Lainey Wilson and the Definition of ‘Bell Bottom Country’

It’s not just an album title. For Lainey Wilson, Bell Bottom Country is a whole state of mind. With her new record arriving today (Oct. 28), Wilson aims to both define her outlook as an exciting new singer-songwriter and inspire her fans to live their truths as well.

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Produced by Jay Joyce, Bell Bottom Country might signify a specific genre in the title, but its DNA includes elements of soul, funk, rock, and folk. Wilson, who broke out with last year’s Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ and its signature song “Things A Man Oughta Know,” seems to be in line for even bigger things as 2022 draws to a close. Not only is she celebrating the release of the new album and playing a slew of live dates to promote it, but she’s also set to take on a role in the new season of Yellowstone starting in November and announced a 27-city headlining tour in 2023.

It’s a lot, but Wilson found time to talk with American Songwriter in September about all of it. Here are some of the highlights of the conversation.

American Songwriter: Coming off the breakthrough album last year, did you feel any pressure to craft the follow-up?

Lainey Wilson: It fired me up to rise to the occasion. The first record, Saying What I’m Thinking, I viewed it as a little bit of an introduction to who I am, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. I really just felt like for the second record, I needed to up my ante. I needed to show growth. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the past two years. A lot of the songs from my first record, I wrote those in 2016, ‘17, and ’18, and recorded them in ’19. All my songs are my babies, but you live life, and you grow and you develop, and so does your songwriting. I truly believe this is a huge step up for me. I was like, “We can’t go back.”

AS: What was the writing process like?

LW: I wrote most of this record during the pandemic. I had tons of time to think and come up with song ideas and write. During the shutdown, I believe I wrote 300-plus songs. Not all of them were good (laughs.) I don’t know if there will ever be another record where I get to be this prepared. I did have a lot of time to figure out what I wanted to say. It really developed the sound that I always wanted to do. You hear a little bit of it on my first record, but I definitely felt that we were starting to hone in. 

Just getting to know myself, that’s what I did during the pandemic. I think we all did. We were all locked behind these walls. You were forced to sit with your thoughts and emotions. I had tons of time to write music. And then right before we went in to cut this record, I ended up taking a little writer’s retreat with two of my favorite writers (Trannie Anderson and Dallas Wilson) and ended up last-minute coming up with four songs that I put on the record because I felt like those beat out the other ones. It’s been such a fun process. I was a songwriter before I was anything, and so I take a lot of pride in my writing. It makes me feel something. There is nothing like writing a song when you’re all in a room together and you’re all on the same page, and it feels like you’re creating something from nothing. It feels like the Holy Spirit (laughs.)

AS: In terms of this album, these songs fall together so well, even with the diversity in sound from track to track. Were you aware of an overall theme that you wanted the songs to kind of follow, and did you steer your co-writers in that direction as much as possible?

LW: The record’s called Bell Bottom Country and I feel like I have to explain me and my music. And the best way for me to explain it is country with a flare. Whether that’s my sound, my look, or whatever it is. This record is about pulling back the layers of who I truly am. I feel like the songs do that too. I’m sharing way more of me than I did on the last record, and that’s important. It’s scary, but it’s important. I want people to listen to this record front to back and feel like they can be unapologetically themselves. 

That’s what Bell Bottom Country is. It’s about finding whatever it is that makes you different and unique and leaning into it as much as you can. Whether it’s where you’re from, the way you look, the way you talk, how you were raised, or really anything. It’s about being proud of that, and being like, “This is who I am and I’m going to lean into it.” And that’s what I did for this record.

AS: In terms of individual songs, there are these up-tempo anthems like “Hold My Halo” and “This One’s Gonna Cost Me” where the narrator is going to get herself into a little trouble, but she’s unapologetic about it. I say “the narrator,” but can we glean there’s a little autobiography in there?

LW: I do like to have a good time (laughs). I like to cut loose. My parents have always told me, “Ain’t nothing wrong with having a good time.” I try to do that. I try to enjoy life. These songs to me are a reminder, when I’m singing them, even when I was writing them, to not take yourself too seriously. I feel like we can get so dang stressed out about life in general and trying to get to the next thing. Even with this journey I’m on right now, I’m extremely busy. I’m actually here at my house in Nashville, which is rare. I slept in my bed for maybe seven nights this year. That’s a good problem to have, but you can get caught up in the grind. Everybody can. Life can be hard. But it’s important to just celebrate life.

AS: One of the characteristics of the writing is the ability to draw so much meaning out of similes and metaphors, as in “Heart Like a Truck.” What is it about that style of writing that draws you to it?

LW: For instance, the song ‘Heart Like A Truck’ has nothing really to do with trucks. And I love doing that kind of stuff. I love people looking at the title of the song and thinking, “Oh, Lord, here we are another truck song.” I love surprising them and shocking them. I grew up in the back of the truck. That’s where my love for country music grew. I grew up on a farm. I grew up around horses. Every single weekend we went to horse sales. I grew up in a cornfield and a cotton field. I spent a lot of my time in a truck. 

So of course, those words, to me, feel familiar, and they do make me feel like I’m at home. But I love being able to shift it in a completely different atmosphere. The title says “Heart Like A Truck,” but this has absolutely nothing to do with a truck. It’s about finding freedom and strength. It’s a little bit about where you’ve been but more importantly where you’re going. We’ve all been through things. I did write this song for anybody who’s ever been through heartbreak, hard time, hard luck, you name it. It’s important for me to write songs that people are going to be able to connect and latch onto. Otherwise, what are you writing for? Of course, I’m writing for myself, because it is therapy for me. If I didn’t have songwriting, I don’t know what in the world I would do. My job is to make people feel something. To be a light and make them feel like they’re not alone. I feel like songs like “Heart Like A Truck” do that.

AS: “Those Boots” is such a lovely song. How special was it to be able to honor your Dad like that?

LW: When I wrote this song, it took us about four co-writes to finish it. It felt so real to me. I mean literally, every single word of this song is true. If you listen to the first verse, it’s telling a story about before Daddy would go to work, I would come into his room and I would help him put his boots on and I would pull his pants leg over the top of his boots. That was my job. It made me feel like I had a job and I had a purpose and I was helping. I will never forget that. That was our thing that we did.

I’ll tell you the song means more to me right now than I could have ever imagined because my Daddy has been in the hospital for two months now. He’s turning the corner right now, but he was in ICU for a month. There were times when I thought about the line about who’s gonna walk me down the aisle. There was a time when I couldn’t even listen to the song because it would choke me up so bad. 

You know what? He and my Mama both are big reasons as to why I’m here in Nashville and writing music. Every single opportunity that would come along, when there was a honky-tonk talent show or Country Colgate Showdown or whatever, my parents would make sure that I got there. The first little gig you could say I had, I was eight years old and it was the grand opening of a convenience store in town. My parents took me down there and they let me sing my songs a cappella that I had been writing. 

They were my believers before I had any believers. To be able to acknowledge my Daddy, means a whole lot to me. He taught me what hard work means. Even “Heart Like A Truck” right now has a different meaning for me. It’s like I write all these songs and you don’t even realize exactly what you’re writing them about until later on and then you’re like, “Wow, I thought I knew, but I really didn’t.” And that’s the beauty of songwriting.

AS: These songs have such a sense of place about them. The sights, the sounds, the smells, you get it all on songs like “Watermelon Moonshine,” which is so cinematic. Are you the type that just naturally has an awareness of everything around you to bring that to your writing?

LW: Very aware. Probably at times even too aware of my surroundings. Like “Whatcha lookin’ at?” (laughs.) That’s probably my songwriting brain because I’m always listening to people’s conversations. I love telling and hearing stories. I love listening about people’s lives. It’s very intriguing to me. I think my love for storytelling came from being from such a small town of 200-and-some people where there’s not a lot to do. If you’re going to have fun, it’s probably sitting around the kitchen table and hearing the same old stories that you’ve been hearing for years. But the kind of stories that get better every time you hear them. Or you hear something a little different the next time you hear it that you didn’t hear before. 

AS: On top of everything else you have going on, you’re starting up an acting career. But you’re not exactly starting small, but instead going right into pretty much the most popular show on Earth with Yellowstone. No pressure or anything for your first acting gig.

LW: I skipped a few steps (laughs). I’d rather just be thrown into the fire honestly. I feel like under pressure I do better. Taylor Sheridan, the writer-producer of Yellowstone, has put three of my songs in the show so far. It’s been really cool. It introduced me to a lot of people. People love the soundtrack. They figure out who’s singing it. The number of times my song has been Shazam’ed off people watching Yellowstone, it’s crazy. Or people come to a live show and they say, “I found out about you through Yellowstone.’ 

Taylor Sheridan invited me to play a horse-riding competition in Vegas several years back. That’s where I got to know him. We talked about horses because I was on a horse before I could walk. We really bonded over that and got to know each other and exchanged phone numbers. It was this friendship that we created. He ended up calling me in February and said, “What would you say if I created a character specifically for you?” And I’m like, “Thank you, God, and Taylor Sheridan!” (laughs.) 

It was a no-brainer. This is a huge opportunity, and my prayer has been for doors to open that no man could open or close himself. And I truly feel that way. I feel like the Lord put this on Taylor’s heart to ask me to do this. I just want to share my music with the world. That’s what this is. I’m playing a musician named Abby. I’m still getting to wear my crazy get-up and sing my songs. It’s a huge blessing and a huge notch on my belt. And for people to take a huge chance on me like that, I don’t take it lightly.

AS: You’ve developed this unique niche in the country world, with a style that evokes so many other types of music. How pleased are you with this album in terms of defining that Bell Bottom Country aesthetic for your listeners?

LW: I think we nailed it with this one. We had coined that phrase for the first album, but we were still trying to figure out what that was and what that looked like and sounded like. I’m proud of the way Bell Bottom Country turned out. I think it truly is a continuation of who I am. It’s pulling back those layers. When I’m listening to the record, sometimes I forget it’s me, because I’m enjoying it so much. I’m like, “Go girl, you’re good.” (Laughs.) I hope people feel like it sounds like Bell Bottom Country. Bell Bottom Country can be whatever you want it to be. But this is my version.

Listen to Bell Bottom Country HERE and check out Wilson’s upcoming tour dates below.

2023 Stella Rosa® Future Is Female Presents: “Country With a Flare Tour” Dates:

January 4, 2023 – Spokane, WA – Knitting Factory*

January 5, 2023 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox*

January 6, 2023 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom*

January 7, 2023 – Bend, OR – Midtown Ballroom*

January 8, 2023 – Chico, CA – Senator Theatre*

January 12, 2023 – San Jose, CA – Club Rodeo*

January 13, 2023 – Reno, NV – Cargo Concert Hall*

January 14, 2023 – Visalia, CA – Visalia Fox Theatre*

January 19, 2023 – Bozeman, MT – The ELM*

January 21, 2023 – Laramie, WY – Cowboy Saloon*

January 22, 2023 – Mills, WY – The Beacon Club*

February 2, 2023 – Silver Spring, MD – The Fillmore Silver Spring*

February 3, 2023 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza*

February 4, 2023 – Jordan, NY – Kegs Canal Side*

February 5, 2023 – Portland, ME – Aura*

February 9, 2023 – Chattanooga, TN – The Signal*

February 10, 2023 – Starkville, MS – Rick’s Café*

February 17, 2023 – Charlotte, NC – Coyote Joe’s*

February 18, 2023 – Greenville, SC – Blind Horse Saloon*

February 24, 2023 – Columbus, MO – The Blue Note*

February 25, 2023 – Springfield, MO – Midnight Rodeo*

March 2, 2023 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection+

March 3, 2023 – Rootstown, OH – Dusty Armadillo+

March 16, 2023 – Nashville, TN – Brooklyn Bowl

March 23, 2023 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom+

March 30, 2023 – Milwaukee, WI – The Rave+

March 31, 2023 – Columbus, OH – The Bluestone+

Direct support: Ben Chapman

1st of 3 acts: Meg McRee & Leah Blevins

*Meg McRee

+Leah Blevins

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen / BBR

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