Growing up in a village with a population of 300, country singer/songwriter Lainey Wilson has been surrounded by the art of storytelling her entire life. ‘It’s impossible to escape the sounds of country music when you grow up in a village like Baskin,’ she explains. ‘In a community so small, there’s not a whole lot to do, so we’d find ourselves sitting around a kitchen table telling the same stories that just got better every time you heard them.’
It’s these early experiences that inspired the fiery anthem, Small Town, Girl, from her new album Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’. The track puts small town life under a magnifying glass, with lyrics such as ‘like the roots running through southern ground, word gets out when you get around’ suggesting there’s no such thing as a secret in Baskin.
Lainey released Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ earlier this year and it’s an album that’s really solidified her as a modern-day country artist. It’s a collection of work that’s unapologetically honest through ballsy vocals layered with a contemporary country arrangement, and a southern twang that’s sassy yet warm-hearted. Lainey describes this sound as ‘bell-bottom country’- country with a flare.
Throughout the 12 songs on the album we’re taken on a journey from the heartache that comes with Keeping Bars In Business to the wild wonderment of a Neon Diamonds kind of night. We’re reminded of all our worst hangovers in Sunday Best and we learn to live like Dolly Parton in WWDD. Written from a bank of personal experiences and emotion, there’s not one song on this album that doesn’t feel truly authentic. ‘If I don’t believe what I’m saying and singing, why should I expect anybody else to believe it?’ Lainey says. ‘My goal for this record is for people to hear it and feel like they’re not alone, whether that means the listener is wanting to have a dang good time or let the walls come down.’
Here, we chat to Lainey Wilson about the stories that inspired Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, the drink that she always regrets the next day and the places she’s the most excited to play live in the coming year.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us, how are you doing?
Thank you for asking! I am doing great. It truly feels like all the hard work is paying off and I’m excited to see what the rest of this year looks like.
You made the move from your small town home in Louisiana to Nashville to pursue your music career. Do you remember how you felt at the time?
When I bought my camper trailer and moved to Nashville at 19 years old, I was taking a huge leap of faith. My parents have always been extremely supportive of me, but even they, along with everyone else back at home, were wondering how long I’d last in the ‘big city’. Only I knew how bad I wanted it. Even though it was scary, I never had the urge to turn around. I always knew that Nashville was the place I was going to land. I remember having a weird sense of peace knowing that I was going to be just fine, as long as I kept my blinders on, sleeves rolled up, and kept working towards what I wanted.
Your sound has so many elements from traditional country infused with some soulful rock which is sprinkled with sass. How would you describe your sound?
I would describe my music as bell-bottom country, also known as country with a flare. The ‘flare’ part of bell-bottom country is the unique edge you bring to something that a lot of other people do. I think the flare I bring to my country music comes from my highly regarded values of wanting to treat people right and not take things too seriously, mixed with some of my early rock influences like Bob Seger and Janis Joplin.
How would you describe your new album Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ in a couple of sentences?
Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ is who I am, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. It’s true to my core, top to bottom, and advocates for good character – specifically treating people the way you want to be treated, being honest with yourself and with others, and not taking yourself too seriously.
You worked with Jay Joyce on this album, what was it like working with him and what did he bring to the album?
Jay Joyce has always been my bucket list producer. Before we went in to record the album, we spent some time just hanging out and getting to know each other. He got to know my story and my personality which I think was the key to creating this body of work. He took what I already did and helped me find a lane of my own. I always say he’s a mad scientist – he experiments with a lot of different sounds and ways of playing something before he lands on the right thing. He tries so many things you would never think to try and is able to pull together unconventional pieces to make each song a work of art in such an amazing way.
How do you feel this album differs from your previous work?
I like to think with every day and every song I write, I get to know myself a little better. We’re all figuring it out as we go so I’d say this album is a wiser, more experienced version of me and what I do. I feel in line with who I am more than ever and I’ve learnt how to have the confidence to be unapologetically myself and say what I’m thinkin’ while also having discernment and a good time. I’d like to think all of these things are conveyed throughout the album.
Neon Diamonds feels like the ultimate anthem for anyone in their mid-twenties to late-thirties. Can you explain a little more about the track and what inspired you to write it?
Neon Diamonds is about living in the moment and not taking yourself too seriously. I am at a place in my life where I’m just looking to work hard and play harder. I think this is an anthem for the folks out there who are in the same boat as me!
I’m so glad you released WWDD! I feel like I need ‘what would Dolly do’ on a t-shirt! What is it about the Queen of Country that inspires you and made you write the track?
Dolly Parton has always been my compass musically and really for my daily life in general. I feel like Dolly always has the best answer and outlook on anything life throws her way. She tells it how it is, but is still kind while doing it.
In Sunday Best you talk about what sounds like the world’s worst hangover! What drink do you order at the bar and always regret the next day?
I’m a Jack and Coke kinda girl. I love it in the moment but it dang sure don’t love me the next day!
The album ends with Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ which seems to sum up the entire album. Was it a conscious decision to end on this track?
Of all the songs on the record, we chose Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ first. We knew that was the song that would set the theme for the whole record, and we chose the other 11 songs by asking ourselves ‘is this sayin’ what I’m thinkin’?’ If not, it didn’t make the cut. Once we had the songs decided, we knew Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ would likely be the title track, but my producer, Jay, is the one who had the idea to put that song at the very end. Having it at the end really does wrap it all up nicely, but still leaves things a bit open ended so I can keep sayin’ what I’m thinkin’!
The video visualizers for Small Town, Girl, Neon Diamonds, Rolling Stones and Sunday Best all have this really cool vintage feel to them. Would you say this theme reflects your personal style and sound?
I love vintage, throwback themes because I love a good story and old things usually come with a good story, whether it’s something you can hold, or something you can feel. So yes, I’d say my style and sound do shine through in my music and the visualizers. It seems to always be incorporated in everything I do. It’s like its second nature for me and my incredible creative team.
Which song on the album was the most emotional/personal one to write for you and why?
Keeping Bars In Business was an emotional song to write because two days prior I lost my dog, Puddin. She was the dog who moved to Nashville with me, the one who would lick the tears off my face, and my friend when I felt like I had none. This song specifically talks about the ups and downs of life and how we can all be on different pages of life at times, but regardless of where you’re at – whether you’re celebrating or your heart is breaking – we’re all keeping bars in business for one reason or another.
You’re preparing for a Straight Up Sideways kind of night… what’s your night out routine and where do you head out? Or do you stay in house party style?
I normally call a few of my rowdy friends, order a couple of pizzas, make a drink (or three) and have a bonfire at the house. It’s impossible to not have a good time with that combo!
This past year has been incredibly hard and I don’t want to talk about the pandemic too much but how do you hope people will feel when listening to this album?
I hope people can crank up this record and feel loved, understood, accepted, and inspired to be unapologetically themselves. I hope people can close their eyes and get that ‘live show’ element that everybody is missing so much. I know what making this record has done for me and my life and I hope it brings just as much joy to everybody who listens to it.
Who on the country music scene is inspiring you at the moment?
Eric Church’s songwriting and delivery still inspires me every day. He is bound and determined to share his gift and top the last thing he put out, which he does every time. I’ve also been loving Hailey Whitters’ new music. Whenever I’m feeling stressed out I’ll turn on her song featuring Brent Cobb called Glad To Be Here and get myself in a better headspace. Works every time!
Where’s the first place you want to play when the world opens up again?
I want to play a festival! Any festival! I love playing to a crowd full of beer drinking, music lovin’ folks. It’s going to be one of the best days of my life. I can’t wait!
What’s next for you now that the album has been released?
Well I never really stop writing, so I’m going to keep working on getting new songs together so I can get back into the studio and start working on the next record. As of right now, I have a few shows in April/May, but we’re supposed to really hit the ground running with shows in June. In the meantime, the band and I are rehearsing and getting these songs tight so we can play them LIVE for some folks here real soon!
Lainey’s new album Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ is out now.