Lainey Wilson’s career has been developing at breakneck speed. In three short years, she’s gone from releasing her debut major label EP to being the top nominee at Nov. 9’s CMA Awards.
In 2019, she released Redneck Hollywood on Broken Bow Records/BBR Music Group, followed by 2021’s full-length, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin.’ On Friday, Bell Bottom Country — a nod not only to her freewheeling form of music, but also to what has become her signature ‘70s hippie style – comes out.
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“This record is still me sayin’ what I’m thinking, but in a different way,” the Baskin, Louisiana, native says in her distinct Southern drawl, while seated at Red Light Management’s Nashville office. “I feel like I’ve grown leaps and bounds in the past few years. I wrote all the songs for my last record in 2016, 2017. I’ve lived a lot of life since then.”
That’s an understatement. Not only did Wilson earn her first No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart last year with the hard-earned wisdom of “Things a Man Oughta Know,” but she followed it this year with the two-week No. 1 collaboration “Never Say Never” with Cole Swindell. “Things a Man Oughta Know” earned song of the year at the 2022 ACM Awards, while Wilson also picked up the best new female artist honor.
Wilson’s tireless work ethic was forged from a childhood spent on a farm, filled with crops and horses. She furthers her brand as a hard-working, small town girl-made-good with the heart-on-her-sleeve determination found in the top 25 Country Airplay hit “Heart Like a Truck.”
Heading into November’s CMA Awards, Wilson earned six nominations in her first year as a nominee, including album of the year (Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’), female vocalist of the year, new artist of the year, song of the year (“Things a Man Oughta Know”), vocal event and video of the year (“Never Say Never”). These nominations put her in elite company with Glen Campbell, Brad Paisley and Kacey Musgraves, all of whom earned six nods or more during their first CMA Awards. In addition, she’s branched out with a role in the upcoming season of the hit series Yellowstone, which will also feature music from her new album.
Bell Bottom Country continues her forthright style of music — a little hippie, a little edgy, solidly country and all heart. She co-wrote 13 of the album’s 14 tracks.
“I feel like I have truly found myself as a singer, as a songwriter, and I think that that’s what this record is gonna show,” she says. “It’s kind of pulling back the layers to saying what I’m thinking, but just digging a little deeper.”
Wilson talked with Billboard about her new album, being the top-nominated artist leading into the CMA Awards, and landing a role on Yellowstone. She also offered an update on her father’s health, shared some road stories and discussed her future music plans.
This has been a whirlwind year for you: No. 1 hits, six CMA Awards nominations. How are you holding up?
It truly feels like as soon as we can’t have another big blessing, we do. For so long, I could not get a publishing deal to save my life. I couldn’t get a record deal to save my life. The funny thing is, what I’m doing now is what I’ve always done. It’s just about timing.
Being this year’s most-nominated artist, in your first year of nominations — how does that feel?
First of all, just being invited is crazy in itself, much less being nominated, but then being most nominated? It’s hard for me to even fathom people knowing my name — because for so long they didn’t.
Is there a particular category that means the most to you?
Song of the year to me is huge ‘cause “Things a Man Oughta Know” has already done so much for me. We took that home with the ACMs, and it’d be pretty cool to take it home for the CMAs too, ‘cause that would seal the deal of, “Wow, this song was supposed to be written and heard.” The female vocalist [of the year] nomination is a crazy one to me, because I feel like I’m just getting started.
Miranda Lambert, who is also nominated for female vocalist, has been a strong supporter of yours.
Absolutely. I think me and her knew pretty much immediately that we were gonna be friends. She got my phone number from someone and texted me and just said she loved what I was doing. I couldn’t believe it — I don’t think any female who has moved to Nashville to do country music can say that Miranda Lambert did not influence them. She’s like Loretta Lynn 2.0, she’s paved the way. She does things how she wants to and doesn’t care what people say. That’s something she’s really taught me.
What else has she taught you?
We’ve talked about how the internet can be a mean place. People are gonna have their opinions of you, but it’s really none of your business. And her work ethic. I’ve been on the road for a few years now and I’m tired. But she tells me, “You can do it…You gotta figure out how to stay grounded, stay focused, have your therapist on speed dial.” It’s a cool life we get to live, but it’s not normal and it’s got its own challenges.
How have you learned to balance it?
This year, I have slept in my own bed a total of  nights. We got a bus a few months ago and that has changed the game because for years we were in a van, in an F-450 flatbed truck with a trailer. So even if it’s just full of stinking boys on the bus, having that place to go to that is constant has been great. I try to meditate; I have fun with my band. We’re out here doing what we love to do and we realize how far we have come.
Professionally, this has been a glowing year for you, but personally, your dad has been through a tough health battle this year, including multiple surgeries and losing an eye. How is he doing?
He’s doing good. He just got to come home, praise Jesus. My mom and dad were my first believers, and I couldn’t wait to call them and tell them about the [CMA Awards] nominations. That was some of his encouragement to start feeling better and to work hard in rehab. I told him, “You’re gonna walk the red carpet with me,” and he is going to. He’s been building up his strength and that’s given him something to look forward to.
Listening to Bell Bottom Country, you proudly display your personality and background on songs like “Grease.” Where did that song come from?
“Now you’re cookin’ with grease” is a saying my momma always used, [which meant] “now we’re getting somewhere.” All these little sayings that my family has said my entire life somehow make their way into my music. I can’t escape it, really.
You have a song on this album, “Those Boots (Deddy’s Song),” dedicated to your dad. What did he think of it?
I remember every morning as a kid, before my daddy went to work, I’d pull his pants leg over the top of his boots for him. I was just a little girl, but I felt like there was purpose in it, like I was helping him out. I wrote it with Trent Tomlinson and Terri Jo Box. It took us four times to write it because we wanted it to be right and true to my story. He’s a man of very few words, but when I first started writing songs, the only way I knew he would like a song is if his toe was tapping. When I played this he started tapping his toes, so I thought, “OK, we got his approval.” And then he said, “That’s pretty dang good.”
Jay Joyce produced this album. How did that partnership come about?
A friend of mine lived down the street from Jay’s studio and kept putting a bug in Jay’s ear. I think eventually Jay was like, “Who the hell is this girl you keep talking about?” I went and hung out in the studio two or three times before I even played music for him. I think it was the third time we hung out, I walked through the studio doors and he threw me his guitar and told me to play something. I played him “Working Overtime” and half of “Rolling Stone.” I remember leaving there thinking it was kind of like going on a date and not knowing if there is going to be another date. So I sent him a text later that day saying I wanted to work with him. You know — first move. And he texted back, and just said, literally, “Let’s do it.” I call him the mad scientist; he just throws everything in a pot and mixes it up and it comes out totally a thing of his own.
Bell Bottom Country is a great title. Where did the love of bell bottoms start?
I love everything throwback. I feel like things that are throwback come with a good story. If you walk in my house, you’ll see my daddy’s old rodeo chaps hanging up on the wall or my mom’s China cabinet. I’m a bit of an old soul. I’ve been wearing bell bottoms every day for at least six and a half years. Now they are kind of starting to come back, which I love.
Bell bottoms are such an essential part of your brand. Where are your favorite places to find them?
A lot of people will send them. Free People, of course, they’ve always got good bell bottoms. I do sometimes find clothes in vintage shops — mostly tops. I’m pretty curvy and I think a lot of the folks in the ‘70s were not, because I can’t fit ‘em up over my dang thighs.
This year, you had a No. 1 hit with the Cole Swindell collaboration, and have a current hit with HARDY on “Wait in the Truck.” You chose not to have collaborations on this project.
There’s definitely songs that I was like, “I could hear a feature on this.” But I think you gotta be careful with how many features you do. Who knows, maybe eventually after the record is out there for a little bit, kind of coming back and maybe putting a feature on one or two would be cool. I want people to know that I’m here to take care of business and share my story, but collaborations are important. Cole took a chance on me. That’s what HARDY’s doing, too, and I appreciate them for it.
You end the album with the 4 Non Blondes hit from 1993 “What’s Up (What’s Goin’ On),” written by Linda Perry. Why was that important to include?
I’ve always been a fan of that song, and Linda Perry is just cool — a cool producer, cool songwriter. I got to sit down and talk with her a bit last fall. She’s one of the most intimidating people I’ve ever met. She means business and I appreciate that about her. I’ve played that song for years now in my shows. As soon as people hear it, their hands go up and it feels like everybody in the building is on the same page. So we just put our little country spin on it.
You also have a role on Yellowstone as Abby. What drew you to the role?
I made myself a promise that if any door opened that was gonna give me an opportunity to share more of my music with the world, then I was gonna say yes without even thinking about it. I met [show creator] Taylor [Sheridan] at a horse wrangling competition in Vegas and we exchanged numbers. I sent him music and they used two of my songs in the show. During the pandemic, I went to the Yellowstone Ranch and played an acoustic show for the cast and crew. Taylor called me in February and said, ‘I want to create a character for you. I want you to dress how you dress, sing your songs and be you.’”
Besides the character you portray, who is your favorite Yellowstone character?
Probably Beth. And on the show and outside the show, [actor Kelly Reilly] has become a dear friend. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I thought she was gonna put me in a headlock before I met her.
Will any of the songs from this album be in the upcoming season?
Yes, “Watermelon Moonshine,” and several others.
You are heading on tour with Luke Combs next year. The two of you have known each other for years.
I met him in 2014. I was living in my camper, so he’s one of the few people who has seen me and known me as “camper trailer Lainey.” He cut a song of mine that we wrote together called “Sheriff You Want To.” For the longest time, it was paying my light bill, so every now and then I would send Luke a picture of my check and say, ‘Thanks for paying my light bill.” He’s just stayed true to himself—he sings how he sings and he looks how he looks–and I will say it’s given me the courage to do the same.
Did he reach out to you after the CMA nominations?
I can’t even remember, but I know that he reached out to me about going on the road with him and just said it was a long time coming. I’m just so glad that he remembers, coming over to my camper and drinking my cold drinks and using my AC [laughs]. I knew that we were gonna go on the road together at some point. I think the timing is perfect. I know he’s excited and proud for me, too.
What are some of your other favorite road stories?
I’ve had so many like embarrassing moments where like I’ll get out there and my platform [shoe] will break, and then I’ll have to take the shoes off and play the show barefoot. One show I was playing in, I think South Louisiana, a dang wasp landed on the microphone right there at my nose. I might have said a cuss word in the microphone, and nobody else saw the wasp, they just thought I was cussing.
What other kinds of albums do you dream of putting out?
I grew up going to bluegrass festivals with my grandparents, so I’d love to do a bluegrass album at some point, maybe a gospel-bluegrass record. It’d be cool to have Alison Krauss on there, Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle, who played acoustic guitar on this album with “Wildflowers and Wild Horses.” I’d love to do a redneck Christmas record. I haven’t written any Christmas songs, but I’ve got a list of ideas.