Five years ago, Joan Osborne was on the top of the world (and the charts) with her multiplatinum major label debut, ”Relish,” and the soulful single ”One of Us.” But when Mercury Records tired of waiting for a follow up and booted the 37 year old singer – songwriter from their roster, she decided to record her bluesy new album, ”Righteous Love,” with her own money. EW.com talked to Osborne about her absence from the music scene, her new online women’s magazine, and why Britney and Christina have replaced the women of Lilith Fair on the charts.
When ”Relish” was released, the music scene was dominated by smart, tough women like Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette. Now we’ve got Britney and Christina. What the hell happened?
Music is a very cyclical thing. I feel like there’s going to be a time when that thoughtful, longevity oriented kind of artist is going to be at the top of people’s consciousness again; it’s just going to take a while. All those people who went out to the Lilith Fair didn’t just disappear overnight. They still exist, and they still love music. Maybe they’re buying some records by pop artists like Ricky Martin or Christina Aguilera, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they still have a need for a deeper kind of music as well, and I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.
Why did we have to wait so long for ”Righteous Love”?
I certainly would have loved to have a record I was crazy in love with and wanted to put out two years after ”Relish” came out, but that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t going to put out something I didn’t really believe in just to try to ride a wave of celebrity, because I felt it would ultimately come back to bite me in the ass. People who love your music deserve the best of what you have to offer and not something that’s rushed out to make the record company happy.
Was Mercury bugging you for another ”One of Us”?
No one ever said that to my face, but I’m sure behind closed doors that was the kind of conversation that was happening. There’s a fine line you have to walk between understanding the realities of the business and trying not to think about that stuff because it gets in the way of your being a real artist. But once you have your goals in mind, you can deal with the things the record company throws at you.
Why did you have to finance this album yourself? Couldn’t you have gone to another label?
I felt like I would be in a better position to get a deal if I had a finished record in my hand that I felt really good about. It was definitely a risk. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my house and maybe would have had to look for another way to make a living if it hadn’t worked out. But I think it would have been a greater risk not to do it.
This month you launched heroinemag.com, a website that covers women’s issues. What was the inspiration for this?
It was really born out of my frustration with what was available on the newsstands. I would go to airports and have these six hour flights ahead of me, and you can only read the New Yorker so many times. I would look to women’s magazines, and there would be some good writing in them and some interesting articles, but you’d have to flip through 200 pages of diets and makeup and fashion and shopping. That stuff is alright, but I thought it would be great to have something where you could get to the meat without all the fluff.
You wrote the song ”Baby Love” about the teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her love affair with a sixth grader. Are you usually inspired by such yucky stuff?
I have these little fascinations with people I read about in the newspapers or friends of friends, and one of the ways I write songs is by putting myself into someone else’s brain to see what comes out. But sometimes I’ll also take something a lot more personal that I’m trying to tell the truth about to myself as the basis for a song.
Over the past few years you’ve studied Indian qawalli music with the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, performed for the Dalai Lama, and played in Cuba. What did you get out of that other than frequent flyer miles?
It was important for me to feel that music meant more to me than putting out a record, supporting the record, going into the studio, and making another record. Not that I don’t love doing that, but I felt there could be a broader experience. Being a backing vocalist for the Indigo Girls or Bob Dylan or the Chieftains was a way to keep it fun instead of having this nose to the grindstone experience.
Did hanging out with the Dalai Lama give you inner tranquility?
I don’t know if I’ve reached that quite yet. I was having a bit of a struggle yesterday with that. When you put a record out, certain people are going to like the last one you did more, and you have to try to not let your feelings get hurt. But I’m so grateful to be making music. It certainly for a while looked like I wasn’t going to be able to do that again. And I don’t take it for granted, trust me.