Singer-songwriter Adam Wright talks with C&I about his upcoming album, Dust, out June 22.
After hitting a new level of songwriting achievement when country superstar Lee Ann Womack released his song “The Way I’m Livin’” as the title track for her 2014 album, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Adam Wright is taking the time to put his solo career at the forefront.
On June 22, he comes out with Dust.
The 11-track compilation displays Wright’s unique literary style and provides a window into a more personal side. Inspired by people real and imaginary, Dust’s songs encompass everything from death to broken dreams to the human condition.
Track highlights include the “From My Bough,” featuring Lee Ann Womack and written about racial tensions from a tree’s perspective; “Born to Dream,” inspired by Wright’s kids; and the humble “The Banker.”
Recently C&I talked with Wright about the new record, his upcoming tour, and working with Lee Ann Womack and Alan Jackson.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope your fans will get out of your new record?
Adam Wright: Some of my favorite albums are full of songs that are moments in characters’ lives. When it’s done well it’s very satisfying. I hope listeners will find characters and moments in Dust that are meaningful to them. And I hope they find it sonically interesting.
C&I: What are some memorable stories along the way of from concept to actual release?
Wright: One of my favorite things about the making of it was how much time I got to spend with Park Chisolm, my friend and co-producer. We’ve been friends since elementary school and it was a bit like going back there getting to hang in the studio together all day. Except we didn’t get sent out in the hall.
C&I: Where did you gain inspiration from?
Wright: I was reading a lot of dark fiction and was generally in a pretty dark place, frankly. I was disappointed with a lot of things. And I felt like I had never let myself go as a writer — never let the kite string out all the way. I had a lot of skill and knowledge of the craft but had never gone all the way down the rabbit hole so to speak. That desire was the genesis of this album.
C&I: Your song “The Way I’m Livin’” was the first single and title track for Lee Ann Womack’s 2014 album. That album later went on to get nominated for a Grammy and the song’s music video garnered a CMT video award. What was that experience like?
Wright: Having her record the song was tremendous. She’s a world-class singer — one of the best. It’s not an obvious choice for a single for her, but for some reason it resonated with her and I’m so thankful it did. It really changed the trajectory of my whole career. It brought me to Frank Liddell and Carnival Music and led to a great relationship with Lee Ann and also with her daughter, Aubrie [Sellers]. It gave me a lot of confidence and some room to grow in a unique direction. Hearing her sing it also showed me things I could do vocally that I would have never tried. She’s a force.
C&I: As a singer-songwriter, is it difficult to give up some of your songs to other artists?
Wright: Not at all. I usually know if it’s something that would appeal more to me than other artists when it’s being written anyway. Some songs I keep because I know they’re most useful to me or they’re part of a collection of songs I’m working on. But I’m always flattered and honored when someone wants to record a song I’ve written. It’s always meaningful.
C&I: Womack makes an appearance on the Dust track “From My Bough.” Was it fun to get back together with her in a different setting?
Wright: Absolutely. I love singing with her. I knew she would do something interesting on it. She’s fantastic.
C&I: What was the creative process of that track?
Wright: It’s mostly live. It was me, Park Chisolm on electric, Glenn Worf on bass, and Fred Eltringham on drums. Then we had Nat Smith come in and play cello. He’s astonishing. They all are. It’s amazing how far you can get when you’ve taken care of the writing and you get a great band.
C&I: You also toured alongside Womack and Alan Jackson. Did they provide any helpful advice with this latest album or for your solo career?
Wright: Alan has always been very supportive. He’s in a bit of a different business than I’m in, but some of the rules still apply — trying to be smart about what you’re doing. He’s great about listening to songs. He’s an excellent songwriter himself and always gets what you’re trying to do with a song.
I learned a lot from Lee Ann just by being around her and working with her. I think being around her changed the way I sing for sure. It made me put a lot more work into my voice. I think hearing her will either make you quit or work harder. I work harder.
C&I: You’ve written thousands of songs for other people. What’s the difference between writing for others and writing for yourself?
Wright: Well, I’ve written thousands of songs, but a lot of them will never see the light of day. And don’t deserve to. There are three categories for me: those I write for something I’m working on, those I write for others to record, and those that fall somewhere in between. The process is similar, although when I write for myself it tends to take longer. I’m not sure why.
C&I: What’s your writing process like? Do you start with the lyrics or the music first?
Wright: Almost always the lyrics come first. It’s much easier to come up with musical ideas. I can do it all day, but then having to find a lyric idea to go with it, that’s difficult for me. Going with what just falls out — I don’t trust those lyrics. Some people do it that way and it works out great. I just don’t like it. I want the idea and words first. The music will come with them.
C&I: Are there any tracks that didn’t make the final cut of Dust that we can expect later on down the road?
Wright: There are a couple that would have belonged. But you hold them all together and the ones that make it less potent have to wait their turn. That’s how it always is. They may be better songs, but for some reason they just don’t go in this particular collection.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring?
Wright: I love to play. My kids are still pretty young and like being home, but I try to play as much as it makes sense. There will be some shows this year and next, hopefully enough that those who want to come hear these songs live will have the opportunity.
C&I: What’s something that fans might not know about you?
Wright: Being that this is Cowboys & Indians, I guess I should express my love of Western fiction. Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen turned me on to Cormac McCarthy, and I went on a bender and read everything he has written. A lot of that is not Western, but the trilogy of his has to be some of the best Western fiction ever. Also, my great-great-grandmother on my father’s side was Texas Comanche. I’ve done a little bit of genealogy research, but it gets spotty that far back. Talk about a rabbit hole.
For more information on Adam Wright and to preorder Dust, visit his website. Photography: Bret Pemelton.