Lainey Wilson’s album, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, is out today (February 19), and tonight you can catch her and her band performing songs from the album. Watch the performance on our Facebook page at 5 pm PST.
Wilson is being billed as one of the most exciting new artists in country music: “Things A Man Oughta Know,” “Neon Diamonds,” “Dirty Looks” “WWDD,” “Keeping Bars In Business” and “Rolling Stone” are future jukebox classics. But she’s not quite “new”: Wilson has been working towards this moment for a long time. She moved from her small town, Baskin, Louisiana (population: 300) to Nashville nearly a decade ago. She released Tougher independently in 2016, and she’s been releasing songs from Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ over the past two years, while touring with John Pardi and Morgan Wallen, among others.
So the road to her major label debut has been long. In fact, the album itself has been finished since March of 2019. But debut albums require a lot of planning, and of course Wilson’s team didn’t plan for a pandemic.
Wilson isn’t only a singer, she’s also a writer; every song on Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ was co-written by her. That’s one of the ways she made a living when she first got to Music City, and she’s written for at least one artist that you might be familiar with.
“I figured the best way for me to try to get my foot in the door was through my writing. I didn’t know how to meet the people on Music Row. I didn’t know who I needed to talk to. I was just kind of going into this just blindfolded. I signed with a publishing company, Sony ATV in 2017, and they kept pitching my music to labels, and that’s kind of how they heard my voice and they were like, ‘Oh, shoot, maybe we should look at her as an artist [as opposed to a songwriter].'”
“But yes, I’ve written songs for this boy named Luke Combs, probably in 2014 or 2015. I had been here for several years before he had moved down and I’m telling you, as soon as I heard him, I knew there was something special about him. I walked straight up to him and I said, I want to write with you. I just had this overwhelming feeling that this boy was gonna do something.”
“So he came over to my camper trailer, because I lived in a camper for the first three years I was here. We’ve written a handful of songs together and he ended up cutting one of my own called ‘Sheriff You Want To.’ And I was singing background vocals on it, but that was still not enough for me to get a publishing deal. But it took me it took me seven years before I even got a publishing deal.”
Like every other artist, Wilson is itching to get back on the road, and “Neon Diamonds” — the album’s opening track — might be the first song she plays at her first post-pandemic show. “It’s about not taking yourself seriously. This is a song for the girls. And the funny thing about the song is when we get ready to record it, my mama happened to be in town from Louisiana and we needed extra ‘gang vocals.’ Now, my mama cannot carry a tune in a bucket. It’s bad. But [producer] Jay [Joyce] was like, ‘Hey, see if your mom will come and we need some female vocals on this.’ And she ended up singing on ‘Neon Diamonds,’ and she’ll never let me live it down.”
Another highlight is “Rolling Stone.” In the song, the narrator warns a guy who wants to commit that he shouldn’t “give a rock to a rolling stone.” It’s kind of like “Freebird” with the gender roles revered. “The song kind of comes from my life,” she explains. “I dated a guy for seven years and he was my childhood sweetheart. We grew up together. We started dating when I was 12 years old and we saw each other through a bunch of different seasons of life.”
“Anyway, 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. And that was not easy to do. ‘Rolling Stone’ really just kind of tells my story about that. And and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that. I’m sure there are a lot of people who feel the same kind of way and kind of are bound and determined not to be held back by anything.”
“I graduated high school with twenty four [other] kids and I think I’m the only one that’s not married with kids and I’m OK with it. This is the this is the route I decided to go. There will always be a time for that for me.”
And that’s not unlike another singer/songwriter who arrived in Nashville a few years earlier, determined to walk her own path; as it happens, Dolly Parton is the subject of one of Wilson’s songs, “WWDD,” which stands for “What Would Dolly Do.” While she hasn’t met Dolly — yet — she has gotten feedback from that the icon heard the song.”
“She absolutely loved it. And that’s all I needed to know. I don’t care if anybody else likes it.”
“Keeping Bars In Business” highlights Wilson’s eye for detail and her ability to tell a story. In it, she sings, “There’s a couple in the back booth/Just got back from Cancun/Gettin’ blue moon drunk in that honeymoon phase/And by the window, there’s an old man/with a ring still on his left hand/even though she’s been gone ten years to the day.” Meanwhile, the narrator is having a rough time as well, “Me, I put my dog down yesterday.”
“I’d just gotten off the road after a few months. I had a dog at the time and and she was staying with my parents in Louisiana because I was just so busy. And while I was on the road, they had to put her down. It was one of the hardest times of my life. If you have dogs, then you understand. They become your family. I mean, she was the dog that moved to Nashville with me. She licked tears off my face. She was my girl. So, I just got off the road, went on to write the song with Jordan Schmidt and Matt Rogers. They asked me how I was doing.”
“I was like, ‘Well, to be honest with you, I’m having a terrible time right now.’ And I explained to them what happened. We were all going through things: Matt’s mama had just had a stroke and we just got to talking about how life can be hard, you know, but also at the same time, there is somebody right down the road, or on the other side of the world, who is having the best day of their entire life. Maybe they got married, maybe they’re having a baby, maybe they’re graduating college. Those are the things that keep the world turning. Whether you’re celebrating or your heart’s breaking, we’re all keeping bars in business. With the exception of 2020!”