Interview With Bob Kingsley (4/24/03)

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This interview was based on Natalie's comments about President Bush she made during a concert in London. The interview was 18 minutes in length.
Host: Bob Kingsley
Airdate: April 24, 2003

BOB KINGSLEY: This is Bob Kingsley. On March 10th during a concert in London, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks made an off the cuff statement that has reverberated around the world of music and politics ever since. It came just ten days before a United States led coalition began military action against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. There were of course widely split opinions of people with good conscience in the US and around the world both for and against the action. Some of those opinions were directed personally for and against President George W. Bush. In the course of the concert Natalie said, "Just so you know we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas."
What followed was a firestorm of protest from Country fans across the country. Radio stations pulled the Chicks songs, their record sells plummeted. Natalie, through a press agent, issued a clarification the next day and an apology the day after that. Then in interviews in Australia and New Zealand she seemed to defend her original statement. After more than a month of reaction, during which time they were overseas, the Chicks made it clear that they wanted to talk publicly about the matter. Their televised comments came during an interview with Diane Sawyer; this is the forum they sought for radio.

I'm here with the Chicks now for a candid conversation about the matter. I want to make it clear at the outset that this is not scripted. They don't know what I am going to ask and I don't know what they plan to say. I can tell you though that I am convinced that the principals on which this country was founded dictate that the matter be given a fair hearing. And I am convinced that the Dixie Chicks place in contemporary Country music is important enough that it argues for an honest examination as well.

Natalie, I would like for you to set the scene for us. You are in England, you are doing a concert, the tour is going great, you're selling out everywhere, you're selling a ton of records, the crowd, I assume is good. What was the night like?

NATALIE: Well at the time we thought it was the eve of war, which it wasn't, but that's what we thought at the time. So I remember just being backstage and we had commented on how trite it seemed that we had to put on a show when so much is going on in the world. You have to put things in perspective and just think well this is our job and music helps people to have a good time when everything is so serious now. So and then as far as you know saying anything, nothing was scripted or even in my head. We're just doing the show and I believe it was before "Travelin' Soldier" and I just said it. It didn't strike anyone there as bad or odd.

BOB KINGSLEY: Was the crowd a friendly crowd, was it a hostile crowd?

NATALIE: No, a very friendly crowd. And the ambassador, the US Ambassador to England was in the audience and even afterwards at the little cocktail party, or whatever we had, he even took pictures with us and he did say "go easy on the President." But he didn't take offense to anything.

BOB KINGSLEY: Okay, let me get to the quote itself. Was there anything that prompted you at all to say it or was it everything you just said, it just came out?

NATALIE: Well it was before "Travelin' Soldier" and we were just talking about the soldiers. And we always send out that or "More Love" to them and we had been in Europe watching their slanted news which is slanted the opposite direction of the news over here. No one seems to give a fair representation of both sides. It probably doesn't sound, I don't know if people will think this is true or not, but in a strange way to me it felt patriotic to me to say it. Because I disappointed me and upset me how all of Europe, CNN and the news seemed to group President Bush and the United States as if we're one person. That just frustrated me so in a way I felt like I was, I see how it was slanted now, but in my head it felt patriotic to say some of us don't feel this way, don't hate our entire country. Because they were hating our entire country.

BOB KINGSLEY: When did you first start hearing reaction from back home and what was the first reaction you heard?

NATALIE: It was a couple of days after I had said it and we heard the AP picked up on that and of course didn't pick up anything else I said night but that one sentence. And I don't remember, you know it all started flooding in and I think the scariest things and the things that showed us how big this was, was just hearing that our management company had to shut down all of their communication systems, their computer system. Our publicity company had to do the same, Sony had to put security outside of their building. And that was the stuff that made me feel bad because I hated that what I said was affecting so many other people. Ya know, hate me, but don't...I just felt bad for all of these people who were getting a lot of backlash because of me.

BOB KINGSLEY: So there wasn't any immediate reaction? There wasn't anything that happened...

EMILY: As far as setting the stage, I don't think Natalie really painted the picture as far as where we were. We were in a small club in London, which held about 2,000 people. We're brand new over there; we're having to prove ourselves all over again. Imagine us five years ago, what we were doing here in the states. So we're playing for a relatively small crowd for us. It's a little theater, it's one of those things where you are back to being able to see everybody's face and you feel like you have to interact with them on a personal level because you can see their eyeballs and they are looking straight at you. I think it made for a different kind of banter that night because it did have to be direct and from the heart. It wasn't hey, New Orleans, how are doing. You don't scream to the back person in a 20,000-seat arena. You're talking to these people on a very personal level. And because it was the eve of war, so we thought, and we held a lot of frustration that night with what was going on. We felt like it was a rush into things and we had a lot of questions that weren't answered and I think the statement came from frustration. And as far as the reaction, because we were over seas you don't get things directly back to us. We weren't hearing every single thing that was going on in real time. You'd hear yesterday this happened or this happened and we couldn't get a perspective on it because we were away. And that was a bit frustrating for us because we couldn't stand up and say wait a minute and nip it in the bud and say this is where we stand and this is where it came from or anything else. It was snowballing so fast.

BOB KINGSLEY: That brings me to my next question. Why didn't you make a statement into a microphone somewhere as opposed to coming through a press release?

MARTIE: The best thing about a press release is that it goes out to all the press. Whether the press decides to run that part of the story was really interesting to me because it seemed like everybody picked up on what she said but very few media outlets ran her apology. She did make the apology, what was it three days after? And it was her apology, I was there.

BOB KINGSLEY: This was in a statement as opposed to a press release?

MARTIE: This was a statement in the form of a press release but the best way to get a statement out is to make it a press release because then everybody gets it. If you do it for just one station and person, that one station has it. It was easier to put it up on the website and get it to all the media outlets. The fact that some chose not to run it, that was their prerogative.

NATALIE: And we were going to do Larry King, but more important things started going on in the world and he had far more important people to interview than us. But we were ready to talk from day one. I think it was just difficult over there. And sometimes your guard goes up because it was making me mad that people thought that it wasn't written by me. I didn't understand why, why don't you think this was written by me? Because it was written by me.

EMILY: Personally, I was going through a lot of disbelief at this time because while this war is going on and while all these things are happening around the world, what a Country music singer says to a small crowd in London. I was in disbelief that was the headline story on the six o'clock news. I was really taken aback because I know where Natalie's heart lies and I know her intentions and I know where it came from. It came from a place of really caring. Really caring what our country was about to do and to me that's ultimate patriotism and for all these labels to be thrown around and really targeted at Natalie, it was hurtful to call her unpatriotic and we don't support the troops when that is just the exact opposite.

BOB KINGSLEY: How did management react? Friends, relatives?

NATALIE: I think everyone, for my family and for Simon, our manager, the immediate, immediate reaction was to protect us. To down play it and hope that they could deal with it and put out fires and it wouldn't become what it did become. My family is 95% conservative. I know that about them and they know where I stand on things and it doesn't interfere with the kind of person you are. I think our fans know who we are too, and hopefully when they do hear us speak they'll remember who we are.

BOB KINGSLEY: Do you think you underestimated the way a statement from you can resonate around the world?

NATALIE: Oh my God yes. We never in a million years knew people were listening to what we said. Like Emily said, we never use the stage as a place to preach our political beliefs or spiritual beliefs. And we still won't. And that's not what I was doing that night either. It seemed odd to not mention anything about what was going on, granted I mentioned it in the wrong way.

BOB KINGSLEY: Why are you doing this now rather than a day or two after the original statement? A lot of people think that you simply you waited until you saw it was killing sales, making more and more people angry. Then you decided to do this as a way to control damage.

EMILY: It was killing sales a long time before this. I think if we'd jumped on it, it would have seemed opportunistic. Right now I think we have had to sit back and really think about what it is we want to say, because we don't want it to seem like we are just apologizing, that there is just an apology to try and save something.

NATALIE: I know for me personally it was really good to not talk for a while and I think we wanted to talk over here and we already had a schedule over there for a month. We wanted to get over here and address it.

BOB KINGSLEY: Have Martie and Emily been supportive during this?

NATALIE: Oh yeah, definitely.

EMILY: Part of where we are, is because of I think the fans relate to our candidness, especially Natalie's candidness. The fact that she does speak off the cuff, nothing is pat, nothing is rehearsed, nothing is just glad to be here. I feel like people relate to us because we're real and when you're real you stick your foot in your mouth sometimes and I think we have to take that bad with the good. For us to sit there and muzzle Natalie would not be good for the Dixie Chicks. She's part of the reason that we are where we are today, she's a huge reason why we are where we are. So to sit there and say because people are reacting negatively to something that she said, to not stand by her because we are a sisterhood, people don't understand sometimes how tight we are and the fact that our lives are intertwined. We go through the good, the bad and the ugly all together.

BOB KINGSLEY: With ratings being so important, especially in markets where there are two or more Country music radio stations, every audience member counts. What would you suggest that radio stations say to those listeners who say if you play another Dixie Chicks record I will never listen to you again?

MARTIE: I just don't think that they should always listen to the squeaky wheel. I think there are a lot of people out there that aren't ready to pounce on something like that and take extreme measures to call and be so adamant about removing somebody's music from a radio station. I think it's skewed when you're just hearing a bunch of negatives. I just think the rational people out there, the positive people, aren't as likely to call up and say, "Maybe, I don't agree with what Natalie said but I'm certainly not going to go burn her CDs." I think they should have been a little more responsible, there were tons of stations that...we realize it was a tough job the last month for Country radio to field all the calls and to put people's minds at ease. We understand the stations that even took us off the radio for a week or something just to let everything calm down, but there were stations, a minority of them, that went to extremes, that I think was really irresponsible. To promote bashing and bulldozing and burning CDs and to talk about Natalie like I've heard them talk about Natalie or talk about us as a group and call us unpatriotic, call us Sadamm's angels or call us all these horrible things. We've been called communists to domestic terrorists to whatever. They're also preaching that celebrities shouldn't talk about how they feel about political issues. Well, I think DJ's are celebrities. If you're in front of a microphone and reaching millions of people a day, you are a celebrity.

EMILY: To go one step further, I think at this point I am trying to keep things in perspective as to what are the really important issues right now. I feel like our safety is a huge important issue right now. We officially have a posse now because we have to have security people with us at all times and this has gotten to a point where enough is enough. When you feel like your own safety is an issue, I think people have to step back. That is un-American to me. That is un-American that something that somebody said can be first of all, be misconstrued and totally taken out of context and she's apologized for it, which a lot of people don't know.

BOB KINGSLEY: How did you guys feel when the war started to unfold?

MARTIE: I think you change. Before you go to war you have a certain mindset and once you're at war you have a certain mindset. I know that a lot of protests were happening before we went to war and after we went to war but for a lot of people like myself I so badly didn't want it to be real and happening and about to happen, I was just hoping for that last minute diplomatic solution. But once it happened, my focus changed. My focus changed to let's get these men and women out alive. And I think that's how a lot of people feel. You may question what's about to be done but once they're called upon, these brave men and women, to go and carry out their duties, your focus is that job is a righteous job. I stopped thinking about whether we were supposed to be there or not, I focused my attention more on let's do it. If we're going to do it, okay we're already there, let's quit talking about that, let's do it right, as right as we can do it.

NATALIE: That's who I wanted to address pretty much first, when I was in Australia and I saw that Jessica Lynch had been saved and I saw a picture of her parents and I thought do they think that we are not happy for them. That was really the only part. People cannot like me, people cannot like what I said, people cannot accept my apology, I hope that all those things are the opposite of that, but the one thing that bothered me the most was if any of the troops thought we didn't support them, because we do.

BOB KINGSLEY: As I said at the outset, I think it was important for us to have this discussion. Sometimes the best thing that we can offer each other as Americans is our willingness to talk openly about the issues, those that unite us and those that divide us and to listen to each other with open hearts. This is Bob Kingsley.

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