Lainey Wilson is one of country music’s brightest stars, and today she releases her highly anticipated new album, Bell Bottom Country. Most fans have become very aware of her over the past year and a half since the release of her major label debut, 2021’s Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’. But by that point, she’d been working hard for about a decade, writing songs for other artists, putting out music independently, and just living life.
“I’ve been in Nashville for 11 years and this ain’t been no overnight thing,” she says. “And I definitely try to make it known that I have been here a long time, busting my tail. I don’t want people to think that it just happened for me overnight. I want them to know that I struggled, and I clawed my way up. And yeah, I want it to be a story that inspires folks. My journey definitely looks a lot different than a lot of folks who moved to Nashville. But I feel like the wait has been worth it.”
“If it would have worked out the way that I wanted it to work out, I would have had a record deal when I moved here at 19 years old. But looking back on it, I am so thankful for that time because I’m 30 years old now and I’ve got a lot to say. I’ve lived a lot more life and I feel like I’ve got way more stories that people can relate to people at this point.”
Hard work, she notes, is a big part of her upbringing, and also something she looks for in the artists that she loves. “The people who I want to listen to and the people who I want to root for, I want to know that it wasn’t easy for them. I want to know that they worked hard to get to where they are. And I come from a family full of hard workin’ son of a guns. I mean, they roll their sleeves up, they’re cowboys and farmers and they just don’t take no for an answer. And I’ve definitely looked to my family in the way that they do things. I’ve had to do that in the music business, too. I’ve had to stand up for myself, and I’ve had to just keep on truckin’.”
In your new song “Hold My Halo,” you sing, “I’ve been working like a dog, tryin’ to please them all/Tryin’ to put another comma in the bank, tryin’ to get these broke down dreams to crank.” I know that not all songs are autobiographical, but that sounds like it comes from your life.
That one was [me] speaking the truth. And there are so many people who didn’t have an opinion [about my music] before, and all of a sudden have an opinion now. And half the time I want to tell them to kiss my butt. But I also will say that at this point in my life, I have a team of people around me who love me for me. And they wouldn’t want to change me in any kind of way.
I don’t know if I could work with folks who want me to talk different or want me to look different. I just can’t be anything other than myself. And it would, it’d be terrible. I can’t imagine waking up 15 years down the road and being like, “Oh, my gosh. I’ve got to keep pretending.”
“Hold My Halo” is a great take on the expression “hold my beer.”
I was always told, “work hard, roll your sleeves up and get the job done.” But also, it’s okay to have a good time. It’s okay to let your hair down. It’s okay to let loose. And that’s what this song is about. It’s about not taking yourself too seriously.
I love your song “Rolling Stone” from Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’. When we last spoke, you told me that it was about your childhood sweetheart. You said, “I ended up having to cut him loose and I moved to Nashville in my camper and I knew that leaving meant that I had to let a lot of things go, including him.” I was wondering if “Watermelon Moonshine” from the new album was about that relationship.
The idea actually came from a co-writer. All three of us in the room had experienced that type of childhood feeling, you know what I’m saying? And so we all had that to, like, relate to each other, and it just kind of fell out. You know, the song is about that young, wild, crazy love. I feel like everybody has felt at some point in time. And the song has really got nothing to do with watermelon moonshine. It’s just about about that feeling, that feeling that nothing else mattered in the world and how you were just so dang sure that you were going to end up with that person and be with them forever. You know, it was just that naive feeling. A lot of people have compared it to “Strawberry Wine” [by Deanna Carter] which I think is a huge compliment.
“Grease” is the funkiest song that you’ve done.
That idea came from a saying that my mom used to always say, “Now we cookin’ with grease!” You know, now we’re getting somewhere. And I feel like I can never escape those voices and those sounds from my childhood. They just kind of work their way into my music. I mean, you can hear Mama and Daddy and Jesus all throughout this record. And just because, that’s who raised me.
If you think about my last record, the song “Dirty Looks” is a song about that blue-collar love. And to me, that’s what this is. It’s kind of like part two, showin’ the fun side of that blue-collar love. And yeah, it just draws a picture of the guy who’s been bustin’ his tail and he comes in and they’re letting it all hang out. And I think it’s important to do. Just like with “Hold My Halo”: work hard, have fun.
I feel like there are a lot of encounters with potential hangovers on your album.
Having fun with your success is part of the spoils of success. But I guess in your case, you don’t want to get caught on camera letting it all hang out too much…
You are so right. This year, I’ve had so much going on and I’ve got to be prepared for what’s going on the next day or the next moment that I haven’t been able to really “turn it up,” like I would normally turn it up. But there’s a time and place for everything and I try to be responsible and I’ve got a lot of people around me who I feel like protect me and would make sure that I don’t act too crazy.
The album is all songs that you co-wrote, except the last one: it’s a cover of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?”
That’s one that I have covered for years. People’s hands would go up in the air, they would get on their feet. People just love it. There’s not a show that we don’t play it at, and it’s just kind of become a part of our setlist. I feel like I’m going to be playing the dang song ten, fifteen, twemty years from now. I did get to sit down with [4 Non Blondes singer/songwriter] Linda Perry last fall and she is awesome. She is so intimidating, I’ll tell you that. She’s just so cool, though. She gave me her blessing to record the song and I sent it over to her and she loves it.
I feel like she would like your hat collection.
Oh yeah, she’s got a cool hat collection herself.
So, talk about how you got the Yellowstone gig. When I read about it, I was like, “Really!” I didn’t see that coming. Do you have acting experience? How did it all come together?
Yellowstone has put three of my songs in the show so far. They have been extremely supportive. I ended up becoming friends with Tyler Sheridan, the writer and producer. He asked me to come play a horse riding competition that he does out in Vegas, and that’s where I got to meet him and shake his hand and get to know him. And, you know, during the pandemic, I went out to the ranch and I did like a little private show for the cast and crew and got to know a few of them. And then next thing I know… fast forward to February of this year. Tyler calls me and just says, “I’ve got an idea. He said, I want to create a character specifically for you.”
He said, “I want you to wear what you wear. I want you to sing your songs. I want you to pretty much be yourself, but go by a musician named ‘Abby.’” And I could not say “Yes” quick enough. No, I have no acting experience at all. I mean, I’ve been acting a fool my whole life, but I made a promise to myself long time ago that if it was an opportunity where I could get to share more of my music with the world, I was going to do it.
I feel like every time I push myself, every time I kind of step outside of that box, something magical happens. And you’re going to see me throughout the whole season. It is so much fun. And it’s like I said, I am brand spanking new at it, but I’ve learned to love it. I just love being creative.
This might be an oversimplified question, but is acting hard? You hadn’t done it before, and now you’re doing it on a show. You are costars with Kevin Costner!
Crazy! It’s crazy. I feel like when I’m getting on stage at certain times… I’m having to act, too. I mean, I’m not having a great day every day. And there’s times… for instance, my daddy was in the hospital for two months and then he was in rehab for three weeks and now he’s home and doing better. But during those times, I was playing shows and having to put a smile on my face. And so a little part of me, I guess, has to act, at times. So. It’s all kind of one in the same.
I think I did get lucky with this role because I don’t have to change my accent. I pretty much get to be me. I just needed to kind of know my lines and have a conversation with somebody.
You did take a bit of a dramatic turn in the “Wait In The Truck” video, with Hardy. That’s a really heavy song about domestic abuse and a really heavy video.
Hardy sent me this song this summer, and when I listened to it, it made me feel like I was listening to ‘90s country. The way that it just told a story and reminded me of [Garth Brooks’] “The Thunder Rolls,” and “Whiskey Lullaby” [by Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley] and [The Chicks’] “Goodbye Earl.” And it’s talking about something that is not talked about a lot and, hopefully shining a little bit of light on a dark subject. I didn’t know how people were going to respond to it. I really didn’t. But I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
This kind of thing happens all the time behind closed doors, not necessarily like verbatim of what the song talks about. I think it needs to be talked about a little more. And I think the people who are getting abused, I feel like they need to know that they’re not alone. But I also feel like I want the abusers to hear the song and I want them to feel haunted.
Last question: last summer, the great songwriter Jessie Jo Dillon posted a photo of you and Miranda Lambert. (Read our 2020 interview with Jessie Jo Dillon here.) It seemed like the three of you were working on something. Can you tell me anything about it?
We hung out all day long. We smoked cigarettes, which I don’t ever do. But when you’re around Miranda Lambert, you just have a good time [laughs]. We had so much fun hanging out, and that was one of the first times I got to really hang with Miranda. And we actually have a lot in common. But yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens with the song. It’s not the right time yet, and I’d love to get back together with the girls and see, you know, see what else we can come up with. But it was it was so much fun.
You’re obviously your own woman, but I can hear a bit of “Kerosene” in some of your music…
I don’t know of any females here in Nashville who haven’t been influenced by Miranda. She has blazed a trail. So, yes, I look up to her and I look up to the fact that she says it like she wants to. And she is who she says she is.
It must be a little bit surreal, getting to hang out with the people whose records you bought, whose shows you paid to go to.
It’s insane. And when you just said it out loud, it gave me chills all over again. Just because these people have influenced my entire life. I mean, they’re the dang reason I moved to Nashville. They’re what I grew up listening to. And it’s just so cool that these people are becoming my peers and people who I can, like, pick up the phone and call and ask for advice. And I don’t take that lightly. I think it’s always going to be cool. I’m never going to be like, you know, “Me and my girl Miranda.” But I’m friends with Miranda Lambert. That’s a little strange.