Brought up in rural Canada, she is of Irish and
French-Canadian descent, and was raised by an Ojibwa
Indian father. The teenage Twain would spend weekends
hunting on the reservation, and weeknights being smuggled into bars to perform precocious C&W standards
on her acoustic guitar. These days she is married to rock producer Mutt Lange, responsible for guiding the careers of Bryan Adams, Def Leppard and AC/DC, among many others. Having a joint income greater than some small countries means that, come rent day, there's no scrabbling around for lost change down the back of the sofa in the Twain household. Yet in person, Shania displays none of the snobbery that all too often comes with success. And although the cover artwork for her hit new album, Come On Over, reveals the kind of form that has made her a trucker's favourite pin-up in the States, she readily admits to having a few skeletons in her fashion closet.
When you were a teenager, did you ever dress like a rock chick - with, like, back-combed hair?
Yeah, I have to admit it, I had big Seventies hair and really bad perms, ha ha! I also once had a frizzy hair period and I definitely wore too much black eye-liner as a teenager. But I was never into heavy make-up. I never had foundation or lipstick - just eye-liner and back-combed hair.
Did you ever sport a denim jacket with the name of a band embroidered on the back?
No, but when I was 16 I had my own rock band. We wore
black satin jackets with our logo on the back. We were
called Long Shot.
Were Long Shot any good?
We were pretty good actually, pretty dangerous for my
home town and pretty popular. The bars we played in
would have to lock the doors at 9pm - before we came on
stage - because the places would be so full. And I wasn't even legally old enough to be in the bars. We would mix stuff like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with pop rock Foreigner-type stuff. And we'd do stuff by A Flock Of Seagulls.
You don't like A Flock Of Seagulls? (Sings) "Can I touch you to see if you're real?" I love that song!
What's the weirdest venue you've played in?
From when I was eight to about 12 I played in clubs, but I also played in community centres and senior citizens homes. My great-grandfather was in one, so I'd go and entertain him. I'd have some people going "I can't hear anything - is she playing anything?" and others complaining that it was too loud.
Did you ever play behind chicken-wire, like in The Blues Brothers?
No, but I've seen a lot of bar fights. If one broke out in front of the stage I'd get right in there, as I can't stand to see people hitting each other. I'd be trying to split them up - like I was going to be able to do anything! I'm surprised I didn't get myself killed. But I've never played behind chicken-wire. Or had a tomato thrown at me. Is it true that people in the UK spit at bands?
Not unless they really like them. Moving on, you sold ten million albums last year - that's just showing off isn't it?
Ha ha ha! Well, I'm having fun showing off! I enjoy it! I love what I do, so it's nice to get paid well for doing it. Music careers can be very short-lived, so it's a case of enjoying it while I can.
There seems to be confusion about exactly what kind of music you play. You're labelled as country, but your new album sounds like loud pop songs with guitars to me.
I guess you're right. They're pop songs with a country
structure. The way I see it is that my music isn't country in the way you probably think of country, but it is influenced by country. I've fallen into that category and, to be honest, I really don't care - it hasn't stopped people from buying my records.
Your lyrics can be a bit corny - do you purposely write them with your tongue in your cheek?
Oh yeah. You can't take it seriously. I don't think hardcore country fans realise it, but everyone else knows that they're meant to be corny and humorous. I'm not an angry person, so I write with comic relief.
Do people do special line dance steps to your songs?
My husband was watching this country music dance
programme, and when one of my songs came on all the
people left the dancefloor. Just a couple of people were left trying real hard to dance along. Then, when my song finished, a real country kickin' tune came on and everybody came back onto the dancefloor. But at least some of them tried to dance.
You changed your name from Eileen Regina to Shania. Not an obvious switch, perhaps?
It means, "I'm on my way." I don't even put any emphasis on its meaning. Somebody else looked it up and told me what it meant. There was a wardrobe mistress in a show I once did and her name was Shania, because one of her parents was a Native American. I thought the name was beautiful. When I got my first record deal they told me "Eileen Twain" didn't flow and I had to change my surname, but I refused because my parents had passed away and I wanted to keep my family name. So I changed the first one to Shania. There wasn't a whole lot of thought went into it.
Where were you brought up?
My whole background, from when I was a toddler, was
Ojibwa Indian. Most of my relatives lived on a reservation. My mother was Irish and French. My father didn't want us to grow up there, but we ended up
spending a lot of our weekends and summers on the reserves. It was like one big happy family, completely different from white, city society. I learned how to snare rabbits and stuff like that.
You didn't have to wear the rabbits
No, I didn't have to wear rabbit hats or anything, although my grandmother used to make me stage outfits out of deerskin. We ate a lot of wild meat. I'm a vegetarian now, but I don't look down on people who eat meat. And of course I've been to pow-wows. But no, I have never smoked a peace pipe.
One song from your new album, Don't Be Stupid, warns
men about being jealous. Are there any other bad habits
that we have that you'd like to sort out?
Men could learn to be more sensitive about the way they
criticise how women look. That can really kill!
Your manager mentioned earlier that you hate it when
men fart out loud in public.
Yeah, ha ha ha! Men fart out loud much too often. And
they get away with it because they're men and it's totally disgusting. It completely embarrasses me! If I farted out loud I'd be so embarrassed! But guys think it's cool.
And finally, are you really too sexy for country?
You're either too sexy or you're not sexy enough. Right
now I'm having fun with being sexy.
Anthony Noguera, FHM, May/98