Lainey Wilson’s Long Road to Success is Paved in Authenticity and Heart

“I feel like I’m watching my dreams come true right in front of my eyes,” Lainey Wilson told a Brooklyn Bowl Nashville audience in March. Clad in her signature bell bottoms and a wide-brim hat, Wilson’s star power was evident throughout the second of two consecutive sold-out nights at the venue during her debut headlining trek. Wilson would go on to sell out every date of her Country With a Flare Tour, which ran from January through March 2023.

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Four months later, on July 28, Wilson headlined her first arena show at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. It has been a whirlwind year for the singer, who vividly recalls selling just 87 tickets in April 2022 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The reigning CMA and ACM Female Vocalist of the Year admits it often feels like she’s on a rocket ship holding on for dear life. For Wilson, there is no sign of slowing down.

“It honestly feels like a whirlwind,” the country singer/songwriter tells American Songwriter one warm July afternoon on a rare day home in Nashville. “I’m trying to keep one foot on the ground and stay rooted in who I am and me. We’re going 90 miles an hour at this point. A lot has happened in a short amount of time. Don’t count the 12 years I’ve actually been in Nashville, planting those seeds and building everything brick-by-brick. But the last two years, it’s hard to explain.”

In the past two years, Wilson has amassed four No. 1 country songs. Her debut single and 2021 ACM Song of the Year “Things a Man Oughta Know” peaked in September 2021, nearly 10 years to the day Wilson moved to Nashville from Louisiana in her Flagstaff camper trailer. She’d go on to earn two more chart-toppers for her collaborations with Cole Swindell (“Never Say Never”) and HARDY (“wait in the truck”) before her sophomore single, “Heart Like a Truck,” also reached No. 1.

Wilson continued to rack up several more career accolades this year. In April, she took home two CMT Music Awards – one for Collaborative Video of the Year with HARDY for “wait in the truck,” a modern-day murder ballad that details domestic violence, and another for Female Video of the Year for her anthemic “Heart Like a Truck.” She also earned ACM Album of the Year for her sophomore project Bell Bottom Country and ACM Music Event and Visual Media of the Year for “wait in the truck” at the ACM Awards in May.

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“Lainey is the most authentic woman in country music; she’s exactly who you think she is, and she’s one of the best people I know,” HARDY tells American Songwriter. “I’m honored to have her on ‘wait in the truck,’ and I’m proud of everything she’s building for herself.”

This authenticity is evident within the country community and beyond. After having several songs featured in Yellowstone, Wilson was offered a role in the series. In fact, Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan developed a character specifically with the country singer in mind.

Wilson recalls playing an event Sheridan hosted years ago. The pair bonded over horses and their mutual respect as creatives. “We’re both writers and he told me that night, ‘I want to help you any way that I possibly can,’” Wilson remembers. “He continued to put my music in the show.”

The singer/songwriter credits Yellowstone for connecting the dots with country listeners and her music. Ahead of her acting debut in Season 5 of Yellowstone as a musician named Abby, Wilson’s songs, including Emmy-contender “Smell Like Smoke” and “New Friends,” were played throughout the Paramount Network franchise. She’s also had top 20 and rising single “Watermelon Moonshine,” “Small Town Girl” and “Straight Up Sideways” featured on the show.

[RELATED: Lainey Wilson on Being an Emmy Contender: “Blows My Mind”]

“I truly do think that that was a huge stepping stone for my career,” she says of Yellowstone. “The stars just aligned. In this business, the stars have to continue to align over and over and over and over again. These stars keep on aligning for some crazy reason. I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

While Wilson’s past two years are certainly a dream come true for the singer, it was a long road to becoming a household name. Wilson wrote her first song at age nine while at a friend’s house for a sleepover. By 11, her father taught her a few chords on the guitar. It was then that she says “a whole new world” opened.

“I felt like I had no other option but to write music,” she says with a smile. “I love writing music. Before anything else, I’m a songwriter.”

While the young Wilson was still involved in countless extracurricular activities – riding horses, basketball, cheerleading, softball, and track – her “one true love” was songwriting.

“That’s what I would do when I would get home from basketball practice,” she recalls. “I would get my guitar and go into the bathroom where the acoustics were the best and start writing. That was the thing that got me through the growing pains of growing up and trying to navigate life. [Songwriting] was my saving grace. That’s how I felt like I could communicate best with people.”

[RELATED: Lainey Wilson Reacts to CMT Music Awards Wins: “We Ain’t Done Yet”]

Her parents were the singer’s earliest believers. The Wilson family would be at Walmart and her parents would encourage her to sing a song she wrote the week before for patrons. From an early age, Wilson was writing songs about tequila and cigarettes.

“We didn’t even have tequila or cigarettes in the house, but it’s because I was listening to adult conversations,” she says. “I was eavesdropping. I was watching TV. I was listening to country radio. I was thinking about things that I didn’t even really know what they were, but I knew that it sounded good. It’s crazy because I still write about those things. I know what they are now.”

More than 20 years since she wrote her first song, Wilson continues to channel those early topics of cigarettes and alcohol as can be heard within the lyrics of “Smell Like Smoke.” Today, though, there’s a little more life lived within her lyrics. Ain’t ashamed of where I’m from or where I’ve been / Well, I’m still my daddy’s angel but my halo’s kinda bent / Been washed in the mud of the Mississippi / Southern-fried dropped in the grease kinda hippie / Lipstick on a cigarette throwin’ back whiskey / What you see is what you get, Wilson sings with her Louisiana-soaked twang shining through.

Now, for the first time, the singer is also tapping into another songwriting topic: love. She says whatever season of life she’s in, she’s writing about it.

“I’m in a very happy, healthy relationship right now and I’ve never written a love song in my life until the last two and a half years,” she admits. “He makes it very easy for me to do that. If I’m going through things, if I’m going through a breakup, or if I’m dealing with a family member being super sick, I’m writing about that.

“I’m really trying to tune into those things, those true feelings,” she explains of her songwriting process. “It’s important for me to take advantage of those feelings and not be scared of them. If anything, it helps me navigate my way through the entire situation and helps me out on the other end of it.”

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of Lainey Wilson’s Nostalgic “Watermelon Moonshine”]

That “happy, healthy relationship” with former NFL player Devlin “Duck” Hodges has resulted in several love songs that could find their way onto the singer’s next project. While Wilson admits she’s not sure which songs will make the cut just yet, Hodges is a fan of all of them. “Of course, the songs that I write about him are his favorite,” she says.

Wilson has spent much of the summer on the road and for the first time in her career, she’s bringing songwriters out to write with her. She estimates that she’s written 5,000 songs in her lifetime and admits that she started writing for her next project even before her 2022 award-winning album Bell Bottom Country was released.

“During this really busy season of life that I’m in, I want to write about things that make me feel grounded or make me feel like I’m at home because I’m never at home,” she says. “This next record, it needs to be different. Let’s not try to fix what’s not broke at this point, but it needs to be a step up. It needs to show a different side of me.

“It’s going to be really easy to show that different side of me because I am in a very healthy relationship, and you’re gonna be hearing things out of me that I didn’t even know I was capable of. … It’s really cool when you can completely let those walls down. I’m learning things about myself right now that I didn’t even know was possible. I’m able to share more of my life. Being able to say, ‘Hey, I’m happy and healthy and in love,’ it’s something I didn’t know I was gonna get a chance to say.”

[RELATED: Lainey Wilson and Deana Carter Share “Watermelon Moonshine” and “Strawberry Wine” Mashup]

Wilson has come a long way since she moved to Nashville on August 1, 2011. The singer accepts that time has been a major part of her story and is grateful that it took 12 years to get to where she is today.

“Every time somebody told me ‘no,’ I turned that ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’” she admits. “For the little girls and boys who are dreaming about doing this, I need them to know that it’s not like the movies. Sometimes you don’t just show up and things happen. For some folks it does, but for my story, that’s not the way that it was.

“I’ve always viewed it as, ‘Okay, the longer it takes me to get there that means I’m going to have longevity because I’m focusing on that brick-by-brick building this house,’” she adds. “I think that builds character. It teaches you a whole lot and my parents taught me that you don’t just get handed things in life. If you want something, then it’s up to you to go get it. I think that’s the mentality I’m going to have the rest of my life.”

Photoby Alysse Gafkjen

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  1. Lainey Wilson you have a gift. I read the whole article. I love it. I’m keeping my subscription! I love that you found someone who inspires you to write and be yourself! ❤️

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