"I had a hard time getting my foot in the door and I don't really know why. I think it's just all about timing" In conversation with Lainey Wilson
The first introduction that we at TDF had to Lainey Wilson was her raucous song, 'Middle Finger', on some sort of up and coming country playlist. It's an attention grabber of the highest order, funny, clever, slightly controversial, and musically and lyrically fantastic. The rest of her debut EP is exactly the same. We met Lainey in London halfway through her weekend at C2C, to talk about how she persevered until her undoubted talent was heard, and how she approaches songwriting.
Morning Lainey, I guess everyone is asking you this question, how are you finding the UK? It's your second time, right?
This is my second time and it gets better and better. I was over here in October for Country Music Week and didn't really know what to expect but was completely blown away by everybody's reaction and also just how engaged they were and listening to all the words and music, and I know other artists have probably been saying that too but it really is, it's a different thing over here.
How do you find playing a festival indoors? Because I'm guessing you don't have many indoor festivals in the US.
Normally it is outside. So thank goodness for air conditioner. Normally it's in a hot summer heat and somewhere like Nashville. So yesterday was awesome [Ed - it was at C2C in a marquee in March]. Everybody was there for the same reason and that was just to go hear some good country music and it's awesome to see that places like London has people that are diehard country music fans.
Artists that come over from Nashville always seem to be genuinely surprised at how big country music is in the UK. Do you not get that impression in the US, it just it feels like it's quite an American thing, does it?
Yeah, I guess you just think that somewhere like a big city like London, that they wouldn't gravitate towards something like country music but I think it's just the way that country music makes you feel and not even necessarily the lifestyle of being a farmer or anything like that. But it's pretty cool to say that a lot of people can relate around the world, and we are a long ways away from home. It's just awesome to see.
That's part of it isn't it, the different stories, but it also feels that over here, we like America, you know that idea of America and the American Dream, and country music brings a lot of that through.
And we're very proud to be here. So we'll keep coming along as you keep having us!
You're from quite a small town in the States. So how did you get started?.
My dad plays guitar by ear and a little bit of piano and I've had grandparents down the line who can sing a little bit and stuff like that but nobody's ever tried to pursue it. So I wrote my first song when I was nine and I've always sung, it's just always been a part of me. I picked up the guitar at 11 and that helped with my songwriting a little bit. It's just something that I've always had to do. There's been no plan B, there's been nothing else, this is the only thing I know how to do. So I've got to figure out how to do it. So, yeah, it's kind of second nature to be honest with you.
When you were younger how realistic did it feel to have a career in music?
I always know that it was a dream of mine but also I've had I have a very supportive family who has always encouraged me and I've also had a sense of peace too, about knowing that this is what I was gonna do, no matter what, and I've just honestly had the mentality of, if you don't have a plan B, if you don't stop then you know you're gonna get there some way or another.
So what was the first step that you took when you moved to Nashville?
You know, Leadin' up to move into Nashville I took every opportunity that I possibly could. I mean whether it was playing at nursing homes, whatever, any kind of school function I always was the first one to sign up. I actually impersonated Hannah Montana throughout high school, that was my high school job. I would do like three or four birthday parties a weekend and fairs, festivals, etc.. The last place that I played was at St. Jude for Hannah Montana and sometimes Lainey Wilson would open for Hannah Montana, kinda like the show. I took every opportunity that I possibly could leading up to, and right before moving to, Nashville and then I moved to Nashville, man, in a Flagstaff bumper pull camper trailer and I lived in it for about three years and had some hard, dark times but also in a weird kind of way I always had a sense of peace about knowing that this was it.
I know that people used to call you camper trailer girl, did people know you because you were part of the music scene or because you lived in a trailer?
Honestly it was more like that. I had a hard time getting my foot in the door and I don't really know why. I think it's just all about timing. I had a hard time getting to know people on Music Row and it took me years to really get to that point. So I would yes I was a songwriter and people knew it but I was still just kind of known as... they'd be like "Lainey what part of town are you living in?", and I'd tell them and they'd say "Oh you live in an apartment or a house out there" and I was like no, and I'm like I live in a camper trailer. So they're like "that's that camper trailer girl".
It was International Woman's Day yesterday. There are a lot of female songwriters in Nashville right, so do you think that's kind of the easy way in, as it were, to be a songwriter first rather than an artist or do you think it's as difficult to do?
For me that's kind of how it started. I wrote a song for Luke Combs and he put it on his EP right, before he put out his record, and you know that just kind of established those relationships with songwriters, and I'd write for them and they'd help write for me or whatever but yes my relationships with people on Music Row did start out with the whole songwriting process first.
Do you think it's more difficult in some ways in Nashville to make it because there are so many people that are trying to make it?
Everybody, whether it's a waiter, a guy who works at an air conditioning company, whatever, you're right, everybody in Nashville is trying to do the same exact thing. And you know and it kind of just depends on whether you have enough guts to stay there and fail and keep falling down and stand right back up. Like I said thankfully I have a very good support system, people who keep encouraging me and also I've found a family in Nashville, my entire team they just keep pushing me and that's what it takes.
I've spoken to people before who love the fact that everybody in Nashville is a musician, but the flip side of it is is that everybody in Nashville's a musician so it's hard to get through.
Yeah, it's cool because there are a lot of like minds there, a lot of people you can sit down and relate to and stuff like that. But yeah just like you said, everybody's trying to do it and it's like a double-edged sword.
You did a bit of time as a staff songwriter. Did you approach that differently to kind of songs that you write for yourself or do you not know whether song's for you or for someone else?
Most of the time we do have an idea of who we're trying to write for. Over the past year I feel like every co-write that I've had we've been trying to write for me because we're getting ready to get in the studio and make a record. But in the past, yes I understood who needs songs, you know who needs music and stuff like that but I try to like write a lot of my music that could work for a guy or girl and sometimes it ends up being a song for me and not for the guy, so you never really know.
It's interesting isn't it because some of the bigger artists don't really write much of their own stuff. They get cuts from other people but actually, people do see country music as something that is about songwriters, not artists particularly. Do you think that's something that feels like it's changed a bit over the past few years and that is more about having big hits rather than writing songs as it were?
Yeah I think it's different for everybody. A good song is a good song you know, and even though I do write most of my music you know if a song came along and I just felt like it was a life changer I definitely would not be opposed to cutting that song. I feel like no matter what, if it's a good song and it's relatable to people, and everybody can put themselves in your shoes or whatever then hey, do the thing.
How do you get on with co-writing. Do you kind of choose people that you specifically want to write with or do you kind of just try out different people and see what works and what doesn't?
I write for Sony/ATV and they set up a lot of my co-writes. I've been with them for about a year and a half now. But we're starting to figure out you know like what co-writes are working and which ones aren't or not right now at least. So we just get in there and you never know. I mean you have good days and bad days, it's just like a basketball player. Some days you're better, you sing better, you sound better, you write better, and that's the cool part about it is you can just get in a room with somebody and get to know them literally by just sitting down and talking about life experiences and by the time you leave the room you feel like you've know that person for 10 years.
And how do you find dealing with sometimes quite personal subject matter?
You know it kind of depends. I have this little folder on my phone of just hook ideas and sometimes I don't personally have to be going through it to write it. Thank goodness I can just put myself in those shoes and just imagine that I'm going through whatever it is, and it's different every time. I mean sometimes it starts with the melody sometimes it starts with an idea or a certain subject that somebody is going to write about, and that's the cool thing about songwriting is it's different every single day, it keeps you on your toes.
It's really interesting what you just said. I was reading a review of Maren Morris's GIRL, and the review was basically saying it's not very believable because the reviewer didn't believe she would have gone through that, but it's a fine line isn't it when you're writing stuff that's quite personal and like you say, you don't have to experience everything you write about. People kind of expect that, particularly if you're a songwriter rather than an artist, there's that expectation that you have experienced the thing you're writing about.
A lot of the songs that end up cutting actually are more personal to me, and I think you can tell, you can hear all of that. I feel like the songs that end up rising to the top the cream of the crop for me are the songs that definitely hit home. For me.
And I was going to ask you about 'Middle Finger'. That's my favorite song of yours. Where does that come from?
Well I was trying to think of an idea that would get the crowd involved. And I was like, well everybody can do this. And we went in with this idea and it just it turned out to be a really funny song not anything too serious. I come from a long line of sassy women in my family, and I think there are a lot of sassy women everywhere and I feel like especially the crowds that I've been playing for here [in the UK} lately, and every now and then you got to throw that bird up.
To find out more about Lainey you should visit her website. You can also check out what she's up to on her socials and see her back in the UK in September at The Long Road Festival.