October 5 | 2023

How Lainey Wilson Took Over Nashville

IN A YEAR when country music had its share of viral wonders and flash-in-the-pan hits, Lainey Wilson has been playing the long game. Since releasing her first major-label album, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, in 2021, she’s won over country music fans and the Nashville industry with her well-crafted songs and unfiltered Louisiana drawl, scoring CMA and ACM awards along the way (as well as landing a role on Yellowstone). It should all make her a prominent contender at the Grammys, where Bell Bottom Country and the Number One single “Watermelon Moonshine” are front-runners for country nominations.

She also had one of the biggest features of the year, joining Hardy on his revenge rocker “Wait in the Truck” — making it the second “truck” smash for Wilson, after her own “Heart Like a Truck.” “I did exactly what I said I would never do. I said, ‘We ain’t writing truck, truck, truck,’ and here I am,” Wilson says. “I had two of them on the radio at the same damn time.”

“Watermelon Moonshine” is the epitome of country nostalgia, with its teen romance in the summer after senior year. How does your own experience growing up in Baskin, Louisiana, inform the lyrics?
Being from such a small town, it’s a slower pace of life. When I think of my high school days, the song that I think about is Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.” When we were writing the song, we wanted people to be like, “I remember when nothing else mattered.” The pace of life in Baskin, in Franklin Parish, where [Carter’s father is] also from, it’s just slower. When you are young, wild, and crazy in love, it feels extremely deep. It sticks with you, because you don’t have things going a million miles an hour to distract you from the way that you’re feeling. I wanted to go back in time and feel all those crazy feelings all over again and bottle them up just for a few minutes. 

Do you think it’s harder today for us to have that experience because of social media?
Oh, my gosh, yeah. Cellphones weren’t as big of a deal when I was growing up. We were truly out riding the back roads, with that bottle of somethin’ buried in the back seat, and we drank the whole thing and hoped our mama and daddy didn’t smell it on us when we walked back through the house. There’s a lot of kids who aren’t experiencing those things because they aren’t stepping out from behind the computer long enough. I’m hoping that “Watermelon Moonshine” will not encourage them to do bad stuff, but encourage them to feel some stuff. 

“Timing is everything,” Wilson says. “When I moved to Nashville in 2011, in my camper trailer, I was too country for country.”

Two of your hits last year were truck songs. But “Heart Like a Truck,” about perseverance, and Hardy’s “Wait in the Truck,” about spousal abuse, weren’t clichés. 
It’s about taking that idea and flipping it on its head. I want to write things that people can relate to, and a lot of folks who listen to country music can relate to trucks. But when it comes to “Wait in the Truck” that I got to do with Hardy, it gave me an opportunity to be, like, “Man, this is something that a lot of people go through, that a lot of folks don’t want to talk about. But it happens behind closed doors.” I will never be able to feel what those people have felt, but I did want to take some of that weight and put it on my shoulders. And that’s the really beautiful thing about songwriting. 

You wrote every song on this record, except for 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” which you reimagine as a country number. What made you want to cover that?
I’ve been covering that song for a really long time. There were times when the show was kind of dragging, but anytime we started playing “What’s Up?” everybody’s hands and beers went up in the air. When I found my band in Nashville, we started playing it and put our own little country spin on it. I got to meet with Linda Perry and ask her if it was OK if I cut it. She’s just a badass, and she’s gone about things her own way. I really respect women like that, women who just kind of take the bull by the horns and do it how they want to do it.

Country music is having a huge streaming moment, especially with artists like Luke Combs, Jelly Roll, and Morgan Wallen. Have you seen something similar? 
Absolutely. Our numbers are crazy. I don’t keep up with that a whole lot, because you can pay attention to that kind of stuff too much and get sidetracked, but I will say it’s really cool to see what’s happening with country. I mean, it is becoming pop culture. It’s like everybody, all of a sudden, is wanting a horse and wanting to wear a cowboy hat. You get on TikTok, and you see these kids wishing that they were country. And that’s cool. It’s like, “Welcome to the party — where ya been?” This summer you played a solo acoustic set in a stadium opening for Luke Combs after lightning struck your band’s gear. Why did you decide to go ahead with the show?
We realized the lightning had done too much damage to our console, that we weren’t going to be able to give the people the kind of show that we wanted. We could have got out there and half-assed it, but I knew that I would be able to do a better job if I just went up there with my guitar. So I got to play a stadium with just me and my guitar player [Aslan Freeman]. All those moments of me and him playing acoustic together really came in handy that night. I think folks felt like, “Well, you know, she can’t hide behind a track. Let’s see what she’s got!” It was magical. 

You’ve finally gotten to sing with your hero, Dolly Parton, on an upcoming tribute album to the Judds. What was it like hearing your voices together?
I’ve been dreaming about our voices together my whole life. That was one of the moments for me where I’m like, “All right, I can go home now.” But the truth is, I ain’t going home. If Dolly Parton has thought enough of me or my talent to want to sing a song with me, it gives me that confidence to really step into whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing.

You’re a unique mainstream country artist who appeals to different audiences. You played AmericanaFest last year and Lollapalooza this summer.
Timing is everything. When I moved to Nashville in 2011, in my camper trailer, I was too country for country. And so it’s crazy to wrap my head around the fact that people who don’t even listen to country are listening to me….

So did you meet anyone cool at Lolla?
We were in and out and had to go to British Columbia that night, but it was so much fun. We were on a different stage than Billie Eilish, but I kept telling everybody, “We’re opening for Billie Eilish! We’re opening for Billie Eilish!” 

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