Gary James' Interview With
Pam Tillis

She's the daughter of a Country Music legend (Mel Tillis) who has made quite a name for herself in Country music. Her name is Pam Tillis and her many awards include Favorite Vocalist Of The Year For 1999 (CMA - Country Music Association); Top Female Video Artist (CMA) for 1995; and a host of both CMA and ACM (Academy Of Country Music) nominations too numerous to mention. When we caught up with Pam Tillis, she was out and about promoting her CD "It's All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis".

Q - The last few years we've heard the Rock people screaming about their music being offered online for free. Is that a problem for Country artists as well?

A - Somebody's doing it. Yeah, it is happening. I went up on a site and pulled up my name and you can see all the different things people were downloading and it was pretty frightening.

Q - With that kind of climate, are you surprised that record companies still exist?

A - Well, I mean there's still enough business as usual, but it makes everything a lot harder. It's made the record companies face some issues. I'm one of those people that think CDs are too darn expensive. I'd buy a lot more than I do. They've got to find another way to do business, but they gotta keep the music out there. That's still not a good reason. So, the consumer has gotten the record companies' attention. Let's hope that both the consumer and the record companies will do the right thing because you know, piracy, that's wrong too.

Q - Part of the reason CDs are expensive is probably due to the high cost of marketing.

A - Yeah. It does cost an awful lot. You're right. It's shocking

Q - You've had quite a few hit songs in your career. Where does the talent come from to write a hit song? Some people say you can learn it in school. I say it's a God-given gift. Would you agree?

A - Yeah. And I think the people who know how to do it will still tell you it came from someplace else or there's an element of luck. It's an instinctive thing. I don't guess you can teach it. You can learn to paint a picture by numbers, but there's something else that will tell you when it's right.

Q - When you're in the studio, can you come up with what we would call a "hit"?

A - No. First of all, the problem is, how do you define "hit"? That's really arbitrary and something can be a hit and not become a hit because of the timing. I think an artist has got to say "The pressure is on," which ought to come from inside you to write something great. And then, what happens in the marketplace. All artists set out to write something really, really wonderful.

Q - Have you ever written a song that maybe wasn't quite as popular with your fans or radio, but as time goes on, is picked up by someone else and becomes a hit?

A - Oh, yeah. (Laughs). Most of my stuff. I've got a lot of songs that time has stood the test of, things that maybe didn't do well on the charts, golly, ten years later people are still requesting them. I'd say that's a pretty good sign. I haven't always been at the right place at the right time here in the last few years. I had a couple of albums that the fans go, "We love this record! What happened? Why didn't we get to hear it on the radio?" My last record had a huge critical acclaim, some of the best reviews of my career. But it didn't get out there in the Pop line.

Q - Why would that have been?

A - Well, you'd have to talk to the people at SONY. They could tell you. That company was in disarray. There's a lot of that, that goes on. If you are on a label at the wrong time, it can really mess you up. They cleaned house. They took out most of the staff and the President and a lot of us artists went with him. It was just a bad time.

Q - So, the person who was the biggest supporter of Pam Tillis most likely didn't have a job.

A - Yeah.

Q - You toured with George Strait, Alabama and Brooks & Dunn. How were you treated by those people? And how did the audiences treat you?

A - Oh, I think it went great. I had a wonderful time touring with those people. I have just really good memories.

Q - Growing up, did you realize at any point that having Porter Wagner or Dolly Parton hanging around the house was kind of unique?

A - (Laughs). Yeah. I could tell they were colorful characters. I was thinking these aren't like any of my friend's parents.

Q - I think everyone believes if you have a famous last name, it works in your favor. But did you ever encounter resentment from anyone because your last name was Tillis?

A - Oh, yeah. Yes.

Q - And who would be doing that?

A - I noticed it didn't happen a lot. I was in a band one year and I thought something's kind of funny. It was early on. It just hit me. I realized one day my fellow musicians were really struggling. Well, they didn't realize I didn't get any kind of allowance. I was struggling to pay the rent too. I think they just assumed I really didn't have to be there if I didn't want to be. I put two and two together and figured that out. It didn't make me treat them any differently. I just had a little more compassion when they'd be grumpy or whatever. I just kept talking about business. That didn't happen too much. Some people can really be hard-nosed and they can measure you against your Dad and go, "Well, you're all right, but you'll never be your Dad." Not too many people are like that. It's true we don't live in a perfect world and there's people out there who make themselves feel better by taking you down a notch. But that doesn't happen a lot. But you gotta be prepared for it. (Laughs). Every now and then you're going to run into that. And Dad's had people come up and say, "I think your daughter is better than you, Mel." It's like, "What?!" You just gotta smile and say, "Thank you!" If somebody is ignorant enough to say that to your face, you just got to cut them a little bit of slack. In Country music it's a whole different code of conduct. Generally in Country music, people will just smile and sign the autograph and let you go on your merry way. If it was Rock 'n' Roll, did bounce you out of the building.

Q - You couldn't go through life thinking, I'll never be as good as my father, because if you did, you'd never do anything!

A - I always tell people if I set myself up to think like that, I'd never have left the house. It would've been so intimidating. I would never have done anything. That's really something I'd really like to put out there for anyone reading this interview. If you set yourself up by comparing yourself to somebody wonderful and awesome and perfect, you may shoot yourself down prematurely too. If you don't try, how will you know how good you are? What if Mick Jagger said I'll never be a Howlin' Wolf? I'll never be that. No, they didn't do that. They imitated them. (Laughs). I know what Dad does better than me. He thinks there's some things I can do that he can't do. Everybody's got their unique gift. So, I let myself off that hook a long time ago.

Q - I like the title of your CD, "It's All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis".

A - I came up with that.

Q - Do you just listen to Country music?

A - I'm going to step out and say this, I don't love a lot of the stuff that I hear on Country radio right now and I'll tell you why: It sounds too clever. It sounds too calculated. It sounds manufactured. A lot of the music that I really love is inspired by Country and Countryish, I guess it's got a little edge to it. You know people call it Alternative. Alternative Country, whatever you call it. I listen to a lot of Folk music. To me it sounds like it has more to do with old Country then new Country.

Q - I have a title for your next CD - "Pam Tillis Raps".

A - Oh, that's funny. I thought about calling it, "Shania Twain's Greatest hits". I think that would be good. Do you think I could get away with that? (Laughs).

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Pam Tillis