Yes, they are Country Music Royalty who have collectively sold 70 million records, and received seven Grammys, 26 Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 Country Music Association Awards, 14 American Music Awards, and seven People Choice Awards, but they are also real, down-to-earth people like you and me. They are a loving couple, and devoted parents. They have experienced the thrill of being on stage in front of millions of people, and they have known hardship and heartache.
Before we spoke I wondered if Faith would mention being adopted, and if Tim would tell the story of how he didn’t know who his real father was until he was eleven years old. I hoped they would be open because those are the kind of stories that offer comfort and inspiration to so many others who have traveled a similar path. They did not disappoint. They were incredibly gracious, forth-coming, completely without any pretense.
I love asking questions that allow people to dip their toe into the pool of self-reflection or to dive in whole-heartedly. And that’s exactly what Faith and Tim did. They said it was one of the best interviews they’ve ever done. I think that’s because they understood that I am truly interested in illuminating what’s in a person’s soul.
Even if you’re not a fan of country music, you will fall in love with this couple. Their Soul-to-Soul conversation will touch your heart.
Marsala Rypka: What three words best describe you?
Faith Hill: I’m loyal, dedicated, and passionate about my family. Once Tim and I got married and had our daughter Gracie, the pendulum of my life immediately changed for the better. Before I only had to think about me; afterwards my focus was entirely on them. Then we had two more daughters and I had to work extra hard to keep the family centered. With less time for my career I had to make sure the choices I made professionally were important and meaningful.
Tim McGraw: There’s a level of narcissism that comes with this career. It sends a confusing message because even though you don’t consider yourself a selfish person you are the product that you make your living by, and there’s a certain amount of ego involved. You have to recognize that and balance it with what you know is true about yourself. What I know is that I’m honest and straightforward. If I have an issue with someone I’ll go straight to the source. It’s fine not to agree, we may not even like each other, but we can still get along and cooperate. I’m also loyal.
I’m honest and straightforward. If I have an issue with someone I’ll go straight to the source. It’s fine not to agree, we may not even like each other, but we can still get along and cooperate.”
- Tim McGraw
Marsala: What three people have influenced your life?
Faith: I was adopted and I have such a gypsy heart that I probably would have floated from place to place trying to find my way if it hadn’t been for my mom and dad. They are pragmatic, salt of the earth, hard-working people who treat everyone equal. They gave me such an amazing foundation as a child that I find myself replicating what they taught me. They never believed in wasting anything. My mom drinks water out of a Tupperware cup she’s had for 52 years. There are spoons and brooms, pots and pans, and pencil sharpeners they’ve had for years. They don’t believe that just because something new comes out you buy it. They believe if you take care of something it will last forever. At a time when things change at breakneck speed and our minds are saturated with instant gratification, I find their ways so refreshing. It’s easy to let your possessions define you as opposed to appreciating the things you can’t put a price tag on. My parents are impressed with much. They are steadfast, solid and true.
At a time when things change at breakneck speed and our minds are saturated with instant gratification, I find their ways so refreshing. It’s easy to let your possessions define you as opposed to appreciating the things you can’t put a price tag on.”
- Faith Hill
Second are my two brothers who are hard-working, honest people who would take the shirt off their back to help a neighbor. People like that are becoming harder to find. They have all taught me so many important life lessons growing up that they live to this day. They’re like an oak tree that isn’t changed by the wind.
Third would have to be my husband. He’s my best friend, champion and supporter. He gives 150 percent when it comes to raising our kids. We have very different personalities. I’m a Type A detail-oriented person, and he’s a big picture guy, but we have the same ideals when it comes to family and business. I couldn’t have a better partner to walk this path in life with.
Tim: There are four people. First is my mother. She was a young girl living in rural Louisiana when she got pregnant with me. She didn’t have it easy. She worked hard, and got married when I was a baby to a man I was raised to believe was my father who was abusive throughout my childhood. I remember one night when I was in junior high she was sitting in the kitchen crying and there were a bunch of bills on the counter. That had a big impact on me. When you’re young you don’t appreciate how hard your parents work, or the depth of concern they have for your future.
Second is Coach Lance Butler, my best friend’s dad, and my basketball and baseball coach and my history teacher. He was a father figure. A really quiet guy. I bet we never said more than 50 words to each other, but I had so much respect for the way he carried himself and how he treated people. He had all this authority, but he never really exercised it. About 10 years ago when he was about 54 he had a heart attack and died coaching a girls’ basketball game.
Third is my father Tug McGraw. Imagine growing up dirt poor and finding your birth certificate when you’re 11 and discovering your father is professional baseball player Tug McGraw. I played baseball as a kid so I knew who he was. Talk about an identity crisis. Here we were broke, didn’t have anything, and he was a famous millionaire athlete. I’ve gone to a dark place several times in my life, but the reason Tug was such an influence was because finding out he was my father and seeing his success changed the trajectory of my life. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that we started to get to know each other. We developed a father-son relationship, but it was more like I was the father and he was the son. He had a big personality, a good heart, and he lived life to the fullest, but I was more mature at 14 than he ever was. Even if I’d never met him, just knowing he was my father changed how I thought of myself and what I could accomplish in life. I guess I thought that somewhere in my DNA I had the same kind of stuff to succeed. If ever there was a reason not to be bitter about the situation, that’s it.
Fourth has to be my wife. It was hard having had such a tumultuous childhood and early life thinking I knew who I was, then discovering who I really was and backtracking trying to put all the missing pieces together. On top of that I had this career that seemed to happen overnight when “Indian Outlaw” came out in 1993. I’d spent three or four years playing in clubs, but I never expected it to explode like it did. We went from barely being able to pay our rent to playing arenas. As a teenager I was serious and broke and in my mid-twenties I had a ton of money and I wasn’t serious at all. At the same time I was dealing with this whole secrecy about my real father’s identity and trying to get to know my biological dad. Then I met my wife. It took me a while, but I realized that she was my anchor, the reason I got up every morning, the person I wanted to think the best of me more than anyone else in the world. She stuck with me and without saying a word she made me realize I couldn’t keep doing the things I was doing and look in the mirror and expect her to look at me the way I wanted her to. I don’t know what course I’d be on right now if it wasn’t for her.
I was dealing with this whole secrecy about my real father’s identity and trying to get to know my biological dad. Then I met my wife. It took me a while, but I realized that she was my anchor, the reason I got up every morning, the person I wanted to think the best of me more than anyone else in the world. She stuck with me and without saying a word she made me realize I couldn’t keep doing the things I was doing and look in the mirror and expect her to look at me the way I wanted her to.”
- Tim McGraw
Marsala: Besides family and music, what are you passionate about?
Faith: I put my heart and soul into most things I do even if it’s cleaning my closet, baking something new, or trying to create something different and unusual for my show.
Tim: I love football. We go to all the high school football games here at home. But that’s a cursory answer. We really feel we’ve been fortunate in our lives. It’s hard to feel deserving when we make music for a living. We feel it’s our responsibility to do what we can when we can to help others, but we don’t want to beat our chests about it. We realize our celebrity acts as a catalyst to raise money for organizations, but there’s a fine line between using it for good and making yourself look good, and we don’t ever want to cross that line.
Marsala: Talking about football, Faith, you look pretty sexy singing the theme song for Sunday Night Football.
Faith: I love football, but I never watch the show. It would be too much seeing myself up on the screen. Tim watches it every week though. He thinks it’s a huge deal. To show you how my mom is she said ‘What are you going to tell Gracie or Maggie when they want to go out on a date and they’ve got a skirt on as short as what you’re wearing on national TV on that Sunday Night Football?’ At 45 my mom still gets on me.
Marsala: What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
Faith: I’m no-nonsense. I don’t waiver when it comes to my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. My greatest weakness is that being such a detail person I can’t let things go.
Tim: My greatest strength is that when I decide to do something I’m very determined; the downside is that I get hyper-focused and have tunnel vision. Another weakness is patience, but I’ve gotten better having a wife and three daughters.
Marsala: Who would you trade places with for 24 hours?
Faith: I always fantasized about being an undercover agent. But I think it would be amazing to be Nelson Mandela. His heart is so big and true.
Tim: My first instinct would be George Clooney because sometimes I think my wife likes him more than me (laugh). Seriously, I’m a big history buff so I’d say Alexander the Great. He conquered so much of the world at such a young age. A lot of ruthlessness was involved, but the circumstances and thought process were different then. I certainly don’t think being a conqueror today applies in the same way. Historical fiction is my favorite type of book. I love Ken Follett’s books, “Pillars of the Earth, “World Without End,” “Fall of the Giant,” and “Winter of the World.” I also love Samuel Shellabarger, who wrote five best-selling historical novels in the 1940s and 1950s. The first one was “Captain from Castile,” which is fantastic.
Marsala: Who inspired you musically?
Faith: My first musical inspiration came from good old Gospel Soul music. Before I could even read I’d hold the hymnal upside down in church and sing. There was something about the music that came out of those sanctuaries. I was born to sing in that way. The first concert I went to was Elvis. I loved him. Reba McEntire, George Strait and Aretha Franklin were all huge influences.
Tim: If I had to pick the top two it would be Merle Haggard and The Eagles. Growing up I was a huge fan of Elvis, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakum and the Little River Band. But if I had to pick one person who leaves me speechless as an artist it would be Bruce Springsteen. Bruce’s music brings alive in people a self-awareness, which is what you want music to do, just like in movies. You want people to be able to put themselves in the life of that character and I think Bruce’s music does that better than anybody.
Marsala: What would surprise people about you?
Faith: I spend time in my rose garden every day. Growing up my parents had a vegetable garden and we relied on the bounty from it to survive. They still grow a garden and provide my brothers and me with vegetables, but now it’s a labor of love rather than a necessity. The first couple of years my rose garden didn’t do very well; then it got more beautiful. I started to realize that the days I didn’t go out and see the roses I really missed it. Then I realized I really needed it. What started as a hobby became a necessity. My parents still do that first thing in the morning. Smelling the fresh air is their meditation time. At night I’d go over the schedule for the next day and realize if I didn’t wake up a little earlier I wouldn’t have time to cut my flowers, so I’d set my alarm earlier. Being close to nature made me feel closer to God and it brought me peace. The beauty reminded me of the simple things in life. It required patience because I had to put gloves on to avoid the thorns and do certain things to get that rose from the garden into a vase onto my kitchen counter. Probably because I cut them so much the roses started multiplying like rabbits and I put them in the girls’ bedrooms, our bedroom, the laundry room, wherever I could find a spot. Literally taking the time to smell the roses saved me this past year. Dealing with the stresses of being a mom, of recording my album, and dealing with my best friend who had breast cancer, my rose garden became my therapy.
Tim: I have my pilot’s license, but I can’t go on a roller coaster. I went on the Ferris wheel in Paris and froze. Also I come from a long line of Italians on my mother’s side. My Grandpop’s name is John Joseph D’Agostino, which is Giovanni Giuseppe. My great-grandfather was Donato Augusto.
Marsala: What five people would you invite to a dinner party?
Faith: We’ve had dinner with some amazing people, but I find the common person almost more fascinating than someone famous. Rita Wilson taught me that there’s an art to putting together a dinner party. I’d invite Bill Clinton who seems to know about everything, and he could play the saxophone after dinner; Jimmy Fallon and Sasha Baron Cohen would be hilarious. I love Jimmy Stewart. I’ve got to get some chicks in there. I’m obsessed with Martha Stewart. I’d love to talk with her about how organized her home is, and Queen Elizabeth and Julia Child. Oh, that’s more than five.
Tim: George Washington. I don’t think we’d be where we are as a country if he hadn’t stepped up. He had the leadership, the thought process, the charisma and respect. To be able to pull off what he did with what little we had. We didn’t win a whole lot of victories, but we won the ones we needed to. He was brilliant at listening to everyone’s plan without revealing his, taking the best parts and molding them into something that everyone had a vested interest in. Abraham Lincoln. The weight he had on him with the civil war, the issue of slavery, and whether our country was going to hold together was enormous, not to mention losing a child and his wife’s issues. I’m looking forward to seeing Daniel Day Lewis play him in Spielberg’s movie Lincoln.
After those two guys it gets tougher. I’d love to sit down with Elvis. I had a recurring dream as a kid even into my early 20s that I snuck up to his bedroom at Graceland and we talked. I’d invite strong women like Madeleine Albright, the first woman Secretary of State and Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of England, and I’d want my daughters to sit there and listen to the conversation.
Faith: I thought he was incredibly handsome and dangerous, the person I wanted to have babies with and grow old with. We came from the same backgrounds and he felt like home which gave me a sense of comfort.
Marsala: Is it easier or harder to work with each other?
Faith: Easier. He’s like Elvis with this charisma that is like a 150 watt bulb and I get to stand next to him. He probably hates working with me because I’m so detailed.
Tim: Harder in a good way. She makes me better. I’m not really a singer, I just sort of yell melodically, but Faith is one of the best vocalists you’ll ever hear. In a live setting she’ll blow you away. She’s like Aretha, Janis Joplin, and Bridget Bardot rolled into one. She exudes so much power and presence, energy and respect on stage, and then she opens her mouth and sings. Every time I’m on stage with her everything in me tightens up. I really have to step up my game to sing with her and not let her down.
Marsala: Faith, Did you ever imagine this kind of success?
Faith: I had my own band when I was 17, and went to Nashville at 19. I dreamt of performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage, making a few records, maybe winning a Country Music Award, but nothing like what’s happened. I was fortunate to work as a receptionist at Reba and her husband Narvel’s office for a while where I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes music business before I became a performer. It was like going to college. It saved me from making some crazy wrong decisions and afforded me the intelligence to surround myself with the right people. Some of it was luck and timing, but nothing replaces hard work. Reba is one of my favorite people in this industry. She and Narvel are probably more proud of my success than anyone other than my family.
Marsala: Faith, you just sang “American Heart” on the CMA Awards. What do the lyrics mean to you? It beats like a drum down in New Orleans, Sings like a Motown melody, It dreams like California, Bigger than the Texas sky, It bleeds, it scars, but it shines when times get hard, and you can’t break an American heart.
Faith: It reminds me of a revival. When you think of America you think about the great plains of Texas; about California where everyone wants to go and follow their dream; the great sound of Motown coming out of Detroit; the unique culture of New Orleans where Tim and I spent a lot of time growing up; of Broadway and all the New York images.
I’m a news junkie. I read the “Wall Street Journal” and the “New York Times” and every day I have a heavy heart about what’s happening in our country and outside it. When I first heard “American Heart” I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and by the end of the song I was balling. There’s so much bickering and fighting, and it’s enough already. We are so much greater than that. We are resilient. We live in a time when you can say something and it can be taken out of context and a second later it’s all over the internet.
There’s so much bickering and fighting, and it’s enough already. We are so much greater than that. We are resilient. Somehow we have to come together. Change is difficult, but there are major changes that have to be implemented for our children’s sake. We can’t be naive and think it’s just about us. We can’t just listen to the sound bites in the newspapers or on TV. We need to educate ourselves and get the full story.”
- Faith Hill
I’m grateful my parents gave me such a strong backbone to be able to stand up and say no that’s not how things are, these are my beliefs and what I stand behind, period. Somehow we have to come together. Change is difficult, but there are major changes that have to be implemented for our children’s sake. We can’t be naive and think it’s just about us. We can’t just listen to the sound bites in the newspapers or on TV. We need to educate ourselves and get the full story.
Marsala: Tell us about your Neighbors Keepers Foundation.
Faith: We started it when Katrina happened in order to assist community charities with basic humanitarian services. During natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy you can’t even comprehend the destruction. The power of nature makes you realize how small we are on this planet. When you lose everything but the clothes on your back it changes your life.
The power of nature makes you realize how small we are on this planet. When you lose everything but the clothes on your back it changes your life.”
- Faith Hill
Marsala: Tim, you’re 11th album is called “Emotional Traffic.” What does the title mean?
Tim: It’s from a song I did with Neo called “Only Human.” The lyrics go The kiss that never happened, the call that never came, the hurt you mask by laughing, the one that got away, It’s all in a day of emotional traffic, Stranded, broken and tragic.
The album has songs about middle-American struggles and to me it represents a time in my career I don’t want to relieve that had to do with my battle with Curb Records, feeling my career was being suppressed and trying to find my way and see some light musically. Sonically I was experimenting with a sound I heard in my head and I think there’s a great tapestry of emotion on the album that includes optimism. It was invigorating blending the types of songs I’ve always done with a new modernism. It offers a glimpse of where I’m headed with my music.
Marsala: Where are you headed?
Tim: I’m always striving to be better. With three daughters I get to hear all the new stuff out there that I might not have listened to. Faith also listens to a lot of fresh stuff that I wouldn’t normally buy and all this fresh new music has influenced me. When I open my mouth it’s always going to be country, there’s no way around that, that’s who I am, that’s the kind of voice I have, but I have a large musical palate and I like having fun with other musical styles like country pop, stuff that has a 70s rock to it, and some of the modern stuff.
Marsala: You’re been in eight movies including “The Blind Side” (2009) and “Country Strong” (2010). What made you think you could act?
Tim: A part of me wanted to act before I got into music. When my music career exploded I got all kinds of offers, but I didn’t want to try my hand at it just because I was “a celebrity.” There’s a danger in that there’s a cool vibe that comes with being a musician and a lot of times you’re not supposed to be cool when you’re acting. There’s no hiding beneath your cowboy hat when you’re doing a film. You can only hide behind the character. It’s scary to let people see behind the façade because if you don’t do it well it can hurt your music career which is why I wanted to wait until my career was solid enough to take that risk.
The script for “Friday Night Lights” was lying around for quite a while and I read it right before it was too late. Immediately I knew I could sink my teeth into it and shed everything I needed to shed. I was such a nervous wreck I didn’t sleep the night before I started filming my first scene, which was a heavy one and I physically felt the weight of it.
Marsala: Was that your first acting job?
Tim: I had a small part in an independent film called “Black Cloud.” It was a good film, even though no one really saw it. It only took three days to shoot my part, but I had a chance to see myself on screen. I learned so much I couldn’t have given the performance I did in “Friday Night Lights” if I hadn’t done that first. I’ve had the benefit of working with some great actors and directors. Gwyneth is in a whole other league and because of that you become a better actor. I’ve had that experience with Billy Bob Thornton, and Sandra Bullock is such a pro she makes everyone on the set down to the cameraman better.
Faith: I’m so proud of Tim. Music is his first love and he’s the best at that, but he has so much more depth as an actor that what people have seen so far.
Tim: I can’t even process it. I sang Lionel Richie songs my whole life. It’s part of the tapestry of my life and everybody my age. You can’t hear one of his songs without recalling something that makes you smile. I’m a terrible piano player and the only ones I can play all the way through are his songs. The first day I walked into the studio I told said to Lionel, ‘You have no idea some of the things I’ve done with your music.’ I didn’t even need a lyric sheet. I knew it like the back of my hand.
Marsala: What did you think when you heard Taylor Swift’s first single on her debut album was titled “Tim McGraw?”
Tim: I wondered when I got so old that an artist wrote a song about me. Then I found out she was 13 when she wrote it, which took a decade off, and I didn’t feel so bad. Taylor’s amazing. She has such poise and self-confidence at such an early age.
Marsala: What makes you angry?
Tim: I hate those damn Styrofoam peanuts that come in packages. Also peoples’ intolerance of other peoples’ stumbles. You have to make mistakes in order to learn, but in this age of instant information you can’t make a mistake without the world knowing about it and judging you for it. I think it makes everyone more phony than they ought to be because they’re scared to make a mistake.
Marsala: Last words of wisdom.
Try to find the good in life each day because in a split second things can change drastically. Slow down, take a breath, live in the present, don’t let it pass you by. Let things fall off your shoulder a little easier. Be at peace. I have to remind myself every day.”
- Faith Hill
Be accountable to yourself.”
- Tim McGraw