Don’t call it a quarantine — at least, not in front of Wynonna Judd.
“I tried to come up with some words that were sort of alternatives for ‘quarantine,’ because that, to me … felt like a prison sentence,” Judd shares in a phone call from her Tennessee farm. “It just felt like, ‘Oh my God, my life is on hold.'”
“My life,” she adds, “is anything but on hold.”
That’s not to say that Judd has been flouting COVID-19 guidelines or going about her daily life as though we’re not in a global pandemic — quite the opposite. Save for a few doctor’s appointments, she and her husband, producer and collaborator Cactus Moser have been living life “behind the gate:” staying at home, but not staying idle.
“This time is both giving in terms of music, which is the best part, and it’s also been a time of reflection,” Judd explains. “I’ve had one other time that I had off in 25 years: When my son [Elijah] was born in 1994, I took a year off, and that’s it. I don’t have any period of time that I can say that I had home other than to come home, do laundry, pack, get on the bus, go.
“So this time at home has given me a chance to reestablish my life, my boundaries, my dreams, my hopes,” she continues, later adding, “I think it was an important time for me to stop and to not only appreciate where I was, but appreciate where I’m at right this minute, this day, this breath, this heartbeat.”
It’s not been easy: She’s not good at staying put, and she’s found herself questioning what’s going on, crying, and praying. But she’s also found herself picking up a guitar and playing, with a “time and space and creativity” she hasn’t had since she was a teenager.
Judd’s new EP, Recollections — her first project with Anti- Records — is a reflection of that time, space and creativity; Judd describes it as “a montage of your summer vacation.” The five-track covers project, featuring songs she has known and loved for years, was recorded at home and produced by Moser.
Judd and Moser are largely responsible for all of its instrumentation as well, though there is one very special guest: Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir, who contributes electric guitar and vocals to Judd’s cover of the Dead’s “Ramble on Rose.” The two played live together earlier this year (pre-COVID-19 shutdowns), and Judd says she now considers him not only a mentor, but a “forever friend.”
“He literally came to soundcheck — you know, who does that? … And he’s playing [the Judds’ hit] ‘Why Not Me,’ and I’m just laughing because I’m thinking, ‘This is awesome!‘” Judd recalls of that night. “He knew every part … I was so impressed.”
Judd, naturally, has high praise for Weir and his career trajectory, but she, too, has lived a number of musical lives: as one-half of the superstar country duo the Judds in the 1980s and early ’90s; as a mainstream solo artist after her mother stepped out of the spotlight following her hepatitis C diagnosis; and, more recently, while working with Moser and her band the Big Noise, as an artist with an Americana bent.
“I know what I don’t want,” reflects Judd of the lessons learned from her lengthy career. She describes herself as “in recovery for perfectionism” and admits that she has a tendency to look back at her past failures rather than focusing on what’s still possible.
“I want to get away with as much as possible. Yeah, I want to take every chance … Yeah, I fail a lot. But I’m learning, and that’s all we can do …,” she muses. “I made a lot of not-so-great choices. And you know what? That’s where God’s grace and mercy come in. Because there’s not a real whole lot I can do about that …
“And so that’s what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life, is figuring out what is it that really, really gives me life,” Judd continues. “And that’s what I’m going to do. And everything I do is going to mean something to me. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but this is the truth for me.”
See the Judds Through the Years: