Singer, songwriter and guitarist Jaime Wyatt’s releases Neon Cross, her debut album for New West Records, in the UK on 21st August. Produced by two-time Grammy award winner Shooter Jennings Neon Cross is immersed in classic country with a generous measure of full-on rock and roll. As befits classic country there is pounding honky-tonk and searching heartbreakers. Wyatt also rocks out but the enduring themes are confessional and release. For years Wyatt has struggled with addiction, getting clean then relapsing. Both physically and mentally she has suffered deeply. Neon Cross shines bright into her soul, from where she shows the defiance and determination to overcome her problems.
From her back porch in a sweltering Nashville Wyatt explained a lot of what went into Neon Cross.
Is catharsis too strong a description?
“No, it’s precisely that way. I feel I’ve gone through death and rebirth as I process a lot of grief and change”
That sorrow comes from her years of battling addiction. Wyatt spent nearly a year in jail for robbing her heroin dealer. She laid bare those experiences on her 2017 EP Felony Blues. Around then her father died and her best friend overdosed.
Recovery is a slow process so where are you now?
“Life on life’s terms is a struggle. I do a lot of daily practice, I read, attend meetings but I definitely tested the waters and I got bit. I’ll never forget that. The main culprit in my addiction was my mental health. What has changed me the most is coming out as a gay woman. It’s so liberating and I feel much more confident. I’ve got a brand new life. I never thought life could be as joyous as this”.
Did you set out to make as big a change musically from rock to classic country as you have in your life?
“I’d been delving into classic country and hope I’ve studied well enough to interpret the genre a little better. I also wanted to bring other experiences to the table”.
That seems the right moment to talk about your producer, how did you hook up with Shooter Jennings?
“Some of his band had been on my previous record. Those guys thought we should connect. I was listening to Shooter’s radio show, tweeting him and his wife at the same time as we share the same humour. But it was his wife who persuaded him to come to one of my shows. It was in a tiny bar in L.A. and the rest is history!”
You’re even got Shooter’s mother, Jesse Colter on the album. How did you manage that?
“I wanted a woman to sing with me on ‘Just Like A Woman’ so I asked Shooter if his mom would do this. I mean, she’s done everything, she doesn’t haven’t to do my album but he was sure she would. And she did”.
Which songs would select as being the most classic country?
“Good question, I’d go for ‘Just A Woman, LIVIN and Hurt So Bad”. You mentioned other elements on the album, how would you describe those? “My rock & roll influences, soul. My singing incorporates both”.
You, Shooter and Jessi are country outlaws. Like Jessi and Shooter’s dad Waylon, you’ve stayed clear of the Nashville recording machine. How easy is that?
“I used to get pushed around a bit but not now, I write what I want. Of course, if I was writing for the machine I’d be living a little easier! But I can’t compromise my values”.
For such a significant release you must have had a lot of shows planned. Are these all on hold or do you have to start from scratch again?
“Most of the summer was going to be festivals. The ones booked in Europe have been rescheduled for next year. But there’s lots to do in promoting the album. I’ve got several ideas; a web series, a mini documentary and live performance videos. These are hard to do, we had a band booked but one of the guys tested positive for covid so everything had to stop. Apart from that I love gardening and I’m practising roping”.
Roping? (Wyatt laughed and put the Brit out of his misery)
“With my lasso! I’m learning a few tricks”.
Well, definitely bring the rope when you come over here although anyone listening to Neon Cross will require no further evidence of your credentials a country outlaw.
And pandemic aside, what next?
“Touring, another record. I want to get more proficient on the piano. I play piano on ‘Sweet Mess’ (opening track on Neon Light) but I want to do more. I play piano live, with Leon Russell licks and songs.”
Isn’t that straying a bit far from classic country?
“Oh, I’ve always been a fan, it’s back to soul and rock & roll. Maybe it’s Shooter’s influence too”.
Doing her own thing has been a regular theme throughout our chat so probably a good point to conclude. Emerging from her trials, Jaime Wyatt seems to be in a much better place now. Deserved success with Neon Cross should consolidate that but above all, through her unrelenting honesty, she’s found proper happiness. Whatever happens musically, may that remain forever.