Sheryl Crow: 'I was a people-pleaser and I had to unlearn that'
The US singer-songwriter on Michael Jackson, surviving cancer and why her kids hate her singing
By Elizabeth Day
‘I was ready to have my life changed’: Sheryl Crow's journey from pop-rock princess to soulful survivor
You're in London promoting your new album, 100 Miles From Memphis. How are you finding the blustery weather?
You know what? I don't mind at all. It's so hot in America at the moment it's unbearable.
Did growing up close to Memphis have an influence on you musically?
A ton of influence, because I come from a town that is actually 100 miles from Memphis and people didn't travel nearly as much as they do now, so Memphis was the big city for us. There was quite a mystique about it because so many great artists had come from there, Elvis included, and I heard a lot of them on the radio, which was AM radio then. Gosh, I heard everything. "Knock on Wood", "Chain of Fools", all that old stuff.
You toured with Michael Jackson as a backing singer on his Bad world tour. What was he like?
He was really reclusive by the time I worked with him, but I liked him very much. When I heard about his death, I didn't believe it. I thought it was a hoax. I didn't believe it and it made me really sad.
You've been quoted in the past as saying you are inspired by any music "as long as there's a drum beat". Does that still hold true?
I feel certain that's a misquote. I'm really about a great melody and a great lyric. I think "Yesterday" is one of the greatest songs ever written and I'm pretty sure there's no drum beat there.
Apparently, Paul McCartney dreamed the entire melody of "Yesterday" and woke up thinking someone else must have already written it.
Yeah, wouldn't you have loved to have dreamed that song?
Your breakthrough song, "All I Wanna Do", was played all the time on the radio when it was released in 1994. How do you feel listening to it now?
I'm really proud of it. Even though people really invested meaning in the chorus and were not necessarily picking up on the direness of the lyrics, they remember where they were when they first heard it and that doesn't normally happen.
You've won nine Grammys during your career. Does it ever get boring winning the same awards?
No! It's nice to be acknowledged, especially when you spend as much time working and wanting to do good work as I do.
You spent years building up your career as a backing singer and songwriter before becoming a successful solo artist. What do you think of the instant fame awarded to contestants on shows like American Idol?
It's different now than it was then. VH1 and MTV were still fairly new back then and there weren't all these celebrity tabloids or music contests that there are now. That's not a good or a bad thing, it's just different.
You used to sing commercial jingles. What's the secret to a good jingle?
Well, anybody who writes jingles – which I never did, I just sang them – will tell you that you have a nanosecond to get across what you're selling in a memorable way so you need a simple melody and a hook line. I can still remember the one I sang for McDonald's.
You also sang the theme tune for the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Who is your favourite 007?
Oh, Sean Connery. I love the early James Bonds – Goldfinger is great, Dr No, I love Dr No. I love the campness, the double entendres and sexual innuendos.
Do you ever sing to your adopted children [Wyatt, three, and Levi, two months]?
I do, but it's actually kind of funny because I sang to Wyatt to the point where he would say" "No, Mummy, no more singing." It took me a while to realise that when I pick up the guitar or sit down at the piano, to him that means Mummy's going to work.
Was it a hard decision to adopt?
Not at all. I did it out of personal choice. I'm sure I could have done the whole sperm bank thing but, to me, there are so many great kids out there who need a home and I believe souls have a way of finding their way to you. I always wanted to be a mum.
Will you tell them they're adopted when they're older?
You were treated for breast cancer four years ago. How did surviving cancer change the way you live your life?
The entire experience was a real source of remembering who I am. It was about looking at my life and realigning it. Every experience you have where life comes to a screeching halt dictates that you take a refresher course on who you came in as. I was someone who could never say no. I had to learn to say no, I had to learn to be OK with not everyone liking me because I was a people-pleaser, a caretaker, and I had to unlearn that.
The first thing I had to learn how to do was to sit, be quiet and hold an emotion, and not to do that thing of staying busy and not thinking about it, because you wind up not experiencing the lesson. So I allowed myself to grieve, to feel scared, and I came out of it feeling like I'd been liberated.
Did you become more open in your music as well?
Yeah. I think whatever happens in your life will definitely show up in your art. Your life informs your art and definitely my last record was a direct result of what I'd been through.
You dated the cyclist Lance Armstrong for three years. Did going out with a professional athlete make you feel guilty that you weren't doing enough exercise?
[Laughs] I never thought about that. That's funny. Well, I always leaned more towards playing sport, as opposed to going to the gym. So I loved riding my bike as much as I did swimming or playing tennis. Those things I still do if I can squeeze them in between having two little kids.
You live in Nashville: have you ever met its most famous resident, Dolly Parton?
I have and I adore her. She's fantastic. She's wicked smart, really sharp and funny. She's the real deal.
100 Miles From Memphis is out on Polydor