NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Last year the stars aligned for Lainey Wilson after more than a decade trying to get the doors to open for her as a country singer-songwriter.
But even as she was winning awards and hitting the top of the Billboard country airplay chart, her family bedrock was shaken this summer with the hospitalization of her father, Brian.
“It's really interesting trying to navigate life when your professional side of it is doing really great, but your personal feels like it is falling apart," Wilson told The Associated Press. "And when my daddy got sick this past summer, I’m not gonna lie: It was hard to stand on stage and pour my heart out.”
Wilson is glad to say that — after two months in the hospital and weeks in rehab — her father will be by her side when she walks into the Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday as the leading nominee.
“It was definitely a test," said Wilson, who had to cancel a couple of shows, but then resumed both her touring as well as her acting role on the new season of “Yellowstone.” “It was a test for me to roll my sleeves up and get the job done no matter what, no matter how I’m feeling.”
Wilson grew up on a farm in rural Baskin, Louisiana, where her family taught her life lessons about hard work and treating people right, along with plenty of Southern-fried sayings. And that blue-collar wit and wisdom is woven all throughout her new record “Bell Bottom Country,” a rollicking country-rock record that encompasses Wilson's unique “country with a flare” attitude.
“I feel like everybody’s got a little bell bottom country about them,” she said. “It’s just leaning into whatever it is that makes you you — different and unique and unapologetically yourself.”
Earlier this year, she won song of the year and best new female artist at the Academy of Country Music Awards. That made her a likely nominee at CMA Awards, but her debut with six nominations puts her in a rare class of only four artists in CMA history to do the same and all of those other artists (Glen Campbell, Brad Paisley and Kacey Musgraves) went on to have huge careers that changed the genre. Her nominations include female artist of the year, new artist of the year, album of the year for “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin,’” song of the year for “Things a Man Oughta Know,” and musical event and music video for “Never Say Never” with Cole Swindell.
Wilson certainly is no overnight success, living her early years in Nashville in a camper trailer and trying to make inroads in the songwriting community. One of her earliest artist co-writes was with a young North Carolina writer named Luke Combs, now a superstar who invited Wilson to open his stadium tour next year.
“Time was a big part of my story, and I think that’s why I had to wait a really long time," said Wilson. "I mean, it took me seven years to even get a publishing deal, eight years to get a record deal," she said.
Lots of things hit at just the right time for Wilson's name to start spreading not only in country music, but in television as well. Her songs were played in earlier seasons of the Paramount Network show “Yellowstone” alongside a soundtrack that included songs from Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. That led the showrunner Taylor Sheridan to offer her a role as a country singer in the new season starting Sunday.
Wilson said acting isn't all that different from working a stage as a singer, learning lines that other people wrote, and said that it helped that the role was so similar to herself. And she didn't even have to change her recognizable northern Louisiana accent.
Wilson said no one in the music industry has told her to smooth out her drawls and y'alls, but she said plenty of people on social media question whether her accent is exaggerated. She's got fighting words for those critics: "The way that I talk is the way that I sing. Like it or lump it.”
In addition to her nominations, Wilson will take the CMA stage for a performance of “wait in the truck," a duet with HARDY, that is currently climbing the charts. The song is a murder ballad about domestic violence that reminded Wilson of the ‘90s Garth Brooks classic “The Thunder Rolls."
“I want the people who have been abused to hear the song,” Wilson said. “I want them to feel like they are not alone. But I want the abusers to hear it. I want them to be haunted.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall