Lainey Wilson doesn't necessarily believe in reincarnation, but she most certainly feels older than her years -- as though she was "born in the wrong time." From her wardrobe to the family antiques that decorate her house, and especially to her music, the self-described "bell-bottom country" artist is a sucker for the stories that come with age.

"I just feel like it's got something to say," Wilson explains of her various vintage wares -- for example, the silky shirt with large bands of brown, gold and robin's egg blue she donned for our video interview.

"I don't know who [previously] wore this thing. I don't know the story behind it," she says, "but I know that it's got one. And that's, I think, what draws me to it."

Growing up in small-town Louisiana, Wilson learned to appreciate a good family story -- the sort that get more detailed and inflated the more times they're repeated -- and she, too, has plenty of attention-grabbing stories to tell: about how, when her family drove through Nashville when she was nine years old, she proclaimed the city to be her home. About how, at the same age, she wrote her first song, a Britney Spears-inspired number called "Lucky Me," which she'll still eagerly sing to you (it's got potential). About her high school days as a Hannah Montana impersonator and her early days in Music City, when she lived in a camper parked on a family friend's land.

Twelve of Wilson's best vignettes create her debut album, Sayin' What I'm Thinkin', released on Friday (Feb. 19). The Jay Joyce-produced project covers love ("Rolling Stone"), lust ("Dirty Looks") and heartbreak ("Things a Man Oughta Know"); generational wisdom ("WWDD"); and rowdy nights ("Straight Up Sideways") and hungover mornings ("Sunday Best") with noteworthy candor, over melodies that range from mournful country to Elton John-esque retro rock.

"We chose every song on the record based off of: Is it saying what I'm thinking?" Wilson shares, noting that the title track's sentiment served as a "really good guidepost" when selecting songs for the record. "Before we cut [each song], we had asked ourselves the question ... because I feel like I've been pretty much saying what I'm thinking my whole life, and why stop now."

Before Wilson and Joyce went into the studio together, the artist and the producer got to know each other as friends. She'd been told he might be intimidating, maybe a little scary, but they got on famously pretty quickly.

"Jay is -- he's a character. He's got these two 150-pound great danes just walking around his studio, and his studio is this old, renovated church," Wilson details. "The first time I went over there, he literally opened up the church door and he was just smoking on a cigarette, right there in the middle of church. And I'm like, 'You're my person.'"

It wasn't until three hangouts in that Joyce handed Wilson a guitar and asked to hear her music. "We created a friendship [first]," she reflects.

"First of all, I think we were trying to figure out whether or not we could stand each other," Wilson says with a laugh. "And then, he wanted to see if he, you know, could bring my music to life in a cool way."

Joyce's style is to aim for greatness rather than perfection.

"He's a mad scientist," Wilson gushes, recalling how he'd bump up on the musicians' instruments "just to get them out of tune, because he don't want it to be perfect."

"And I think that's why it worked, because I'm not trying to be perfect either," Wilson continues, "and we just -- you know, we were on the same page with that."

Wilson co-wrote with Jonathan Singleton, Jordan Schmidt, Casey Beathard and more for Sayin' What I'm Thinkin', but two songwriters' names in particular stand out, as they and Wilson share an ethos. Fellow rising artist Hannah Dasher, whom Wilson describes as another old soul, is a co-writer on the grooving "LA," a tribute to Wilson's home state and the very first song she cut for the album.

"She can pull it out of you," Wilson says in praising Dasher. "There's nobody like Hannah -- nobody. I mean, she is absolutely one of a kind."

Then there's Luke Dick, the award-winning country songwriter who's also a filmmaker and new wave bandleader. "He's just got a vibe about him," Wilson says, recounting how, when they met up for their first writing session at Dick's home garage studio, he greeted her with a lit pipe in hand.

"I thought to myself, 'Man, this guy's unapologetically himself.' And I love surrounding myself with people who know who they are and they don't give a s--t if you like them or not," Wilson admits. "Those are just my kind of people. And I knew right then and there, I was like, 'We're gonna get us a good song.'"

"Pipe," the song Dick and Wilson co-wrote with John Pierce, plays off the phrase "Put that in your pipe and smoke it." Rather than co-opt the cliche entirely, they wrote a "redneck rulebook," as Wilson describes it, with a chorus tagline of "Put a little y'all in your pipe and smoke it."

"Every day, you're just trying to think of a way to say [something] in a different way ... And that's the fun part about songwriting," Wilson muses of her chosen profession. "You're just trying to put it together and say it in a way that nobody's ever said it -- and sometimes you nail it, sometimes you don't."

sayin what i'm thinkin
Broken Bow Records

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