Anne Wilson in a field

Interview: Anne Wilson Talks ‘REBEL’, Collaborating with Lainey Wilson, Morgan Wallen's Influence and More

April 16, 2024 5:25 pm GMT
Last Edited April 17, 2024 9:11 am GMT

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‘Genre-blending’ seems to have become the country music buzzword for 2024, with various Pop, Hip Hop and Folk-leaning artists dipping their toes into the Music City waters.

Often, however, these novel concoctions can feel disjointed and at times superficial, with country music being forcefully welded onto sounds and styles it doesn't really mesh with.

It could be tempting, therefore, to roll your eyes when you hear Kentucky prodigy, Anne Wilson, being billed in this way. But don't be fooled - Anne Wilson is a genre-blender in the truest, most artistically satisfying meaning of the word.

This is epitomised on ‘God & Country’, the keystone of Anne's new album, REBEL. The ‘My Jesus’ hitmaker flits nimbly between country and Contemporary Christian, playfully segueing from ‘New King James’ to ‘Old King George’ Strait. Faith and country music - as Strait himself has regularly highlighted - have always enjoyed an intertwined relationship, with the genre frequently championing spirituality as a deeply personal experience that you're just as likely to uncover through the serenity of a Sunday morning spent fishing as you are at a Church service. Anne captures this unique intersection between faith and country on one of the many stand-outs from REBEL, the wistful ‘Dirt Roads in Heaven’.

“I love nature and being outside, that's where I find connection to God”, Anne Wilson explains to Holler, “That was definitely part of the inspiration, just spending time on the family farm. ‘Dirt Roads in Heaven’ was written for my brother, who passed away in 2017, and that song was such a sweet sentiment to him. I hope there are dirt roads in heaven, just the simplicity of that. That idea is woven throughout the record, of nature being a place I find peace and answers”.

In addition to the symbiotic relationship between ‘the country’ and spirituality, a pivotal theme of REBEL is finding the blessings in disguise in every situation. When Anne Wilson's brother and best friend, Jacob, was suddenly killed in a car accident in 2017, she would've been forgiven for not being able to see any kind of silver lining.

A silver lining presented itself, though, when she found the courage to sing publicly for the first time at Jacob's funeral. The video of a 15-year-old Anne's stunning rendition of ‘What A Beautiful Name’, and completely altered her plans for the future, which had previously centred around her dream of becoming an astronaut.

“My faith has been the biggest thing that got me through the loss of my brother”, Anne reflects, “That's given me the perspective of being grateful for every day we have with our loved ones. Every day we had with him was a gift, even though I wish I could go back and spend more time with him. But I had 15 years with him, and I'm so grateful I did. We're not promised tomorrow, so it reminds me to be in the moment with the people you love and cherish that. Faith has helped me do that”.

It's this infectious sense of gratitude and optimism that courses through REBEL, lighting up tracks such as ‘Country Gold’, ‘Strong’ and ‘Rain in the Rearview’. Yet, while Anne Wilson relishes the chance to tackle weightier aspects of her faith, she also leaves plenty of room for fun, light-hearted spins on classic country tropes.

‘Songs About Whiskey’ finds the fast-emerging artist light-heartedly mocking one of the genre's most popular muses, “We were halfway through writing the record, and then we were like, ‘Okay, how can Anne Wilson write a song about whiskey...’ We're not talking about drinking the whiskey, we're just talking about singing about it. As an artist, I love doing something different, because there are so many songs about whiskey. I wanted to write a song about what I sing about, which is my faith and the things that matter to me most. We've performed that song a few times already, and the crowd loves it. No matter if I'm singing it in a bar or in a church, both sides love it. It feels good to have a song that's fun like that”.

Although it's evident, as Anne Wilson underlines, that country and Contemporary Christian music have much in common, we've seen this year that some attempts to crossover into country after making your name in another genre have been met with fierce backlash. With Anne already possessing a Contemporary Christian Music Album Grammy nomination and a Christian Airplay Chart No. 1 with ‘My Jesus’, some had pigeon-holed her into that genre ahead of REBEL.

Nonetheless, Anne Wilson pays tribute to the warm welcome she's received from the country world. The fact that one of the genre's leading figures, Lainey Wilson - who, incidentally, is no relation - decided to join her on ‘Praying Woman’ undoubtedly confirmed she was making the right call to venture into this space.

She touches on the validation this high-profile co-sign brought, “We had been friends before. But as we got to work on the song together and seeing her passion behind it and her belief, it was inspiring, just going, ‘We can link arms and go on this journey together, put the song out there and see where it goes’. It definitely reassured me that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing in the right genre”.

REBEL is unquestionably country, but it's also unquestionably authentic to Anne Wilson. There are elements that would fit neatly onto her first album, My Jesus, while there are also striking, shapeshifting moments where she showcases her growth in the years since she stormed onto the scene with her debut single in 2021.

Rather than being a dramatic left-turn, REBEL is a bold, triumphant step forward on Anne Wilson's unstoppable journey into the upper echelon of country music.

In addition, Anne Wilson discussed her dream collaborations, Morgan Wallen's influence on REBEL, her book, My Jesus: From Heartache to Hope, and more:

On REBEL being influenced by Morgan Wallen, Lainey Wilson and more:

“It was always half country and half Christian in the car with my parents. The radio was always on, so my brother and I grew up on both and I love both equally. In terms of the influences on REBEL, Morgan Wallen was the biggest one. I love his music and he's been really inspiring, just in writing songs that feel authentic to me. Lainey Wilson too, I love her, as well as Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. I grew up on them and like they've been huge influences on both records”.

On her book, My Jesus: From Heartache to Hope:

“I struggle with that fine line of how much of myself I put out there. But I think for me, it's a case of realising that if I'm faking this, then people aren't going to believe it. I've got to be vulnerable and real. I've tried to do that with both my book-writing and my songwriting. Just being who I am and standing firm in that. I can see where the music goes and where the book goes, but I can't change who I am”.

On having fun while recording:

“It was one of the most life-giving experiences. It felt like I was in a therapy session every day. Some days were really happy, then some were really sad. I felt free. On the last record, I felt like I was in this box that I had to fit into. With this record, I felt like I could just be who I am, and the songs will fit on whatever genre playlists they want to”.

On the freedom of branching out into country:

“I didn't have to fit into this box of Christian Contemporary music. I love that genre, and that still influences a lot of the songs on the record. But it's about being able to also write songs like ‘Milestones’ or a song about Kentucky - writing about things that I wouldn't have been able to cover as much if I had stayed in CCM”.

On making her album accessible to everyone:

“I knew the songs would find their place. There are some songs on there that are for the person that doesn't have faith, or that doesn't believe in a higher being, but that can still relate to the song. That was the goal - to reach the world. There are some songs that are less faith-based. There's a chance it can reach people that maybe don't have faith at all, and they listen to the songs and maybe a seed is planted for their faith that will continue to grow into something bigger. Ultimately, my goal is for people to find faith, joy, hope and love on REBEL”.

On the prospect of a UK tour:

“You have no idea how badly I want to get over to the UK! We are really working hard for next year and trying to find a window of time we can come and connect with fans. I've never been out of the States before. I'm dying to go and travel”.

On her dream collaborations:

“I got my dreams on this record with the collaborations. But other than those - Dolly Parton. If that happens, I would just be like, ‘Okay, I'm good - I can go to Heaven now...!’”

On writing ‘Country Gold’:

“We were just reflecting on life and growing up in a small town in Kentucky. But for the people listening, it's whatever that looks like in your own life. ‘Country Gold’ is about the value of simple, slow country living and appreciating time with family and friends, and valuing that over other things. Getting back to ‘the good stuff’ - faith, family, friends and God. We really wanted a feature, and we immediately thought Jordan Davis would sound amazing on it. Having Jordan be a part of it is awesome. His voice sounds so good on the song. It's one of my favourite on the album”.

For more on Anne Wilson, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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