First Published February 2021
FEELIN’ IT WITH HER WHOLE HEART
If you’re a country music fan who pays attention to what’s going on across the Atlantic, then you’ll already have been singing along to Things A Man Oughta Know by LAINEY WILSON for quite a while. The track was first released as part of her 2019 EP Redneck Hollywood, and to date has racked up in excess of thirty-five million streams, an achievement which earned it a place on Spotify’s Nashville Worldwide Hot 50. Things A Man Oughta Know was also featured in NPR’s (National Public Radio) Best Music of 2019, who referred in glowing terms to Lainey’s “honeyed, crystalline twang.” And as of last Friday, Things A Man Oughta Know and the gorgeous, warm, southern charm of Lainey’s vocals can be enjoyed on her brand new long-player, SAYIN’ WHAT I’M THINKIN’.
Approaching the tenth anniversary of when she first rolled into Nashville in her camper, Lainey is a prolific songwriter and every song on this new collection has a piece of her heart running through it. Heralded as one of CMT’s (Country Music Television) Next Women of Country in 2019, and also featured on MusicRow’s Next Big Thing 2021 list, Lainey likes to call her sound ‘bell bottom country’, a style which blends traditional country with a funky but modern flair. In short, Lainey’s music, much like any encounter or experience with the lady herself, will leave you with a great big smile on your face, and with your world brightened immeasurably by the light she pours into life through everything she does. Am I a fan? Damn right, I am! And if you’re not one already as well, then you will be as soon as you hear Neon Diamonds – the opener on Sayin’ What I’mThinkin’ – kick in. Much like Lainey, it’s pure country bliss.
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Lainey’s company when the release of Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ was just days away. With that personal and career milestone so close, and her schedule all kinds of crazy right now, I began our chat by asking Lainey what life was like as she counted down the hours until release day?
“I am on cloud nine! I seriously cannot believe it that it’s about to be here, somethin’ that I’ve worked so hard for. My team have just worked their fingers to the bone for this, it feels good! I’m humbled and excited. This record is who I am, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. And it’s pretty damn cool that I can put something out to the world that is truly who I am.”
I wondered how Lainey felt about her album coming into the world when the world itself is such a very strange place these days?
“I think, more than ever, people need music. The power of music is really unbelievable, and the healing that it can really do. Music has always been that way. But clearly, it’s been a rough time for everybody around the entire world. And even though these songs specifically aren’t even talking about that, at least it’s a good place for people to kind of escape, or just kind of be in the moment.”
As if an album release wasn’t enough for Lainey to be feeling excited about when we spoke, she was also getting ready to play the Grand Ole Opry again last Saturday night. The Opry not being somewhere that you can just rock up to on showday and wing it, I asked Lainey about how she was preparing for that big night…
“Oh absolutely it’s not! [laugh]. Honestly, when you just brought it up and reminded me, I got nervous all over again! [laughs]. It is so cool and I’m so excited that I’m being invited back, it really is an honour every single time. I dreamed about being up there when I was a little girl. I remember being nine years old, and I remember exactly where I was sitting in the crowd. We saw Bill Anderson, ‘Little’ Jimmy Dickens, Crystal Gayle, Phil Vassar…and I just knew, a crazy, crazy feeling came around me, that I was going to have the opportunity to do that. How do I prepare? [laughs] I don’t know if you can fully prepare, honestly [laughs]. It’s kinda one of those things where you just say a prayer, take a shot of whiskey, and do the thing! [laughs].”
We’d only just gone past Valentine’s Weekend when Lainey and I spoke, and it was actually on St. Valentine’s Day last year that Lainey made her Grand Ole Opry debut. I asked her what was going through her mind just before she walked out on stage, and, after experiencing such a high, did she get any sleep at all when she got home that night?
“[Laughs] It was truly unbelievable! And I was so nervous, and for weeks before it, leading up to my debut. But the crazy thing is that right when Terri Clark introduced me and I walked out there on that stage, I had this overwhelming feeling of peace and calmness all around me. It was a huge moment for me, but I felt like I was at home. That was just a reminder, ya know, that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. It makes me get emotional even talking about it, because it truly is one of the most magical places for country music. It IS THE most magical place for country music. To stand on that stage and be a part of it is…overwhelming!”
People often say that in some of the biggest moments of their lives everything seems to pass by almost in a flash and is over before they even know it. So I wondered if Lainey could actually recall being up on stage and in the middle of her performance that night?
“Yes! As soon as I stepped foot inside that circle, it’s like the entire world just stopped turning, just for a second. And it was just like my dreams were seriously coming to fruition and that was just a huge step for me, and in my life. It made me feel like that nine year old little girl sittin’ out in the crowd wasn’t completely crazy [laughs]. It was just this weird, nostalgic feeling that this was what I was born to do. And damn it, I’m doin’ it! [Laughs].”
Lainey has co-written every song on Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, and if anyone was to try and describe her in just one word, then I think ‘songwriter’ would have to be high on that list. Lainey has spoken before about how important a good hook is in her songwriting, and how that tends to be a starting-point for her more often than not. I asked Lainey how that songwriting process usually unfolds, and if she has a routine around her songwriting?
“Ya know, the cool thing about songwriting for me is that it’s honestly different every single time I sit down in a writing room. Sometimes, the ideas fall out of the sky. Sometimes, the melodies fall out of the sky. Sometimes, you have to fight for it. I get a lot of my ideas just from listening to peoples’ conversations, just finding hools and words that draw me in and catch my attention. It’s so cool because I’ve been able to write with a lot of incredible songwriters here in Nashville who have just taught me so much. And I love being in the room with people who can teach me somethin.’ I want to learn somethin’ every single time I sit down. I’ve been able to learn how to put myself into the shoes of whatever it is that we’re writing. If we wanted to write about that tree outside or whatever, well, you put yourself into the shoes of that tree and write about how that tree is feelin.’ That’s so cool that you can do that with songwriting. It’s like acting for three or four hours or however long it is that it takes you to write the song. I will tell you the songs that end up sticking out for me, and the ones that I end up actually recording in the studio, are the ones that are the most real and true to me. The ones that I have gone through or experienced. It’s pretty cool. I mean, every single song on my record really is true to who I am, and down to my core tells my story.”
Lainey had mentioned her nine year old self when we were talking about the Grand Ole Opry, and as it happens, there’s a particularly interesting line in her bio about how she also started writing songs at nine…about tequila and cigarettes! I reminded Lainey of that old writer’s adage, to write about what you know, and told her I hoped that wasn’t what she was doing back then!
“[Laughs] That is so funny! Anthony, I’ve always been like an old soul, you could say. I sang that song when I was nine years old to my parents. And it definitely had tequila and cigarettes in and they were like, well first of all, we don’t have alcohol in the house and neither one of us smokes cigarettes, so we don’t know where this little girl picked this up! [Laughs]. But I’d been listening! I’m always super-aware. And I knew that I heard it in a few country songs, so I said hey, let’s put it in there! I don’t know what it means, but let’s put it in there [laughs].”
What I, as a fan, love about Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, is that it clearly matches who Lainey is as a person. It’s country, inescapably and unapologetically. Honesty pours out of every lyric. A sense of fun runs through this whole collection of songs. And, you can tell that Lainey just wants fans to enjoy listening to it every bit as much as she enjoyed recording it. And I know this matches up with who Lainey is as a person because in every interview I’ve ever heard with her she manages to laugh, and have fun, while always staying true to the importance of the songs from a songwriter’s and a musician’s perspective. So what I wanted to know was how has Lainey managed to maintain the positive attitude and outlook on life that she so evidently has? As she closes in on her tenth year in Nashville, and is now becoming that proverbial ‘overnight success’, there must have been times along the way that were tough to navigate…
“There’s been times when I probably should have packed my bags and moved home. But I’ll tell you the truth, and tell you that that really has never crossed my mind. I’ve always known that this is what I was supposed to do. And I knew it was goin’ to take me a long time. In August, I’ll have been here for ten years. But it’s just one of those things, I’ve known it deep in my heart and in my gut, this is it. There’s no Plan B. I felt like if I had a Plan B, then Plan A wasn’t gonna work! [Laughs]. So, the things that have kept me goin’, first of all is prayer, for me. The second thing is little bitty steps in the right direction. Those are the things that would keep me going. When I see progress, I’m like, ‘Alright, one step closer! What’s next?’ Those are the things that seriously just keep me excited and happy. And also, ya know, just seein’ the reaction and the connection that people are makin’ to the music. THAT is a songwriter’s dream, to see people really gravitate towards what you poured your heart and soul into. It’s pretty magical. And it just keeps me on my toes and makes me want to continue doin’ it every day.”
Speaking of songwriters and dreams, I had to ask Lainey about Ashley McBryde. I have always believed that every dreamer needs a believer in their corner, and Ashley has certainly been that for Lainey. I asked her about a particular conversation I knew the two had about this subject on Ashley’s tour bus one night, and also what having that kind of support of someone like Ashley means to Lainey for the kind of person she wants to be as well?
“Ya know, I have looked up to Ashley McBryde for a long time. And I’ve also seen that it has taken her a really long time to kind of break through. It gives people like me the courage to just stick it out. More than anything, Ashley McBryde is extremely talented. And it’s very rare that you’ll find somebody who stands in your corner that’s just as kind as they are talented. And that is the definition of Ashley McBryde, I’m tellin’ you right now. She wants to see me win. It ain’t this competition thing, I mean, truly. With everything in her, she wants to see me win. Talkin’ about that story on her bus one night, I believe we were in..maybe…Texas? Shoot, i don’t even know. But we were on the road. And we were drinkin’ whiskey [laughs], cos’ you know, the truth comes out when the whiskey comes out! [Laughs]. We had been playin’ music on the bus and she grabbed my hand, and she said, ‘Lainey, I love you, and I believe in you, and I want to help pull you over this wall. But you gotta promise me that whenever you find somebody that you love and believe in as much as I love and believe in you, you’ll do the same exact thing.’ And that right there, is it. That’s really it! I plan on doin’ that when I can. It’s about supportin’ people, genuinely supportin’ people, and lovin’ ’em. I mean, at the end of the day, we all moved to Nashville with the same dream and the same goal. And we know just how bad each other truly does want it. There’s nobody like Ashley.”
From a little town called Baskin, near Monroe in Louisiana, Lainey opened for the great American country star Tracy Lawrence in Monroe when she was just eighteen years old. Fast-forward to last year, and Lainey was on tour with Tracy and Justin Moore before Covid brought the world of ‘live’ music to a halt. I asked Lainey to tell me about being on the road with those guys, and especially about something which most people might not appreciate the significance of, the fact that both men would regularly stand side-stage and watch Lainey open each night’s show…
“It’s so crazy, ya know, like, the artists that I grew up listening to, having the opportunity to go on the road for people like them was a huge moment for me. But the cooler part about it all was becoming friends with these guys. I had a twenty-five minute set on stage, and every single time I played, they were there, side-stage, watchin’ me and cheerin’ me on. And when I’d walk off they’d give me a high-five. That also shows the same [kind of] character that Ashley has. It’s one of those things like, wow…never in a million years did I think Tracy Lawrence would be sharing his whiskey with me! [Laughs]. But it does make me feel like when I have the opportunity to stand side-stage for somebody and really help boost their confidence, then that’s what I’m gonna do. Because they [Tracy and Justin] will never understand how special those moments were for me.”
That particular tour, of course, was cut short due to everything that’s been happening with Covid 19. But since Lainey has been off the road, she’s become a mama to a little fur-baby, a French bull-dog named Hippie! I asked Lainey how Hippie was getting on, and if, when everything gets back to normal, she’ll be getting back out there on the road with her?
“Hippie is rotten! [Laughs]. Hippie is so rotten. That’s the word for her! But she’s so sweet, she’s my girl! And I’m hopin’ that if she can figure out this whole potty-training thing that she will be on the road with me! [Laughs].”
When Lainey first went to meet her album producer, Jay Joyce, a gentleman who has also worked his magic with the likes of Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Brothers Osborne to name just a few, his two dogs were there to greet her that day. Just one of the stories I’d heard about Joyce was how he’d walk up to musicians literally while they were playing and slightly untune their guitars just to get a different sound. I asked Lainey to share a little bit about how her experience of working with the enigmatic producer had been…
“He really is a mad scientist! I knew, as soon as I went over there and hung out with him that first time, when he opened the door smokin’ a Marlboro Light in the middle of this sanctuary studio, I knew we were goin’ to be friends! He is just himself! And I feel like my best friends are the people who are unapologetically themselves. Those are the kind of people I gravitate towards. And we hit it off. It was one of those kind of kindred spirits moments. A lot of people told me, ‘Ya know, he’s scary! He wears a black trench-coat, lights his cigarette on a toaster!’ [Laughs]. I was like, oh gosh, I don’t know what to expect! [Laughs]. But truly, I just learned so much. I felt like I grew so much during that entire process. And I really did let Jay do his thing. It was just so cool seeing these songs come to life. He kinda like puts it all in a pot, puts a little fairy-dust on it, and voila!”
Going back to Lainey’s songwriting and a link she has to a guy who has really been making a big name for himself amongst Irish country fans over these past few years, and that’s Luke Combs. Lainey was actually one of his first co-writers in Nashville, and Luke even cut a track they wrote, one called Sheriff You Want To. I asked her about her memories of those sessions with Luke…
“I knew from the get-go that Luke Combs has something special. I saw him play at Tin Roof Revival and he had not even moved to Nashville yet. But I knew that he had ‘it.’ At this point in time, I had absolutely nothin’ goin’ on. He had just started to get an underground following. We developed a friendship, and he would come over to my camper-trailer and we’d write songs. We were both really just learning how to write, and how to collaborate. And I’m a firm believer that two brains are better than one. I think it’s important to write by yourself every now and then, but it’s interesting to see all the different angles that come from two people being in a writing room. So like I said, we were just two kids in there tryin’ to figure it out. I’m so proud of how far he has come, and he truly is just also a great person. It’s so awesome to see him do so well.”
In closing, I asked Lainey to share the best piece of advice she’s ever been given, or the biggest lesson that she’s ever learned when it comes to either songwriting or just life in the music business…
“The story that comes to my mind is this. I grew up riding horses. My daddy brought this horse home, and he was not ‘broke.’ Daddy was like, ‘Hey, Lainey, get on this horse.’ So I crawled up there, little Lainey! The horse started buckin’, and I was cryin’ to get down. I was like, ‘Let me off, let me off, I’m terrified.’ And he told me, hold on. And I held on. I’ve carried that with me into my adult life, and throughout this whole process. Because this really is a crazy ride! It’s got a lot of ups and downs, a lot of twists and turns. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. It’s about the ride. It’s about feelin’ it with your whole heart. And damn it, I’m holdin’ on! [Laughs].”
~ SAYIN’ WHAT I’M THINKIN’, the brand NEW album from LAINEY WILSON, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms.