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Jaime Wyatt

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If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from Neon Cross , the newest release from singer,
songwriter and guitarist Jaime Wyatt, it’s that life, in all its inherent messiness, goes on.
And through it all—good times and bad, triumph and trouble, dreaming and
desperation—Wyatt continues, to borrow the title of one of her new songs, just L I V I N.

To be sure, there’s a whole lot of livin’ in the 11 tracks on Neon Cross , from the
whisky-soaked honky tonks outlined in the heated and hungry title track, where Wyatt,
with “pitiful perfume, dark glasses, gold liquor and alligator shoes,” plies her trade from
the stage, to the mountains of pain, regret and loss baked into the slow-burning soul
groove of “By Your Side,” which the artist says she wrote “after my dad died and my best
friend overdosed, and I wasn’t able to show up for either of them because I was loaded,”
to the stark solitude of “Sweet Mess,” where Wyatt, in the throes of a crumbling
relationship, opines that “just like all the rest, I’ll be forgotten.”

“I tried not to have any filter with these songs,” Wyatt says about her open-book
approach to writing. “Because I’ll be honest—it feels like I’m gonna die if I don’t tell
people how I feel and who I am.” She pauses and lets out a slight laugh. “It sounds so
dramatic, but that’s the truth.”

If Wyatt sounds defiant, well, there’s a reason for that. Her life story is specked with
difficult—and unusual—twists and turns. She’s an immensely talented and insightful
singer-songwriter who signed to her first record label as a teenager, achieving early
success before losing that deal and being put through the music-industry wringer; a
country music devotee who ever since has been honing her craft in bars and clubs, late
night after late night and long year after long year; and a hard-luck, hard-living artist
whose outlaw tales are more than mere lyrical fodder for a woe-is-me honky-tonk
tune—before she was even 21, Wyatt battled a nasty drug addiction and served close to a
year in L.A. county jail for robbing her heroin dealer, experiences that were chronicled
on her much-lauded 2017 effort, Felony Blues .

“It’s been just this gnarly, gnarly process, but one that is so human,” Wyatt says. “So
there’s been a lot of turmoil and drama. But this record is a lot about rebirth, too.”
When it came to capturing that rebirth, Wyatt had some assistance from key
collaborators—in particular, Shooter Jennings, who produced Neon Cross . The two have
history together—Jennings has taken Wyatt on tour, and she used some of his backing
band on Felony Blues . But none of that mattered to Wyatt when it came to putting her
songs in Jennings’ capable hands.

“Shooter’s my friend and, yeah, he’s Shooter Jennings,” she acknowledges. “But when it
comes to the studio I don’t care who you are—I’m really, really decisive about what I
want, so I’ve got to be able to work with you. And what really sold me on Shooter is that
he understands grooves—he gets how to instruct a band to build a groove that is so
powerful underneath a song. And it’s crazy because that’s what Waylon [Jennings,
Shooter’s father] did. He always had these rad country songs with these super-weird,
like, funky rock ‘n’ roll grooves under them. He would take things to interesting and
unexpected places. Shooter has that same instinct.”

As does Wyatt. Together, she and Jennings boldly color outside the country lines on
Neon Cross , taking a wide-lens sonic and stylistic approach to the songs. Sure, there’s
plenty of swaggering, tough-as-nails rock (“Goodbye Queen,” the aforementioned “ Make
Something Outta Me”) and classic-minded honky tonk (“L I V I N,” the
pedal-steel-doused Wyatt/Jennings duet “Hurts So Bad”) to be found on the album, but
the 11 tracks are also studded with all manner of sonic ear candy, from moaning, misty
guitars (“Mercy”) and stately pianos (“Sweet Mess”), to spacey effects (“Make Something
Outta Me”) sawing fiddles (“Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain”) and even a Buddy
Holly-style rhythm pulse on the title track.

“I have a pretty strong vision,” Wyatt says, “but Shooter would suggest some crazy rock
reference on a song that I thought was clear-cut Buck Owens and somehow it would just
be right. It was this real organic process of working together.”

At the end of the day, that sonic backdrop (and it’s worth noting here that much of the
excellent six-string work on Neon Cross comes courtesy of the late, great Neal Casal, in
one of his final studio performances before his passing in August) is all in service to
Wyatt’s incisive lyrics and expressive vocals, which can be achingly sensitive and sincere
one minute, and unflinchingly cocksure and dispassionate the next.

Either way, they’re never anything but wholly captivating, and maybe nowhere more so
than on another duet on the record, “Just a Woman,” which sees Wyatt paired up with
an outlaw forebear, Jessi Colter, for a trad-country feminist anthem on which she
declares “There’s not a man in this world I would rather be.”

As for the origins of that one, Wyatt explains, “I was just living my life and having a hard
time with the fact that I can’t really fully ‘bro down’ with a guy who does what I do,
because, you know, his wife is gonna look at me and think it’s inappropriate.

“Also,” she continues, “I’m leading a band full of young men, and I’ve been doing it for
20 years now, and I have to find a particular type of young man that’s going to listen to
me and trust me and want to work for a woman. And that’s fine. It’s a deeply ingrained
thing and it’s kind of odd that I do what I do. So I wanted to write a song that addressed
all that without being too…”—Wyatt pauses, searching for the right word—“lame.” And,
she says, “Who better to do it with than the queen of outlaw country?” Who better,

And yet, as might be expected from someone with such a turbulent backstory, even the
challenges faced by Wyatt as a woman working in country music come with an extra
wrinkle: Following her most recent bid at getting clean (which, as of this moment, has
been successful), Wyatt confronted some hard truths about her life and past romantic
relationships, which resulted in her coming out as a gay woman to family and friends.
For Wyatt, a self-described introvert, this is very much a personal issue. “I’m not, like,
on the internet with flying rainbows,” she quips. But at the same time, she says, “I’m
also basically coming out to the world with this record.” This is particularly evident on
“Rattlesnake Girl,” where Wyatt sings, “I see my sweet friends out on the weekends, they
all look happy and gay / They keep their secrets all covered in sequins, people have too
much to say.” And for anyone who might have a problem with that? Well, there’s also a
line in the song about what Wyatt might do with her boot heel…

Addressing the lyrics of the song, Wyatt says, “My experience with recovery made me
realize I lost years of my life being in the closet and living a lie and trying to be someone
else. I just can’t do it anymore. And yeah, I’m scared there are people that like country
music that aren’t gonna like that I’m gay. But like I said earlier, ultimately I’m going to
die if I can’t be who I am.”

And besides, Wyatt, who was born in Los Angeles, grew up “in the middle of the woods”
in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Nashville, has never been overly
concerned with fitting in anyway. “I mean, honestly, I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere ,”
she says. “But that’s fine—I wouldn’t want to get too comfortable. Because as an artist,
being unique is my greatest asset. So if I were to fall into a scene, I probably wouldn’t
push myself to really make something that is captivating.”

With Neon Cross , Wyatt has indeed made something captivating—and also incredibly
unique. Which isn’t as easy as it might seem. “It’s like John Lennon said—there’s
nothing you can sing that can’t be sung,” Wyatt surmises. “But hopefully you can at least
put a new spin on it.”

At the end of the day, she continues, “that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m just a songwriter,
and I spend a good portion of my life in barrooms performing and worshipping country
music and rock ‘n’ roll and telling my story. And I do it because I believe in the power of
music, and I believe that music has saved my life in so many ways,” Wyatt says. “And
that belief is a powerful thing.”

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