She's an enduring music icon who has bounced back from cancer. You probably heard her 2002 summertime hit "Soak up the Sun" and she followed it with the touching album "Wildflower" in 2005. The nine-time Grammy award winner is spunky, friendly and an inspiration to women everywhere. After her much publicized break up with award-winning cyclist Lance Armstrong (who sadly enough, also had a bout with cancer) fans wondered if Sheryl would bounce back. She's done so with flair.
Now, Sheryl has contributed a great song for the end-credits of the new film Home of the Brave, the first major film to chronicle the lives of vets returning from the Iraq war. We chatted with Sheryl recently near Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills about the film, her feelings about cancer and war and, of course, lighter subjects. She looked great in cute Zac Posen black and white patterned jacket, jeans and high black heels. Sheryl played a torch singer in director Irwin Winkler's film DeLovely and he thought of her to write a song for "Brave".
TeenHollywood: How did you get approached to write the song for the film?
We were over at a friend's house to screen a movie and we were just eating dinner. Irwin said 'I'm working on this movie, and I would love for you to write the end title for it'. And you never really know if those things are serious but sure enough, the next day he called me. I never got to see a script. I saw the movie completed. Had a screening then went home immediately and wrote the song. Irwin, after the movie, wanted to stop and talk about it, I went 'no, no, no. You can't talk to me about it, I gotta go straight home, while I still have it in my head', and I wrote it that night. I called the next day and he liked it.
TeenHollywood: Was there something in the film that inspired you?
Yeah, part of it was my own experience of having had breast cancer. Not the same thing, but I think [it's a] pivotal experience when you realize your life's never gonna be the same, and you're gonna have to integrate back into your life. That's the story of these four people [in the film]. Just trying to figure out, 'how do I go on from here, or from there to here'? If you really deal with it, you really experience it and embrace it, you're able to move on. I think that we're kind of in the same place we were in Vietnam. Instead of really looking at that and learning, we've sort of not remembered the lesson, and so here we are.
TeenHollywood: Do you think this movie might be a hard sell since the Iraq war is so unpopular?
Yeah, I do and it's one of the reasons I'm talking about it a lot because I think it is an important film and I think there are certain things we don't want to look at ourselves. I think that's what the movie does, it points out that we, as a nation, have really gone to sleep. We're not holding our government responsible for giving us the truth; the real answers. They are failing our troops and there are certain things that we just don't want to look at. It's not light entertainment but it is a good story and it's well done and it's an important story.
TeenHollywood: Do you have friends who have relatives in the war?
Many personal friends, and also I have a really dear friend who went over and he's lost both of his hands and most of his arms. He's quite an inspiration. He's the son of a friend of mine and he's from my hometown, and he feels like the characters in the film; he feels like he hasn't been supported as a vet. He is now very involved in trying to lead a movement to get troops out, to stop the war, and he also feels like there's so many questions as to why we're there. But that's not really what the film is about, although I love the fact that the film does, at least, touch on the political aspects and the fact that people are on all sides of the issue. It's not heavy-handed, but it really does portray what it must be like to come home.
TeenHollywood: What's your song writing process?
With movies it's different, and I've only done it a couple of times, like I did the James Bond theme, and that's very specific, because there's a whole legacy there. It's thematic, it's torchy. With this I felt like I needed to be more dramatic, and I didn't want to restate what had already happened in the film. I wanted to just ease people out of the theater, you know. You've just seen something really heavy, and so I started with the music first. I play piano, that's my main instrument, so I started with that. And then sang kind of an ethereal melody.
TeenHollywood: Is that how you usually do it?
When I'm working on my own stuff, I generally write the words, or at least part of the words first, so that I have some idea of where I'm going. And I think I'm most successful in finishing something if I have the lyrics first, and then write the music to the lyrics. Otherwise I get bogged down with the lyrics. And that for me is the most important aspect.
TeenHollywood: How is your life right now?
Life's great! It is. I'm healthy. Had my six months check up about a month ago, and so far so good. And I just finished a tour a little over a month ago and I'm really happy. Things are good.
TeenHollywood: What was your schedule like once you had gotten sick? Did you just jump right back in?
I got diagnosed about a month before I was supposed to go out on the road on a tour. The schedule was all set up and it was the "Wildflower" tour for that record and I loved the record. I was really disappointed about it and all the promoters started calling and saying 'look, we're going to have to start refunding tickets if you're not going to reschedule'. So we figured out when I would be done with radiation and we gave me a little time after radiation to recoup and it just wasn't enough time.
TeenHollywood: Then you were feeling awful on tour?
Well, when I went out, it was very emotional for me and I had a lot of people explain to me that, when you do radiation, you're just kind of left wide open emotionally so you go out and face all these people who really love you and are supporting you and it was really hard. I was really tired all the time and emotional. I came back in the summer and toured with John Mayer and that was the best tour I ever had. It was really fun and I could really feel the audience wanting to go there; wanting to be transported, and it was a great, celebratory summer. It was nice, because, now that I'm not touring, I'm leaving on that note until I make a new record. I'm really looking forward to it.
TeenHollywood: When you heard about the cancer, did you just say "I'm gonna come through this"?
It's an odd experience. I think, when you're a person who thinks that they have a lot of control over things, to go from having everything kind of mapped out to having none of that and have your life be threatened by getting a diagnosis like cancer, I think you do what your spirit tells you to do. [For me that was] to just hunker down and start investigating what you're made of and you look at your life differently and decide from this moment on who you're gonna be.
TeenHollywood: You've raised awareness on the issue, especially among your female fans.
Because I have a large audience of young women, as well as women who are my age and older, I feel like my experience is worth talking about as far as encouraging people to get mammograms and do self examinations. But also I think we're in an age now where people want to talk about these things. People in the breast cancer community flock to each other, so I'm kind of brought into that, even though my main job is as a musician.
TeenHollywood: Can you compare your career now to when you first started? Is there a difference in how you approach your music?
Oh, I thought you were going to say 'what are the things you regret'? Oh, bad haircuts..[we laugh]. I studied piano and got my college degree in that. I always wanted to be a great musician and I wanted to be a great songwriter and I wanted to write music that was compelling. So, every time I've made a record, I've just driven myself to become a better musician and a better songwriter. There are certain instruments I go to now and I'm comfortable on them. I don't find that I really do anything different. I just switch up what instruments I write on. My second record, I wasn't a very good guitar player so I wrote on guitar. For my third record, I would just sing the melody and find the bass note and that was the demo. Now, I just write prose and poetry all day long and I don't go to anything until I have it. So, it's a process for me. It's whatever I do to make it interesting so I'm not just repeating myself.
TeenHollywood: With the holidays coming up, what gift do you hope to get?
Awwwww, world peace [laughs], a new president? I'm so blessed; a cookbook I can understand maybe.
TeenHollywood: What do you like to cook?
I'm such a terrible cook that I really, honestly, I need a cookbook that just walks me through like 'take four steps to the right', like one of those car directionals, 'pick up spoon from drawer'.
TeenHollywood: You've had a lot of collaborations in the past. Who is a musician you're looking forward to working with? 50 Cent
I love him and I did not know his name was Curtis Jackson. I was like 'Curtis Jackson?' I'm really lucky. I've really worked with people that I really loved. I would actually like to work with Jack White who lives in Nashville now where I'm living. I think he's interesting. He's very well-versed in what I feel like are the important references to American music. I would really love to see what the two of us might do together.
TeenHollywood: Do you see yourself going back on camera like you did in De-Lovely?
I don't know. De-Lovely was, for me, not a stretch because I got to play a singer. But also, as a kid I grew up just absorbed by song and dance films. I loved everything from that period like Brigadoon and Song of St. Louis. In fact, I loved Gene Kelly so much when I was eight that I wrote him a letter because I really wanted to marry him and I thought, 'if you just wait' and he did write me back. It was easy for me to step into that crooner role as a torch singer like Rosemary Clooney or Judy Garland. But, as an actress, I don't know. I'm not very confident when it comes to stuff like that.
TeenHollywood: Are you going to take some time off now?
Sheryl: I am. After today you will not see me for at least three months.