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Shania's throwing a party - and everbody's welcome

Country Weekly cover Mar31/98 Shania Twain's long-awaited tour begins at the end of May, and it's going to be a party. Take her word for it.

"It'll be a fun, party atmosphere," says the 32-year-old superstar from Timmins, Ontario. "The performance will be very high energy with great lights and great sound. I'm going to do variations on the arrangements of my songs so they'll be different and more exciting live. We're planning on doing some creative things musically."

Though the details are still being finalized, Shania says she will play about 70 tour dates in the 1998 leg of the two-year tour. The first concerts will be in Canada and then she'll move onto the United States in June.

"I'm going to try to do a lot of outdoors stuff because it is going to be spring, summer. I think it'll be a very fun vibe, and I've always liked going to those types of shows." It's obvious Shania's excited as she curls up in jeans and sneakers on the sofa in a Nashville hotel room to talk with COUNTRY WEEKLY about her tour - her first sing-for-pay performances since she toured in 1993 after releasing her unsuccessful debut album. Her second album, 1995's multi-platinum The Woman in Me vaulted her to stardom, and her 1997 album, Come on Over, further whetted her fans' appetites.

The wait won't be long, for either her new legion of fans or Shania, who's thrown herself into the preparation of the show and the bus that will be her home for much of the next two years.

The show first. "I've got a great band," she says, a lilt in her voice. "There are nine pieces - three fiddlers - and everyone sings!"

But if her fans expect to see a tightly choreographed Vegas-style production, they're in for a surprise. "The show is going to be exciting, but it's not going to be slick. It's not going to look like a dance video," Shania emphasizes. "My musicians and I will move around, but I don't want to have to take dancing lessons to do the show." She shakes her head and laughs. "I'm not a dancer at all. This show is really going to be all about the music, and performance of the music."

Fans will be a big part of the show. "I feel like I'm hosting a party when I do a concert because you're inviting people there and it's your job to entertain them. I don't want to feel separated from the audience."

Instead, she wants communities to get involved in her show. For instance, she will recruit a couple of teenagers at every tour stop to play drums on "(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here" - duplicating the multi-drummer scene in the song's video.

"I don't want audiences to sit back and observe," Shania says. "I want to create a section of the show that's intimate, acoustic, me sitting as close as I can to the audience, maybe on the floor, like you would if you're having a party. I want to create that atmosphere and entertain them as if I'm hosting a party."

Offstage, it could be called The Dog and Pony Tour, since her horse and her dog are traveling with her.

"I'll have someone take my horse and meet us on the road," she says. "They'llgo at their own pace, moving from pasture to pasture. He's a very experienced traveler, and it'll be great for me to have him there."

Her dog Tim has an all-access pass - and a private entrance on the customized tour bus she's created.

"I've set the whole bus industry upside down with this bus design," she claims gleefully. "I'll have my dog Tim with me, so I've been practical about materials and colors; it's neutral and comfortable, more like a cabin than a luxury apartment."

There's a bigger than usual kitchen, a real bathtub, a miniature rehearsal studio. "I plan to eat a lot on my bus, I love baths, and I want to maybe record a few things that I write," says Shania, "so it's set up more like a living room. I've got a doggie hatch so I can let the dog in and out without having to go outside - little things like that. It has two doors, so I have my own private living area. I know what it's like to live on a bus, and I know where I want things, so I've rearranged it the way I want it."

That doesn't mean it's a mini Taj Mahal, however.

"It's not an opulent bus," Shania stresses. "There's no marble or anything like that. It's the design and layout that's important to me. It's more like a home."

Absent from the tour will be one vital part of her home life in upstate New York - her husband and producer, Robert John "Mutt" Lange. He prefers to stay out of the limelight.

She wrote her current single, "You're Still the One," about their relationship.

The song's video, which includes a bedroom scene, startled some Music Row conservatives. Shania shrugs.

"It's totally ridiculous if anyone thinks I'm pushing the limits on that video," she says. "There is nothing revealing about it. I'm wrapped up to the gills. The video is sensual and has a surreal feel about it, but there is nothing sexual about it. When you start kissing and touching, it's sexual. But sensual? That's fine, in my opinion - it's a very romantic song."

Shania pays little attention to tongues wagging on Music Row.

"I don't pay attention to it because it limits you artistically. I think fans are totally unlimited. Their minds are completely open. They're always interested in what's creative and new and refreshing. Our job is to keep them entertained, and you have to be creative to make that happen." Restricting creativity, she adds, would be like an art gallery banning paintings that show women's breasts, effectively eliminating some of the world's greatest art. The concept makes her laugh. "You cannot restrict art that way," she adds.

Obviously, Shania's doing something right: In the United States alone, The Woman in Me sold more than 10 million copies - more than any other album by a female country artist - and Come on Over has reached triple platinum status. But she's as straightforward as ever, despite the changes in her fortune.

"I'm not really experiencing fame," Shania says. "I didn't know what to expect. I did think it would be more glamorous. I always thought it would be fun to have somebody doing your hair and makeup every day, and somebody shopping for your clothes. I thought it would be fun to sit around and drink tea and pick through the clothes.

"Let me tell you," she adds with a laugh, "it's not like that at all. It's more like, 'You've got five minutes and you better look great.' It's not this wonderful, glamorous experience I toyed with in front of the mirror as a child."

Stardom is heaps more work than she had foreseen. Right now, her career must take top billing at every level of her young life.

"Just how drastically things can change from day to day and week to week is incredible," she says. "The only way I can keep sane and enjoy what I'm doing is to focus on the fans and why I'm doing this. It's the only way to stay grounded, because if you get too serious about yourself you can't stay normal."

Normal's important to her. "I don't care about the fame," Shania says. "If it's gone tomorrow, I don't care. It's not important. Even when I was a kid, I never wanted to be the star - I just wanted to be Stevie Wonder's backup singer. Seriously, that's all I ever wanted to be. At 10 years old, I'd go to bed and pray, 'Please, I want Stevie Wonder to hear me sing and I want to write songs.' "

Both talents have served her well. Her singing won Shania her record deal; her songwriting made her stand out.

On her debut album, only one of the songs was hers. "They weren't interested at all in my songs," Shania recalls. "So it's a darn good thing I was a singer. It's funny how things come together, because when Mutt heard me sing he wanted to know if I was a songwriter. He couldn't understand why I wasn't recording my own music. After we got together, that's the way it ended up. Now the way I look at it is that I'm nothing without my songs.

"Look at my first album. My image was exactly the same then. I didn't change anything. I was the same performer and the same mover. I had the same body and the same hair. I was the same person. It's just that the songs weren't mine. And isn't that what made the biggest difference? It wasn't the look. It's interesting and ironic how it all comes together - in the end, you wind up being successful if your songs work."

One of the amusing things about Shania's glamorous image is that people who don't know her well fail to recognize how smart she is.

"If people choose to see me that way, it's their problem," she shrugs indifferently. "I'm not going to be less of a woman or suppress the way I look so people don't overlook my brains.

"I'm not talking about being overt sexually, but if we feel comfortable in a skirt, we should wear a skirt. If we feel comfortable in a bare midriff, we should wear a bare midriff. That should be fine."

Shania admits she wasn't always this comfortable with her body.

"I used to be very shy about my body," she remembers. "I didn't want to be seen as a girl. I was a tomboy and I wanted to stay a tomboy. When I was very young I met this girl; she was an athlete and very muscular and masculine. I told my mom, 'That's the kind of girl I want to be,' and my mother was horrified. She was like, 'No, no, surely you want to curl your hair and wear dresses,' and I said, 'No - I want to be strong and independent.'

"I saw at school that if you had breasts and you bounced and you were feminine, that everyone paid attention only to that. I hated that. I would wear loose clothing to completely hide my body. I realize now that I should have been proud of the fact that I was female, and tried to change their perceptions instead of changing myself."

Now that she feels free to express herself fully - and has the songs to prove it - Shania plans to write for other artists as well.

She intended "From This Moment On" to start a stockpile of songs for other artists, but Mutt insisted that she record it, which she did with Bryan White.

"That song would be better with a powerhouse vocalist, and I'm not a powerhouse vocalist," she says. "I'm a stylist, I'm not Celine Dion. I never will be and I don't want to be, but I want to write songs for people who sing like that. But Mutt said, 'Just sing it in your style.' I guess it works, but it's not the way I heard that song.

"Mutt is the producer, and sometimes you have to listen to the producer."

But while Shania tours, Mutt will, as always, stay away from the limelight. "He really does like his privacy," says Shania. "He loves European soccer, and he'd rather be at home watching the game. He's just not a public guy, not into being famous, doesn't ever want his picture taken. It's not done to be deliberately mysterious - it comes with real honesty."

Although her career is white-hot, Shania looks forward to a time when she can write songs for a living. "I'm enjoying my career and I have worked for this for a long time," Shania tells COUNTRY WEEKLY. "I want to make the most of it while I have it, because I do understand it doesn't last forever. But I'll be okay when things mellow out with my performance career. It'll be a very interesting experience, a whole new world."

Country Weekly, Mar 31/98

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