Jo Dee Messina: Still a little bit country

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The prospect of going indie at age 44, with two kids and your biggest hits in the rearview, would terrify many musicians.

Unless you’re a spitfire redhead with a jones for bucking trends.

“It all depends on if you’re trying to fit inside the box and be like everybody else,” Jo Dee Messina told The Tampa Bay Tribune from her home in Nashville. “That would be terrifying. I’m just me.”

For most of her career, that’s been more than enough. Messina has accumulated a handful of platinum records, Grammy nominations and hit country singles, including Bye Bye; I’m Alright; Heads Carolina, Tails California; and Bring on the Rain, a duet with Tim McGraw.

But the music industry is fickle. Fifteen years after winning the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award for best new artist, Messina found herself starting from scratch. Her new album Me — most of which she co-wrote — was funded via Kickstarter, with Messina not only promising prizes to donors but also actively soliciting their opinions on how the album should sound.

It’s only the latest step in a funky career that has seen Messina perform for thousands of troops around the world, appear on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and narrate a book about the Star-Spangled Banner. She even leads an online fitness challenge called TeamJDMfit; occasionally she and her fans even work out together on the road. “Isn’t that fascinating?” she said. “People show up! To sweat! To sweat with you!”

On the whole, is country a genre that appreciates outsider thinking?

“Well, think of it: When Taylor Swift came along, that was outside the box. When Jason Aldean came along, or Zac Brown Band, that was outside the box. Florida Georgia Line was outside the box. So you find something that’s hot and cool, it follows a trend, then something else is gonna come up that’s different. Golly gee, I remember when Shania Twain came out, and they were like, “That’s not country! Faith Hill has sold out; she’s gone pop!” It just goes through phases. It depends on who’s sailing the ship at the time.”