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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”