Call her Accidental Feminist. From her days touring with Patsy Cline in the ’60s, already a mother of four in her early 20s, Loretta Lynn was well-versed in life’s hardships and not shy about making her feelings known. Taking the cue from Cline and the groundbreaking Kitty Wells, Lynn went on to become one of country’s first true female superstars in the late ’60s, which didn’t preclude country radio from banning her pro-birth control anthem “The Pill” in 1976. But despite her rhetorical parallels, she rejected association with the early feminist movement, criticizing it for ignoring the issues of the working class (she also maintains that her music “has no politics” which is lovably far from true). Despite remaining in a rocky marriage to her late husband and manager Doolittle until he died in 1996, she never kept his mistreatment a secret, writing extensively about it in her autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became one of the first hugely successful music biopics with the film of the same name in 1980.
After decades of making hits and earning more awards than any other woman in country’s history, Lynn resurfaced in 2004 with the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, which introduced her to a whole new generation, and is only releasing the follow-up, Full Circle, next week, after a 12-year hiatus. Lynn spoke to SPIN via phone to discuss the new album and how she can’t tell bro-country singers apart.
What have you been up to in the 12 years since your last record?
I’ve been recording about once a month since then. Just two days ago, I recorded all day for two days. Either I’m recording or I’m working on the road. So I don’t stop. I think when you get lazy, you get stale.
In that case, why haven’t you put out an album in so long?
Well, I’ve just been so busy I just haven’t sat down and said, “Hey, this should happen.” Some of the songs on this record were played [just] one time. I [only] sang it one time. I wasn’t thinking about anybody wanting to put them out on an album; I already recorded over 100. I said, “Let’s put them together and see what we got here.”
How long had you been putting Full Circle together for?
I think we started it at the end of last year, which was not that long ago. It was funny because I was gonna write these songs for myself, and my kids said I should put an album out, so this is what I’m doing. [Laughs.]
Some of these songs I did when I was a little girl. The first record I ever heard was the Carter Family. We went in and I started recording some of their songs. One of them on this album I think is just with a guitar, so it’s a little different and you’re getting it raw.
Are you familiar with Nirvana’s version of “In the Pines?”
What made you want to revisit old songs like “Fist City” for this record?
Jack White told me, “That’s my favorite song.”
Do you still spend a lot of time with Jack White lately?
Me and him did a couple shows last year together and he’d cut his hair. I said, “When’s the last time you cut your hair?” He said, “Just for you, honey.” [Laughs.]
Were you familiar with his work before he contacted you to make Van Lear Rose?
Not really. He wanted to record my songs with his band and I said, “All right, see you in Nashville.” It couldn’t make me or break me so I thought, well, why not. We had a ball.
Do you have any leftover songs written with him that haven’t seen the light of day yet?
Yeah. You know, I want to do something new with Jack so one day I’ll call him and say it’s time to do something else. Think maybe I’ll have him produce a second album.
You also sang with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow back in 2010 on the Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn album, which also included Hayley Williams and Kid Rock. Did you select the artists to be on there?
Oh yeah, I love Kid Rock, he’s a nice kid. And Sheryl Crow is a great person. Of course, Miranda Lambert, I love her singing. Broke my heart to find out Miranda and Blake split up.
Are you a fan of Hayley Williams’ band Paramore?
Oh, I like her, I think she’s a great singer.
Do you or your kids keep you up on current bands at all?
Today, it’s not the country [music] I remember when I started singing. Some of it is almost pop and I kind of get sad when that happens ‘cause it isn’t country music.
You don’t feel that there are still artists who uphold its traditions?
Who would you say is keeping it alive?
Well, there’s Miranda… and Kacey Musgraves, I like to hear her sing. But the guys, they all sound alike as far as I’m concerned; I can’t tell one from the other unless I’m looking at him. And they all sound like, if you just turn your radio on in the car and you’re listening to the singers, they don’t tell you who’s singing, and you hear one boy after another, you can’t tell the difference. I’m kind of worried that we’re losing country music.
Do you think when you put out a song like the “The Pill” that other people felt the same way about you?
President Obama awarded you the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Wasn’t that something?
Did that come as a total surprise?
It did. I was like, yeah… I’ll go get it.
Did you get to chat with him at all outside of the ceremony?
Yeah, he was a nice guy. Him and his wife both. I think that they might have listened to country music before.
You’ve been an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump for the upcoming election. How do you feel about Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucus, or the other candidates?
That was good, I felt Ted really worked hard for that. Donald Trump, get out of his way. Here he comes. [Laughs.] He’ll probably be our next president.
You said you recorded 100 songs, and obviously most of those aren’t on Full Circle. Are you planning to release another album soon?
It’s up to the record company. Sony. Whatever they want to do, I’ll do.
It’s hard to imagine a record company calling the shots at this point in your career.
Well, the record company should call the shots ‘cause they’re putting that money behind you and they want everybody to hear you, so why not? I couldn’t believe it when they picked some of the songs they picked, like “In the Pines” and “Beautiful Brown Eyes.” These are songs I heard mommy sing.
The title Full Circle, and songs such as “Who’s Gonna Miss Me” and “Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven,” had me worried that you intended for this album to be your final statement.
Yeah, that [perception] bothered me, too. Let’s hope this is something I’m gonna be doing for a while. I’m gonna sing, sing, sing.
The last thing I wanted to ask you about was, you revealed in your autobiography that [late husband] Doo once walked out on you during childbirth. What could he possibly have had to fight about in that moment?
Oh, I don’t know. Just everyday things.