‘Sometimes you just gotta dance it out’: Adam Wright Talks New Album & Co-writing Under Quarantine

Photo by Shannon Wright

Pick up one of your favorite Americana records of the last few years, check the liner notes, and you’ll probably see Adam Wright’s name. The Newnan, GA native has been penning songs with and for some of the biggest and brightest artists in country and roots music for years–  Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson (Wright’s uncle), Lee Ann Womack, Robert Earl Keen, and Brent Cobb are just a few of the names who have recorded songs by or collaborated with Wright. He’s a writer’s writer, constantly on the hunt for the next character to explore, the perfect string of words, and the unique phrasing to lace it all together. Adam’s contributions have already been making the rounds this year (Aubrie Seller’s “Worried Mind, Brandy Clark’s “Bigger Boat”, and Waylon Payne’s “All The Trouble”), but if some artists have strained under the weight of COVID-19, Adam has turned his quarantine into an opportunity. I Win lightens the heart with catchy, clever narratives that follow in the footsteps of 2019’s duel EPs Big Ideas from a Small Window Overlooking Legendary RCA Studio B (or Rodeo) and Queen of the Meadow. Adam, who has also performed and recorded alongside his wife, singer-songwriter Shannon Wright, endeavors to remain creative and productive despite the pandemic, and I Win proves that there’s no substitute for a good song.

AI- With your previous full-length, Dust, you said that there was a degree of preparation and research involved with a lot of those songs. Now, what about I Win? ‘Cause if I got it right, you wrote most of these since the pandemic began. Where did all these stories and characters come from?

AW- Yeah, it was not the same. I guess a couple of them were. Like “Darlene”, as light as it is, it took a lot of work for me. I don’t know what that says about me as a songwriter (laughs), but I had to sketch it out a lot because it’s from a character’s point of view. I wanted to feel like I just knew who that guy was before I started writin’ about him. And even though he doesn’t really have anything serious to say, I took that guy seriously. A lot of the songs on there, they’re more playful, so a lot of it came from playful word things that were happenin’ in my brain or just ideas that I had. Like “Rhymes With Bucket” or “Straight Down”. “Straight Down” is just like an exercise in rhyming and phrasing, you know? It was just a fun thing that happened– like a Dr. Seuss kind of thing. But yeah, much different. I felt like Dust, I was writin’ short stories and turnin’ ’em into songs and these things were not like that at all. ‘Cause Dust, it took a long time to write and it was really heavy. I was immersed in it when I was doing it, but it’d take me a while to get geared up to do an album like that again. I was really lookin’ forward to doin’ something that was more fun, lighter. For me and for anybody that might be subjected to it (laughs)!

Do you feel like I Win was an escape? Or was that exactly the plan?

I don’t know that I had a plan per se, but I do feel like it was reflective of things bein’ so heavy and not wanting to write heavy songs because of that. I think I read somewhere that people try to externalize a balance with whatever is happening internally– and vice versa, I suppose. It’s a heavy time, man! It’s a lot of heavy stuff goin’ on (laughs) and the idea of either spendin’ a buncha time writin’ heavy songs and then tryin’ to get people to listen to ’em just didn’t seem like a good idea (laughs)!

You brought up “Darlene”. I love the song. It’s very evocative of Chuck Berry…

Oh man, yeah!

And you brought up “Straight Down”, which to me has a Beatles flavor to it. Also on the album, I hear some Beach Boys and a lot of your classic country influences. You brought up “Rhymes With Bucket”… You know, I can hear your uncle Alan [Jackson] doin’ that song, although I’m not sure how it would go over on the Opry stage!

I pitched it to him!

Did you? What’d he say?

Nothin’. (Laughs) He didn’t say anything! Actually, he just cut an album. I don’t know when it’ll be out, but he just cut an album and for a minute, it was one of the songs that was on his list. But I don’t think it’s gonna make it…

Well, I totally heard him doin’ when it came up!

Man! Well, I’ll get somebody to do it! It’s funny, I had that idea and I thought, “I’ve never heard this song before. I think I got somethin’ here!” And I started pitching it around and I pitched it to an A&R person at one of the labels here. And she said, “You know, there’s a big song like this, right? Where they use this idea?” And I said, “No!” She told me who the artist was, so I went and listened to it afterwards. And the other thing she said was, “If yours was really brilliant, it wouldn’t bother me that much, but as it is…” And so I thought, “Man, God, this other one must be great!” I went and listened to it… And it wasn’t that good! I think mine was better (laughs)!

This is one of those projects where you’re the whole band, you’re the backup singers, the chief cook and bottle washer. Queen of the Meadow and the Big Ideas EPs? Did you do them like this as well?

Yeah, I did. The same process. I was kinda forced to on these because you couldn’t get anybody to get in a studio and play with you. But on those previous EPs, I did it like that because I wanted to, really. I wasn’t sure I was making an EP when I was doing those. I just started recording and things just snowballed– or got out of control! However you want to look at it!

Is there a reason why that collection didn’t come together as a whole project as opposed to the two EPs?

I felt like they were just different. Like Big Ideas were a little more lighthearted and then the Queen of the Meadow, those songs were darker. I could’ve put ’em together. I did ’em all around the same time. I recorded ’em all in the same two weeks, really, but I wanted ’em to live as separate projects for no other reason than I just didn’t think they went together. I didn’t feel like they’d get along in a 12-song collection. They just seemed to want to be by themselves. I just did it that way. I don’t know why. I make a lot of poor decisions in the music business (laughs)!

You bring up Queen of the Meadow and it being a little heavier. I was listenin’ to that while I was getting ready for this interview and I wanted to bring up a “Morning, Stan”. I answered that very same phone call back in March when the pandemic hit. Thankfully, my circumstances were temporary. We’re not back up runnin’ at full capacity yet, but things are improving. Every day, I remember my stomach dropping and not being able to find my voice. I think that this has been a big thing for a lot of people right now.

It’s affected my household! My wife’s out of work, and we’re not uncommon in that. I think everybody’s taken a hit– and even before this happened! [“Morning, Stan”] was written obviously before all of this and, man, that’s a thing! It’s happened to me before, and it is not a good feeling! Especially if you got a couple of kiddos and you’re just wonderin’ how you’re going to get it all together!

Has your job slowed down? Obviously, any performing certainly has, but what about the actual songwriting and co-writing? I Win shows that you’ve certainly remained productive, but I know a lot of artists are struggling with creativity right now. Are you still able to engage with other writers and work?

A lot of it is being done via Zoom or whatever the app of choice is. Zoom seems to be the most popular with songwriters right now. But, man, I’ve been more productive through all of this! For one, my calendar cleared up. Everything, in the beginning, was just like nobody knew what was happening. And so all the studios closed, all the co-writes canceled, everything just stopped. And I just started writin’ my brains out! I don’t sit still very well. I just got crackin’ and just ended up writin’ and recording this album. And then some of the writes started comin’ back. It’s still not like it was. There’s some people writin’ in person. I still do a lot of Zoom writing. Honestly, I prefer it. Nothin’ against sittin’ in a room with people, but there’s something about it… You just kinda get on with it.

I feel like, at least with the people that I’ve been writin’ with, you just focus. Maybe it’s because it’s slightly awkward? The platform, you know? You can’t play together, you can’t sing together, so there’s much less of a vibe. So you just get on with writin’ the song. There’s something about that I appreciate. It’ll be nice not to have to worry about [COVID-19], but it hadn’t slowed me down! A lot of the people that rely on touring for their income, hopefully, they saved their money because that’s not coming back full speed for a while. But the writing and the publishing? We’re always the last people to be considered anyway. Nobody really cares about writers (laughs)! We’re like cockroaches, we just kinda survive!

The last really, I guess, year and a half, your name has come up a lot. When you talk about the writers, I’ve spoken to a lot of your pals and your contemporaries– Brent Cobb, I just recently spoke to Waylon Payne, Aubrie Sellers… So when you talk about the songwriters bein’ the last to be considered, it does seem, now that I think about it, that the songwriters are having an opportunity to showcase themselves in a way that maybe they didn’t before.

I hope that’s true. I love all those people that you mentioned by the way. I love ’em! I love ’em all like family, and I’ve done a lot of work with them and they’re all wonderful people and brilliant musicians and songwriters. I do feel like maybe there’s a focus on the song right now that there wasn’t in the past few years, and I hope that continues. Not just as a career enhancer, but I think it’s important to appreciate the craft of a song. When it’s done right, it does something to you that they don’t do when they’re not quite right.

I know exactly what you mean!

To all of our benefit that good songs prevail and good songwriting has a chance to get out there.

As a songwriter, you generally create characters to inhabit as opposed to writing directly about yourself or your experiences. Not that you don’t, but that generally, it’s character-driven. That’s not an easy ability to develop. Does that help you with co-writing? Or does it have the opposite effect?

I don’t know. My co-writers, I’m probably hindering them in so many ways, it’s hard for them to pinpoint (laughs) exactly which is the most hindrance! But I think certainly when I’m writing by myself, I like that. There’s a character that’s actually, probably very close to my own personality that I write a lot. And then there are things that are way out that I find interesting from just curiosity and creativity. Sometimes when I’m co-writing with someone, they’re the character, you know what I mean? Their artist persona, like the person they are when they sing, that’s the character I want to bring out. Sometimes they already know who that is, and sometimes they don’t, or there’s a couple of different people!

I think it’s fun. It’s like playin’ dress up or readin’ a good story. It just keeps it interesting. I don’t think Kenny Rogers was a gambler, but what a great song for him to sing! I don’t think everything ought to be true. I’ve had so many songs be passed on because the artist I was pitchin’ ’em to did not actually experience whatever it was in the song. Man, I just think that’s a pretty tight corner to get yourself in if you’re only singin’ about the things you’ve actually experienced! Some people do it pretty well, I guess, but I like character writers. I love Mark Knopfler and I love writers that write about people other than themselves. And I like very personal writers too! I just find myself incredibly boring (laughs)! I guess, I’d rather write about somebody else!

How exciting has your pandemic been? Have you been focusing on your painting this last seven months? Is that a renewed interest? How does that creativity differ when you’re writing songs?

I haven’t done much of it since the pandemic started really, but I got really heavy into it about a year and a half ago. It was something I did when I was younger. I took art classes and I think my parents pretty much thought I was gonna be a visual artist as it took up a lot of my childhood. I just kinda put it down and pursued music exclusively. I don’t know what happened to bring it back a year or so ago, but man, I really got obsessed with it! I mean, it was all I thought about just all day long! I did a lot of paintings and I’ve sold quite a few of them and kept the ones my wife wouldn’t let me sell. For me anyway, it takes a lot of discipline to maintain a certain amount of technique so that you’re not just disgusted with yourself the whole time. I have so many things I’m trying to stay proficient at that painting has had to go by the wayside the last few months. But man, I dream about a time when I feel secure enough in everything else that I can just sit around and paint all day. I think that’s probably gonna be my retirement! If I’m ever lucky enough to retire, I think I’m just gonna sit around and paint all day!

You are a vinyl collector, right?

Yeah! I have quite a bit of vinyl!

Has that been something that you’ve been able to get into and share more with the family during this time? ‘Cause I know that’s something that we do at my house. My daughter has gotten very involved with records and with the artists and it’s been a lot of fun for all of us.

Do you guys buy vinyl copies of modern records?

Both. As a matter of fact, we’re havin’ a hard time right now tryin’ to explain to her why Townes Van Zandt is not coming to town, why Whitney Houston is not coming to town. She’s like, “Papa, when is Chris Knight coming to town?” And I’m like, “I don’t know baby, but when he does, we will go.” And then it’s, “Papa, when is Whitney Houston coming to town?” Uhhh… “Honey, she’s not.”

Man, that’s well-rounded– from Townes Van Zandt to Whitney Houston? She is gonna have a really well-rounded musical education!

Well, we’re working on it!

That’s awesome! Our little record player is in the dining room and we eat in the dining room, not every night, but maybe like, three, four nights a week. And actually, during all of this, my kids are doin’ school remotely. So on their lunch breaks, they eat lunch in the dining room and they turn the record player on every day. We have this Frankie Carle Piano Bouquet, 1959 it came out. They put that on at lunch and listen to it every day! And it’s fantastic! We have a whole stack of vinyl down there.

When I was a kid, I think that’s when it all started clickin’ for me is when I got my dad’s record collection. I was probably six or seven– and they were just in his closet! [My parents] didn’t really listen to albums. They had a stereo and so it was all, at that point, just listen to the radio– or cassette tapes were a thing by then. I would get his vinyl out and put it on… It was the Rolling Stones and a lot of the stuff that you mentioned earlier– The Beach Boys, The Kingsmen, Chuck Berry, Paul Simon, or Simon & Garfunkel rather, The Righteous Brothers, and man, this stuff just blew my mind! The physicality of it, like watching a record player work, the mechanics of that were really exciting! Somethin’ romantic and mysterious about all of that. And then obviously what was coming out of the speakers. That whole experience did somethin’ to me. And that was it for me!

I like to think that we’re returning to that communal enjoyment of music in the household that used to exist. I bring this up all the time with different people. And I could be makin’ it up! Maybe it’s me fantasizing that is the way, but it’s something that gives me hope in this dark time– that that kind of joy is still being had.

And what a great thing for everybody to come together for and with! One of the most vibrant memories of my childhood was my family– my mom, my dad, my brother, and myself– dancin’ in our den to The Beach Boys! I think it’s probably the only time I’ve ever seen my dad dancin’ my whole entire life! And for some reason, they just put on The Beach Boys and we were all just in there dancin’. We do that at my house! My wife will put on music and it’s everybody dancin’, man. I think sometimes you just gotta dance it out!

I Win is available for download and streaming on all your favorite digital platforms!