Country singer-songwriter Rachel Wammack is calling from Missouri, where she’s on vacation with family. She’s happy to take a break from that, though, to discuss “What He Does,” her latest single (set for release on August 14), because it means so much to her personally. The joyful track lists all of the things that her husband does for her that previous suitors did not.
“It’s a really special one for me, and I knew it as soon as we wrote it,” Wammack says of the track, which she penned with Eric Arjes (who also produced it) and Jimmy Robbins. The song, she says, signals “a new level for me, and a completely new version of me.”
Working with Jimmy Robbins was particularly special for Wammack, because he’s been especially supportive of her career since she moved to Nashville from her native Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “Jimmy was one of the first people who called me back to write for the second time, which is always a really special thing,” she says. “As a new person in town, nobody has to rebook with you.”
During her early days in Nashville, Wammack admits that her songwriting was more narrowly focused than it is now. “I was writing some really sad stuff when I first moved to Nashville,” she says. “I’d been through a lot of heartbreak. Nothing had worked out for me. I’d honestly given up on love at that point.”
All that changed when Wammack took a bartending job at a Marriott hotel in order to supplement her income – and she met another bartender, Noah, who became her husband last year. “When Noah and I started really falling in love, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” she says.
“One of my favorite things about Noah is that I can be having a ‘whatever’ kind of day, all mixed up in my emotions, and we’ll talk it through. He’ll make me laugh, and all the bad stuff goes away,” Wammack says. “I didn’t really believe fairy tales existed, but God gave me a good man at the right time.”
The difference this relationship made in Wammack was noticeable to others immediately: “I go into the writer’s room after not seeing [Jimmy Robbins] for a while. He said, ‘Word is there’s a guy and this is a real deal thing for you.’” Wammack admitted that this was true, telling Robbins that Noah was “making me believe in love again. He’s just different, he’s not like any other guy that I’ve ever met,” and that it made her feel like “a new me, to be honest.”
Wammack, Robbins and Arjes quickly realized that her new romance provided a great framework for a song, where they’d write about all of the things that this boyfriend did that were so different from the way she’d been treated before. They quickly came up with a hook-filled melody to match the joyful lyrics, and “What He Does” was born.
“It was one of those times where it was like magic,” Wammack says of that writing session. “We wrote the song really fast. In my opinion, that’s always a good thing. Sometimes it can be perfect to write a song really slow, but when it’s fast, it’s like, ‘This was supposed to happen like this.’”
Wammack knows what she’s talking about when it comes to songwriting, having paid her dues for years in Muscle Shoals, where she started playing shows when she was still a teenager. Sony Music Nashville Executive Vice President of A&R Jim Catino saw her singing and playing piano (mixing her own original material in with cover songs) in a hotel bar and, recognizing her talent, told her she should move to Nashville. But because she was a senior in high school at the time, she wasn’t yet ready to make that leap.
“I was discovered in Muscle Shoals, but I didn’t move to Nashville then because God knew I needed to live some life and have some things to write about,” Wammack says. Instead of moving to Music City, she opted to attend the University of North Alabama, where she majored in Professional Writing.
That didn’t mean that Wammack was giving up on her music dreams, though. Besides continuing to play shows, in her junior year she also tried out for The Voice. Even though she didn’t get chosen for that, she says it was still “a good experience for me, a good humbling moment. I had my times of heartbreak and setbacks, and it all happened the way it was supposed to. Sometimes in the waiting, you’re being built up.”
After college, Wammack finally felt ready to move to Nashville – where her writing skills quickly earned her seven publishing deal offers (because of her longstanding connection with Jim Catino, she chose to go with Sony). Her first single, “Damage” (which she co-wrote with Tom Douglas and David Hodges), came from her self-titled debut EP, released in 2018.
Wammack’s biggest break so far came last year, when she opened for Rascal Flatts for a few shows. After watching her performance, the band invited her to be the featured singer on their track “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry,” from their EP How They Remember You (released on July 31). “I still can’t believe it!” Wammack says about being chosen as for this duet.
Recording “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” was, Wammack says, quite a surreal experience for her. “When I went into the studio, Gary [LeVox] had already put his vocals down. When I put the headphones on, I could hear his vocal and I was like, ‘How in the world did I get here, and how am I going to keep up with this guy? He’s a vocal legend in Nashville!’ I was just so blown away that I had this opportunity. It was the most fun I’ve had in the studio.”
Now, building on the momentum she’s creating with both “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” and “What He Does,” Wammack says she’s been busy writing a lot more music. “I’m very excited about some music I’ve been doing during this time, and excited to get into the studio again and give some more music to the fans,” she says.
But first, Wammack plans to enjoy her current vacation, especially because it coincides with her one-year wedding anniversary, which happened just a couple of days before this phone call. “I’m really thankful to be living this new chapter of life,” she says, adding that the she and her husband recently upped their happiness even more when they adopted a labradoodle puppy. “He’s been our little blessing, too. We just feel like we’re a little family.”
Soon, Wammack will head back to Nashville to start working again – but it’s something she’s looking forward to doing, because she’s doing things on her own terms. “I’m really thankful that my team at Sony loves me for the Alabama girl that I am, and wants me to write my true story. I’m so thankful I get to do this for a job because I don’t think I could do anything else,” she says.
Wammack also plans to resume the weekly livestream shows that she began when the pandemic quarantine kicked in. She says she tries not to fret about playing shows like this instead of the opening slots she’d originally had planned this year with Reba McEntire and Rascal Flats. Instead, she says, “I’m trying to be present and live in the moment and be thankful for the stillness in this time and take it for what it is. I’m loving doing my livestreams, and I’m thankful I get to connect with [audiences] and play for them. People say this is the highlight of their week, and that’s good enough for me.”
This fits in with Wammack’s current philosophy about her craft: “Music is supposed to be either of two things: it should meet people where they are, or it should lift them up,” she says. It seems likely that the happiness that she exudes in “What He Does” will be as uplifting for others as she hopes.