At first glance, country singer-songwriter Jaime Wyatt might evoke a few assumptions. With long dark hair, heavy eye makeup, and a never-ending series of custom-made, androgynous-looking western suits, and a catalogue of songs with titles like “Sweet Mess” and “Rattlesnake Girl,” it’d be easy to guess she’s just a cowgirl wannabe. But even a single page of Wyatt’s tumultuous history will convince you her lyrics are anything but fiction and her style is a reflection of an identity that took her a long time to not only fully come to terms with herself, but feel ready to share with the world. Shaped by a series of big triumphs and devastating lows, Wyatt tells the kinds of poignant, heavy-weighted stories that would fit right in with those of her genre’s forebearers.
Country music is studded with outlaw imagery—to the point that “outlaw country” emerged as a genre of its own. While its icons like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash built careers around identities as lawless free-wheelers with nothing but contempt for The Man, Kristofferson was never arrested, Jennings had his only charges thrown out due to a bureaucratic error, and Cash, though arrested seven times, never spent more than a single night in jail at a time. Wyatt, however, has the bona-fide life experience to back up the image she paints of herself through her lyrics—one of an ever-wandering, ever-seeking woman whose experiences with addiction, grief, incarceration, isolation, and love have taught her to embrace the mess of her own life.
Wyatt’s story as a working musician starts when she was only a teenager. At age seventeen, she was offered a deal with Los Angeles-based Lakeshore Records, which prompted her to relocate from her home on a small, rural island near Tacoma, Washington to San Francisco to live with her older sister and make the six-hour drive down to L.A. as needed. She quickly became a buzzed-about rising star, but this meteoric rise coincided with the climax of an addiction problem she’d been struggling with throughout her adolescence. What began as beers in the woods with friends turned into regularly overdosing on heroin. At twenty years old, she robbed her drug dealer, which resulted in an eight-month stint at an L.A. jail. This experience halted her career, but also (albeit by court order) led her to sobriety, which, aside from one relapse, she has maintained. And she attributes that relapse to a deep-seated shame around a part of her identity she has since come to terms with—a queer sexuality.
While tumultuous, those experiences and the growth they afforded can be heard across Wyatt’s discography. Her 2017 debut, Felony Blues, garnered a fervent buzz in the world of country, with its raw depictions of Wyatt’s stories and feelings. Her sophomore release, Neon Cross, expounds upon the scenes and themes introduced in Felony Blues, but between the release of the two records, Wyatt publicly came out. This leap of faith is mirrored in her new approach to her career. As she told The Ties That Bind Us, “With Felony Blues, I really tried to change myself and shape myself, and even the recordings were packaged to filter a lot of that so I could be accepted in mainstream country. When that didn’t happen, I just said, ‘Fuck it—they’re going to alienate me either way, so I’m just going to be my whole, true self and put it all out there. The vocals are going to be more raw, and I’m going to try and make a record that sounds like the emotional desperation I’ve felt for a lot of years.’”
And Neon Cross does just that. Despite all of Wyatt’s growth, she doesn’t pretend to be a completely healed, nor perfect person nowadays. She acknowledges that even if she’s learned to manage them in healthier ways, the demons that drove her to drugs, booze, and jail are still there, as evidenced by her choice to cover Dax Riggs’ 2007 track, “Demon Tied to a Chair in my Brain.” The song’s lyrics sound as though they could have been penned by Wyatt herself, with lines like, “Mad shriekin’ woman weepin’ my name / My skeleton is meltin’ / My soul is in flames / Demon tied to a chair in my brain.”
Unafraid to take a stark look at herself and, to put it bluntly, call herself on her bullshit, Wyatt’s greatest strength as a songwriter is her authenticity. Following the death of both her best friend and father, neither of which she could attend to because she was too “loaded,” she wrote “By Your Side:” “Matches and sugarcane / I can’t recognize what we became / Who was I lying next to you / When the gates open up below? / By your side / Oh how I tried, and lied / I’ll never stop givin’ up, givin’ up on you.” And yet, laced through these gritty scenes is a thread of hope, as in “Make Something Outta Me,” in which she sings, bittersweetly, “So if life ever works out like a movie / And if time isn’t really real at all / But if God made a world out of nothing / Why can’t he make something outta me?”
Capturing the essence of outlaw country in a fresh way, Wyatt’s first two records are certainly worth a listen and she’ll be one to keep your eye on. To see her live in Columbia, MO, get your passes to Roots N Blues Festival, where she’ll take the stage on Friday, October 7th. Purchase here: https://www.frontgatetickets.com/festivals/roots-n-blues-festival/