“This is home,” uttered a 9-year-old girl who had just passed by the iconic AT&T “batman” building in Nashville, on the way to Gatlinburg, Tennessee with her family. That girl was none other than rising country star, Lainey Wilson.
After moving to Music City in August 2011, and going through her fair share of highs and lows along the way, Wilson has finally released her debut album, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, via Broken Bow Records.
This has been a long time coming for the singer, who left her small town of Baskin, Louisiana (pop. 300) close to 10 years ago, signed a publishing deal with Sony ATV in 2017 and inked her record deal with Broken Bow Records the following year.
“They say you get your entire life to write your first record, and this is my first ever major label record. From top to bottom, I am proud of this thing,” Wilson tells Sounds Like Nashville over a recent Zoom interview. “I mean, every line from top to bottom, it’s just something I’m proud of. It is who I am to my core.”
The 12-track record celebrates the singer’s humble small town roots, southernisms and sass, all while also mourning heartbreak and reflecting on life’s hard lessons. It gives fans an insight into who Wilson is, with a unique delivery that she affectionately calls “Bell Bottom Country,” or “country with a flare.” Instead of pandering to a modish pop-leaning production, the self-proclaimed “old soul” opted for plenty of traditional instrumentation, coupled with rollicking drum beats, vibrant guitar licks and unabashed twang.
Quite literally, the collection of songs on Wilson’s debut project, all of which she co-wrote, musically portray the very things that do cross her mind. The autobiographical title track, for instance, played a pivotal role as the LP’s cornerstone and thematic blueprint, helping to filter down an initial selection of over 200 songs to the dozen in the final track list.
“We actually built the entire record off that song,” the singer explains. “We asked ourselves that question, whether it was ‘Dirty Looks,’ ‘Things A Man Oughta Know,’ or ‘WWDD,’ it had to be—is it ‘sayin’ what I’m thinkin’?”
She adds, “When you look at ‘Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’’ as a title, you’d think, ‘Oh, it’s about to be sassy and fun.’ We actually took a different approach on it and really, [the song is] about being honest and especially, being honest with yourself.”
In fact, Wilson has always been plain-spoken right from a very young age. When she was 2 years old, her father had promised to take her “by McDonald’s” following a bout of temper tantrums for a hearty Mighty Kids Meal. However, unbeknownst to the toddler, the senior Wilson had meant it quite literally. He kept his end of the bargain and drove right by McDonald’s on the interstate. Her exclamative, atypical response that followed left both parents flabbergasted.
“Plain as day, in the backseat, I said, ‘I’m tired of this shit!’ [My parents] didn’t know whether they needed to be mad or proud,” Wilson says with a laugh. “I’ve always been pretty much ‘sayin’ what I’m thinkin’!”
This rambunctious attitude is on full display throughout her rootsy debut album. On the punny “LA,” Wilson details her unmistakable “redneck hollywood” ways. “When you say LA, I think Louisiana / Lower Alabama, stars up in the sky / And I ain’t been to California / Way too far from Georgia /But one day I might,” the proud Louisianan belts effervescently on the chorus. Other similarly boisterous songs on the project include “Straight Up Sideways,” “Pipe,” “Small Town, Girl,” “WWDD” and the anthemic opener, “Neon Diamonds.”
“I just felt that “Neon Diamonds” had that intro, like a show opener with the big drums in the beginning,” Wilson says of the vibrant tune. “It just comes out of the gate a little sassy. I can’t help it. I’m just a little sassy!” she quips.
However, Sayin What I’m Thinkin’ is not a pure feel-good up-tempo record. It gets reflective, serious and at times, more personal.
Prolific songwriter Harlan Howard famously described country music as “three chords and the truth”—and Wilson’s ruminative “Keeping Bars In Business” captures the lyrical essence of that. The emotional tune highlights the universality of our shared human experience and how this world is much, much smaller than we think.
It came from a very real place of hardship Wilson and her two co-writers, Jordan Schmidt and Matt Rogers, each faced at that time. The Lousiaina native in particular had just received news from her parents that her precious pup, Puddin’, had to be put down while she was out on the road touring, robbing her of the chance to say goodbye to her best friend for one last time.
“We were just talking about [how] even though you’re going through things in life, there is somebody right down the road or on the other side of the world having the best day of their entire life,” Wilson says of the song.
“Those are the things, in my opinion, that keep the world spinning and turning. Whether your heart’s breaking or you’re celebrating something, we’re all ‘keeping bars in business’—with the exception of 2020 of course,” she adds quickly with a laugh, characteristic of her humorous personality.
Of course, this debut record wouldn’t have been possible without Wilson’s current single and biggest song to date, “Things A Man Oughta Know.” The heart-rending ballad, penned by Wilson, Jonathan Singleton and Jason Nix, has amassed a whopping 35 million streams and counting. It details Wilson’s personal sentiments on the very “things a man oughta know,” such as knowing how to “hook a trailer on a two-inch hitch,” “[changing] a tire on the side of a road,” and of course, having knowledge of “when it’s love” and “how to stay when it’s tough.” But despite the specificity, she shares that this song is more than a simple checklist.
“‘Things A Man Oughta Know’ isn’t about whether you can change a tire. It’s just about treating people the way you wanna be treated, and I’m a firm believer of that,” Wilson explains. “I’m so thankful that this is the first song of mine that really is doing something, just because these are the characteristics that I stand for in a person, too.”
Since its release in September 2019, listeners from all walks of life have reached out to thank Wilson for the song. From single mothers, to guys that messed up and “got it wrong,” the response has been affirmative. But, one message in particular stands out to her.
“I heard from a lady who was just about to get a divorce. She played the song for her husband, and he snapped out of it,” the singer reveals. “That, to me, was proof that the power of music is something.”
“Sometimes you think you know exactly what you’re writing about. I thought I knew what I was writing about. But it turns out, the way people have connected to this song is something that I never would have dreamed of or imagined.”
Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ is a strong, cohesive introduction to who Lainey Wilson is. A force to be reckoned with, the Louisianan’s stellar album seals her position as a mainstay in country music. With Miranda Lambert’s feisty delivery style, a bubbly southern charm like Kellie Pickler, and a genuine heart to connect with everyone, it is hard to not be a fan of (or frankly, love) the promising newcomer.
Though Wilson’s 10-year residential mark in Nashville is fast approaching, her infectious “bell bottom country” songs are just starting to ride the Music Row rodeo—something her sheer tenacity and unwavering determination deserve full credit for.
“If you don’t have a plan B, then plan A has to work at some point of time if you don’t give up and move home,” Wilson reflects. “It’s such a blessing that I get to do what I love every single day and just even have this shot. It’s really just starting to come together, which just shows that if you stick to your guns, your dreams will come to fruition.”
When asked what advice she’d give to her younger herself, the singer pauses for a moment, before getting a tad emotional. “I’d say, ‘Hold on girl, it’s gonna be a wild, crazy ride.’”
“You’re gonna have a lot of ups and downs, but don’t you throw in the towel, because it will be very rewarding once you finally figure out where your place is in this town.”