Singer and songwriter Melinda Schneider is not only at the top of her game with a new show based on her life stories but she has found true love. Of the baby-kind that is. Talking to editor Genine Howard while vibrant 16 month-old Sullivan bounds about in the background, Melinda tells Australian Content Magazine she has finally found the meaning of true success … and found herself along the way.
WORDS: GENINE HOWARD
At the beginning of our conversation Melinda asks me innocently if my 11 month-old baby is walking. I tell her honestly that no, he isn’t even crawling and that I’m having a mild panic attack that something may be wrong with him as I am constantly told my well-meaning friends and family that he should be moving by now. Melinda puts it plainly, “I hate how women place judgement on each other. Every baby is different. Don’t worry, he’ll crawl when he is good and ready.” Sound advice indeed. And that began the nature of my interview with renowned country singer and songwriter, Melinda Schneider.
Melinda too, is a first time mum at 40 (her baby, Sullivan, is now 16 months old). I ask her why it took so long for motherhood, and her answer is more than I bargained for. See, Melinda, at the age of 26, lost a baby five months into her pregnancy.
Melinda says, “It was really hard and really sad.” Ever the optimist, she continues, “At that point I hadn’t really started my singing career so I guess I took it as a meant to be – I do believe there is a bigger plan for us all and this is my second chance to get my career happening. I guess the Universe was giving me a sign.” At that point Melinda had yet to record her own music so she delved herself into song writing, clearly with some heavy emotions driving her along. Today though, Melinda is the picture of quintessential motherhood – her career has taken a backseat for the past 18 months so she can focus on being a mother – an opportunity that she thought may never be possible.
I have never experienced love that real and unconditional.
Melinda says, “Having a baby at 40, I am so grateful to be able to have one – I would have hated to have missed out this incredible experience. I just love being a mum; I love breastfeeding [she is still breastfeeding Sullivan], the bond and that beautiful attachment you have. I have never experienced love that real and unconditional.”
Melinda and partner, front-man of Aussie rock band Choirboys, Mark Gable, are both relishing their roles as parents. For Mark, this is his second time around, having had five children in his previous relationship. Melinda says, “For Mark it was a really big decision to have kids. I had been married previously and got divorced at 33. I then had to meet the right person and finally met Mark when I was 36.” She continues, “I thought I had to at least try [to have a baby]. I was still scared about having one and how it would affect my career but we left it into the Universes hands. It actually only took five months to get pregnant! I do believe it was a case of the right time and the right relationship.”
As a fellow career woman, I know how hard it is to ‘change hats’ so-to-speak and become a mother, so I wonder how Melinda was coping with her new identity. She says, “Being forty and established in my career, I was a bit sick of it being all me, me, me. There is only so much success you can have – you have to be so self-focused in show business. I was a workaholic so it was actually a nice relief was Sullivan came along!
“I think it’s [motherhood] taken away a lot of pressure off myself. When Sullivan was about nine months old I went through a bit of a crisis – I felt really housebound. The go-getter voice inside my head was constantly telling me that I should be doing this and I should be doing that, what about my career, what if people forget me – I was putting too much pressure on myself.” So Melinda did what all smart women do, and asked for help.
That was it, the key was to give myself permission to be a mother.
“I thought to myself that I was probably not going to have any more kids after Sullivan and I really wanted to enjoy this time with him. So I headed straight to my counsellor! He asked me ‘What’s your desire; to work and achieve? Is it to be a hands-on mother? Tell me what is more important.’ I said ‘I don’t want to work. I just want to be a good mum.’ He told me to just give myself permission. That was it, the key was to give myself permission to be a mother – to find that other part of me that I didn’t know existed. And the funny thing is, I didn’t realise I was born to be a mother. That need to be ‘successful’ was nagging me – I just let that go in that one session. I felt so relieved – it doesn’t matter anymore and of course I will still achieve stuff.”
Melinda and I then get on the topic of success and what true success really is. Melinda says, “What do you call success? For each of us it’s different. You need to ask yourself, in 20 years’ time when you want to look back and see what you have done, what do you want to be remembered for? For me it was being the best mother I could be.”
Speaking of success, in terms of music, Melinda is one of Australia’s most successful country singer / songwriters. She has a host of awards to her name including several Golden Guitar awards, sold countless albums and toured, to rave reviews, with her Doris Day tribute show, ‘DORIS – So More Than The Girl Next Door’. And soon, Melinda – and family – will be on the road touring again with her new show, ‘Be Yourself’. This will be the first time the show has been performed in Australia and depicts the story of Melinda’s life through her own songs and those from other songwriters who have influenced her. The show will debut at the upcoming 2014 Tamworth Country Music Festival, January 22.
So just how is Melinda planning on touring with a 16 month-old and remaining sane? “I don’t know yet!” she exclaims. “We will probably just go out for weekends or for a few days at a time. Mark will come out with me and help out. It’s not going to be easy and I’m sure it will have its challenges. However Sully [Sullivan] loves new adventures, they [children] need such stimulation anyway. I’ll just take one day at a time.”
Listening to Melinda chatting about going on tour with her family reminded me that her own upbringing was not dissimilar. Melinda is the only child of yodelling great, Mary Schneider, and her policeman father, Keith Bean, was also from a musical family. Melinda spent many a night backstage whilst her mother performed, sometimes sleeping in her mother’s fur coat. I touch on this subject with Melinda and ask if having famous parents will impact the way she raises her son.
“It was interesting writing this show – when you have a child you look at your own upbringing – as much as your parents did the best they could you don’t want to make some of the same mistakes they made. It takes you a while to figure out who you are with famous parents. I recall Chaz Bono [offspring of Sonny and Cher Bono] saying that it’s difficult to know where you belong when your parents are famous. It’s not a normal family situation – the attention is on the parents the whole time rather than the children. I talk about that in the show.
I want to see who he is – what’s in his heart. I’m fascinated to know who he is.
“With Sully I want to keep a good balance of making sure he is number one focus and it’s not all about me – I want him to have a good sense of self. Growing up, my mum had taught me dancing, juggling, yodelling … and I didn’t really have a great interest in it myself. I want to see who he is – what’s in his heart. I’m fascinated to know who he is.”
Continuing on the subject, Melinda adds, “When I was three I recorded on Mum’s albums, I had a show by age of eight. People would come up to me after the show and say ‘You’re not as good as your mother’. That used to really upset me – no one wants to hear that. Growing up I was quite confused about what I wanted to do musically and what was my truth. I just didn’t know who I was.”
Most people don’t realise that Melinda didn’t become a recording artist in her own right until her late 20’s. In fact, Melinda left school young and went and studied fashion. She remembers, “I had my own fashion label working out of Mum and Dad’s garage – I made stage costumes and all sorts for loads of people. Mum’s grandma was an amazing seamstress – perhaps that is where I got the talent from. It was funny, during my early 20s I would be in the garage running the business and always singing at top of my lungs to Top 40 hits and Michael Bolton songs. Mum used to come in and ask ‘Are you sure you don’t want to be a singer?!’ I think I was denying myself. Then I realised, deep down, I really did want to be a singer.”
Back to the new show ‘Be Yourself’, I ask Melinda how she feels about performing a show telling her life story in front of audiences Australia-wide. She admits, “It’s actually quite confronting to be so honest! And working out how honest you want to be especially when you’ve had relationships fail and so on – of course I will be diplomatic, but I wanted to express my truth. It’s about finding the balance.
… by the time you reach the age of 40, you don’t worry as much about what others may think, you can really just be yourself.
“I have found writing the songs quite a healing and liberating process. I am in a great place in my life and by the time you reach the age of 40, you don’t worry as much about what others may think, you can really just be yourself.” She adds with a laugh, “But the realities are, I have to learn a script in two weeks with a toddler running around!”
Our discussions turn to how we manage to be business women and mothers and separate the two – Melinda tells me that for her it’s actually not that hard as she and partner, Mark, share the parenting roles so that she can focus 100 per cent on projects and rehearsals for a full day, and vice versa. “Mark is still with The Choirboys and has few other projects. He had his own radio show, 2GO, but has given that up now to focus on other stuff. Mark loves being a dad second time round. He is more equipped this time being older. He has such a great bond with Sullivan – it’s beautiful to watch. I’m lucky I’ve got a very supportive partner.”
And after talking with Melinda, I can see that her life is very much on track and full of love, joy and calmness (well, as much as having a toddler is a calm life!) … and more importantly, a life based on finding her truth – now as a mother and in her 20’s as a singer.
I press her to give some advice on finding and creating your best life; “One of the guys in my band, who is about a bit of a guru, always says to me [she puts on a mock ‘all knowing, all wise’ voice), ‘It’s what you focus on, Melinda’. And it’s so true. It’s all to do with your beliefs – you need to examine what you really believe in. Look at your priorities. And don’t side step from what you really want.”
You can see Melinda’s debut show, ‘Be Yourself’ January 22 at 3pm at Tamworth Town Hall, Tamworth. For tickets head to www.tcmf.com.au.