase “No Excuses” for your album teases. Did that kind of have something to do with it?
I got mentally destroyed from my second vocal surgery. I was just sad that it happened again, because they tell you, “You won’t deal with this ever again,” and then I did. I had to crawl out of that anxiety and that dark place, but now I’m so happy. Daryl brought me back — we exercise together, we’re so cute it’s disgusting. We eat well together, he cooks for me, he’s shown me how to meditate and to find happiness. We’ve never been better, and life has never been better.
Are your experiences with the surgeries reflected on the album at all?
I have a song that talks all about it — it’s like a “treat myself” song. I say in the first verse, “I’ve been workin’ real hard on myself and my health and my happiness,” and it’s all about patting yourself on the back, like, “Good job taking care of you and forgetting all your worries in the world. No matter how intense your job is or your life is at the moment, you pause everything and say, ‘No, no, no, I gotta focus on me right now.’” And I had to remind myself how proud I was.
You had reached out to Sam Smith about the surgery — did he coach you through the recovery at all? And have you talked to him since or has he heard you sing?
He’s now changed his number and I’ve changed mine, but when I had his number, I was on my M-Train Tour — my second tour ever, the one I had to cancel — and I was in my hotel room with bronchitis and lost my voice and had vocal cord hemorrhage. [Doctors] told me, “If you keep going, you’ll break it till you can’t sing forever.” I asked him, “Do I cancel an entire tour and do this surgery?” And he immediately said, “Absolutely, take care of your voice, don’t waste shows singing terribly knowing you’re hurting yourself. Do what’s best for those vocal cords, you just get it done and you sing for everyone again and say, ‘I’ll make these shows up to you, I promise,’” so that’s what I did. It’s the best accomplishment ever.
I hope he’s heard my songs, I really haven’t talked to him since except for like, one chat on Twitter. But he was so kind and so nice to me, and I knew he was going through those vocal problems too because he he’d been public about it. When you’re public about it, you almost feel alone in the moment. Now I have other people reaching out to me, like, “Hey I’m struggling with my vocals” and I’m helping them out. It feels so good to be open about it and help others.
Was there a point after your first procedure that you were afraid you might not be able to keep doing this?
Oh yeah. The fact that every surgery happened after an album cycle — two albums, two surgeries — I looked at my team crying and said, “My body was not built to be a pop star, I guess.” And they were like, “That’s not true, you were born to do this!” They had to really convince me — I went to a very dark place of like, “How will I ever tour again? How will I get to do promo?” I still get anxiety and a little scared when I see the schedule, like, “OK, we’re going to talk that entire day and then we’re going to perform the next day?” But so far, we take it day by day and we all know we’re never letting it get back to surgery — that’s the goal.
You’ve already referred to this album as your favorite and your best work yet — what makes you feel that way?
I think I definitely unlocked some magic with this album as a songwriter. Before, as a songwriter, I knew I had great songs but there would be parts in the songs that I would cringe, like, “Why did I write that pre-chorus?” Or “Why didn’t I make the bridge crazier?” And finally on this album I loved, loved every song and I’m so proud of every section of every song. I’ve never had that because of insecurities and my projects as an artist. This is also the first project that every song is related to each other — one will wink at the other with a lyrical splash. My family is [also] singing on the background of every song — so I’m taking them around the world to promote it with me, because I feel like it’s their album too. I’m never gonna write a song without them singing on it again, they’re the best choir!
Going into the studio, people around me told me, “You’ve never sounded like this before, you sound so good.” I felt in pain because I was still sore from recovering, so I’m singing this album and I’m belting it, giving it my all and I’m just exhausted after recording these songs. And when I sent [them] to [my team], their first response on every single song was, “Your voice, dude.” You get a type of insecurity when you’ve been going through surgeries, like, “Do I sound good as a singer? Am I a good singer?” I know I’ve got songwriting in the bag, but vocally I was very scared, so that was the best compliment to get on this album.
When you went into the studio, did you have a goal in mind for what you wanted this next album to sound like or a message you wanted to send?
I missed a lot of pop songs, big anthems. Like Britney Spears in the early days, [sings] “’cause I’m stronger than yesterday,” those big songs where you’re like, “Oh my goodness!” And for chords, it’s not just like four chords, it’s magical four chords — it sounds really musical, but it’s simple for the ear and everyone can learn the words right away. I went in listening to a lot of ABBA too, and their big, big songs like “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)” — that sounds like a big pop song, but it’s actually kind of vulnerable. I love the vulnerability of it, I thought there was something really special about that — you can have this big anthem, but you can also be like, “Here’s my heart on the inside!”
Did winning the Grammy for best new artist in 2016 have any impact on the kind of music you were making for this next record?
I guess I didn’t really think about it. I thought more about that stuff when I was promoting Thank You — I was really in my head about it on that album, but I learned how to let it go and remind myself that it’s about the fans and writing music for them and what makes them happy and what makes me happy at the same time. I think I found that beautiful world of, “Every age will love this, all my fans will be obsessed with this, and I will love performing this every single day — I’ll never get sick of this.”
So how did “No Excuses” come together?
It was one of the last songs I wrote. It deserves to be the first single. It needs to be heard right now — the world could use a song like this. It’s about respect — we need a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the world [Laughs], especially right now. Even of all ages, just that “Treat people the way you want to be treated” is so important. I have little cousins in school, and I hear these stories, and I’m like, “Gosh, that’s still happening? Kids are still mean?” I just want to remind everyone to respect people — it feels good to give someone a hug and treat them right.
You’ve been big into putting out confident, don’t need no man kind of anthems — will fans be seeing more of the softer side of you because of where you’re at in your love life? And is “No Excuses” the sassiest on the album?
This is definitely the sassiest song. But what I did was, if I had a love song, I remembered to like keep it sassy and cool. So I have this one love song that’s a big anthem like “I just want to be foolish with you.” In the verses you almost think I’m being sassy and aggressive, when I’m saying “I want to be with you and no one else, and I wanna do it right now!” So I kept it all fun and upbeat, and it’s a different approach as a songwriter on a love song, which is cool.
Aside from your love life and the surgery, was there anything else that changed in the last two years that’s had an impact on your music?
I never took care of myself. I always thought I did, but I never really took care of myself like I’m doing now. It took me 24 years to figure that out, and it took me crashing and burning to figure that out. I wish someone told me back in the day, “If you eat healthy and work out and take care of yourself physically, mentally you’ll be much happier too.” That was the biggest thing I learned, and I wish I hadn’t let it get all the way to anxiety and getting into a dark place. But I learned, and I saw the dark side, I saw what can happen, and I gotta keep happy – there’s no excuses!