Jaime Wyatt signed her first record deal at 17. It was on the cusp of file sharing sites changing the shape of the music industry forever. While the business changed around her, she continued writing and recording; she’d been doing it since she was a child. Both of her parents were musicians, and it was kind of all that she had ever known. Somewhere along the way, she even “made a bunch of records that never came out.”
Neon Cross was released in 2020 on New West, certainly a strange year to release an album, but Wyatt took it in stride. She always has. A Tacoma, Washington native, she moved to Nashville from Los Angeles a couple of years ago, and she’s been able to find herself and she’s been able to escape addictions that kept her from reaching her fullest potential; Neon Cross was one of the year’s best. It was produced by Shooter Jennings and features the guitar of the late Neal Casal.
Before she took the stage at Mile 0 Fest in Key West earlier this month, we spoke by phone about her move to the Music City and how it helped her move forward. We talked about the positive progress made for the LGBTQ community within country music and her role. And she told me what life may look like for her beyond the pandemic.
Was moving to Nashville something that you felt like you had to do to get to the next level in your career?
I had been in L.A. for 12 years up to that point and I was on the road a ton. All of my tours were coming out of Nashville or Austin, so it just made sense to move to one or the other. My label is in Nashville. My agent is in Nashville. So that felt like the right move. And I’ve actually made a lot of friends in Nashville, so it worked out.
Was the move mostly about that or did it feel necessary to get away from your addictions and to find your own identity?
That’s a great question. I’m in a relationship right now, and it was much easier to be who I really am in Nashville. I’ve got a lot of history in Los Angeles. It was a lot easier to actually be my true self somewhere else.
Obviously the LGBTQ community in country music has gained a lot more visibility over the past couple of years and been a big topic of discussion in a genre that hasn’t been known for its’ inclusivity. How do you feel about being on the front of it? You had a record out when things started moving forward, and you were kind of among a group of artists leading the way to break down those walls…
I think that it’s been building and there are lot of great artists getting their due; Orville Peck and Brandi Carlile. I was on the fence about coming out for a good two years. At least. I was really reluctant. I asked myself, “Is this for me? Or is this for other people?” And ultimately, I thought, “You know what? If I had seen more people like myself when I was young, I might have come out sooner and maybe I wouldn’t have struggled with drugs and alcohol so much.
That’s why I’ve come out publicly. That’s really it. It’s so important for young people. I’m grateful that the queer country movement is happening. I’m grateful that it’s happening now. And that I came on at a good time when it was safe for me. I’m very sensitive – and being an addict – I’m just grateful that I could come out in a time when its’ safe.
How important was a big, mainstream Top 40 country artist like TJ [Osborne] coming out for the community?
That as awesome to see. I was really, really happy to see how that went down and to see how the mainstream pop country world embraced that. It’s huge! It’s huge. It’s really exciting.
I’ve seen people say you have a bit of a California sound, but I think it has a bit of a Texas swing to it. And you never really lived in Texas. Where did you manifest that sound from?
I don’t know! I’m from Washington state. I’ve just always felt like I’m from nowhere. I’m from outer space. When I was young, the music that really resonated with me that my mom and dad turned me onto was like Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. And of course I loved hip-hop and grunge. I was in Washington when grunge was happening when I was a little kid.
I haven’t gotten that a lot. I dig that. I did tour Texas for the last three years. But basically living in a van for the last three years, I kind of exclusively listened to the music that I was studying and trying to put a new spin on. That definitely included Waylon and Willie. I like a lot of Texas music; that’s the country I lean towards. Old country mostly.
What does post-pandemic life look like for you? Have you begun writing the next record?
Yes! I’m not ready to debut any new songs yet, but I have songs that I’m really excited about. I wrote a bunch of odds and ends last year, and now I’m starting to wrap things up and send through labels. I also try to send everything through my mom. [laughs] She has a really good ear. I was at concerts when I was in my mom’s belly. In the womb! So I’m wrapping these up and sending them to my mom, sending them to label people and I’m really excited about new music now. I love being on the road and playing, but since there’s been less of it, the other thing that makes me feel really alive is writing songs.
I’d read that you and your mom had a tough relationship for a long time. Has sharing your music with her helped you rebuild that relationship?
Yes. Yeah, it’s a big part of communicating with my mother is through music. It’s a very healing thing. My addiction wasn’t just hard on me, it was really hard on my mother. The other half of the family also has addictions. My mom has been through a lot. Music and writing is our magical power and what we share with each other a lot. We also share records together, and it’s a really beautiful thing. Music and fashion.
Jaime Wyatt and Riley Downing perform at The Basement East on Wednesday evening. Lily Hiatt will open. Tickets are sold out. Wyatt hopes to announce new dates soon – but, you know – *all this.**