Laugh, cry, drink a beer – it doesn’t matter what the song makes you feel like doing, Lainey Wilson just wants it to make you feel, as she tells Samuel J. Fell

[First published on CountryTown (online), March 2024]

The past few months have been, for Louisiana-born Lainey Wilson, somewhat of a whirlwind. And not some run-of-the-mill whirlwind, but one of which country music dreams are made, reaping the type of recognition that, growing up in the tiny town of Baskin (population some 200 people) Wilson could only fantasise of. And, truth be told, she probably did.

Five CMA Awards (including Entertainer of the Year; Album of the Year; and Female Vocalist of the Year) last November, and just last month, a Grammy for Best Country Album for Bell Bottom Country, her fourth studio release and the one which has made such waves since it dropped in October 2022. “I feel like the last few years have just been a whirlwind,” she says with a smile, sitting backstage at last weekend’s CMC Rocks festival outside of Ipswich in south-east Queensland.

“[But] I’m trying to make sure I take a step back, try and zoom out and really pay attention to what’s happening and what’s going on, because you can get caught up and just go on from one thing to the next, from one win to the next, and before you know, that time has kinda passed you by. So I’m makin’ sure I’m present, as much as I possibly can.”

This is an attitude that has come to define Wilson, that of an artist who is intent upon remaining as grounded as possible, no matter the depths of success she and her music are able to plumb. Leaving home at a young age and relocating to Nashville, as so many young country singer-songwriting aspirants are want to do, Wilson came at it armed with little more than a guitar, a clutch of songs and a burning desire to succeed, building on the foundation she garnered growing up in Baskin as part of a tightknit family unit, which is something to this day she leans on, replies upon.

“Yeah, I am who I am because of the people and place that raised me,” he acknowledges. “Like, if I’m not Lainey the sister, Lainey the friend, Lainey the daughter, Lainey the dog momma, then I’m not Lainey the artist. 

“And thankfully, you know, even though I moved off and went to Nashville to go chase a dream, I did still stay close to my family because I take pride in where I come from and I’m proud of it and the work ethic they taught me – my daddy’s a farmer and my momma’s a teacher, they’ve busted their asses their entire life to have what they have, and they’re not just working for themselves, they’re working for me and my future family and they taught me that from the beginning.”

“And the truth is,” she says, leaning forward as if to truly drive home what she’s thinking, “these [awards] are all blessings and all gifts, and I accept them you know, because it’s nice to be recognised for your work, and also to be, like, voted on by your peers that you look up to. But at the end of the day, I’ve gotta make sure that I don’t let it define me as a person and as an artist. Because I think once you start doing it to win awards, you start doing it for the wrong reasons.”

The right reasons, for Wilson, are in the art of storytelling, of being able to “make people feel something, make ‘em wanna laugh, cry, drink a beer, you know?” she muses. “That’s the goal, just to make people feel something, and make them feel at home. The truth is, everybody wants to feel at home.”

“[So] I’m from a town of 200 people and we sit around and tell stories, the kind of stories that get better every time you hear ‘em,” she adds. “And that’s why I wanted to tell a story. So I’ve just gotta keep doing that, because it’s nice to have those awards on your shelf, but at the end of the day… I need to be proud of other things too.”

One reason for Wilson’s success of the past few years has been her ability to tell these stories through song, to tell stories that are, inherently, relatable. And this, in theory, is what is at the very heart of country music – a story through song that people, no matter their station in life, can feel and feel they themselves have lived, which is certainly no mean feat. “What I love about songwriting is just kinda puttin’ yourself in the shoes of whatever it is you’re writing about; it’s really therapeutic for me,” Wilson says on this, thinking carefully before answering.

“And I mean, it could be something I’m actually goin’ through, something my co-writer is experiencin’, or something I heard from a stranger, something at a meet and greet, or I was sittin’ at a bar and I heard somebody’s conversation, or it could fall out of the sky in the middle of the night. But yeah, when you can kinda put yourself into whatever it is, it takes you somewhere else.”

Bell Bottom Country is now almost a year and a half old (older for Wilson), and so I venture that she’d surely be working towards her next album, her next project, at the very least the next ‘batch of songs’ that could go anywhere, do anything, hopefully make people want to laugh, cry, drink a beer. “Always. Like, I feel like before Bell Bottom Country was even done, I was working on something else,” she laughs.

“But yes, I’m always working on stuff. I’m partial, because they’re my stories, they’re my babies, but I do feel like in the last few years, and even since Bell Bottom Country, I feel like I’m figuring out a little more about who I am, what I want to say, how I want to say it, and I feel more sure of myself, I feel like I’ve grown as a person, singer, songwriter, all of it, and I think you’ll be able to tell in this next batch of stuff.”

“And at the end of the day,” she says, smiling like she probably would have, years ago perhaps, while recording her first ‘batch of songs’ while the dream was still a dream, “I feel so strongly about the stuff that I’m currently working on… I told someone the other day, I said, if this never wins an award, I still feel like in my heart and soul that this is the best thing I’ve done. And that’s a good feelin’.”