Country Next: Nick Wayne

Nick Wayne; Photo by Seiji
Nick Wayne; Photo by Seiji
Nick Wayne; Photo by Seiji
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Nick Wayne.

Rising country singer/songwriter Nick Wayne grew up in close range of  Nashville’s Lower Broadway. And, although his parents helped him develop a solid musical foundation early on, it wasn’t until he reached adulthood that he decided to get serious with his career in country music. 

Wayne’s first body of work came in 2018 with the impressive release of Two Sides. The two-song collection includes the captivating, “How Do I Get Close,” and the romantic “If You Ever Wanna.” Wayne followed that up with the 2019 release of projects Coffee Black and Bourbon Neat, which finds him sharing three sets of songs under two distinct themes. 

Wayne, who crafts his songs carefully by paying extra attention to minor details, dropped tracks from both Coffee Black and Bourbon Neat, throughout 2019 leading into the first few months of 2020. Within that time frame, he also released a cover of JP Saxe and Julia Michaels’ “If The World Was Ending.” Wayne’s acoustic collaboration of the song, which features vocals by his new fianceé Hannah Ellis, was a huge success, racking up over 5 million views (and counting!) on YouTube.

Now, out with his new EP entitled, American Original, it’s no doubt Wayne continues to raise the bar. His project, inspired by his previous experience at the 2019 Stagecoach Festival, consists of three high-energy tracks, including the anthemic title cut, rollicking “Just Gettin Started,” and tongue-in-cheek “Hang On, My Wife’s Calling.” 

Wayne, who has previously shared the stage with artists like Maren Morris, Devin Dawson, Levi Hummon, and more, recently spent time with Country Now to talk about his upbringing, his collaborative cover of “If The World Was Ending,” and his American Original EP. Continue reading to learn more about Nick Wayne. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a country singer?    

No, I did not. Growing up, I played baseball and got into that. But, my dad bought me a little red guitar and an amplifier, and when I was 9-years-old, I wanted to play electric guitar. So, I took lessons for six months. Then, I put the guitar down and played baseball, fished, and hunted. I didn’t pick up the guitar again, until [I started hanging out with] a friend on the baseball team. His family was in the music industry, so I was around it again at like 16 years old. At that time, though, I thought it was too late to start back up because I’m from Nashville, and you see all these young prodigies coming up. So, I didn’t make that decision until I was about 19. I was like, ‘I want to do this. I feel so called to do this.’ It was a path that my parents didn’t force on me, but they were like, ‘Let’s see where it goes.’ So, it sounds weird to say now, 19 years old is not late, but when you’re born in Nashville, it feels like it is. 

Did your parents help shape your love of music growing up, and did they help influence your sound? 

Yes, they did, but it was also a natural thing because I believe anything you consume is what’s going to come out of you. My dad was a hairband and rock guy. He would listen to southern rock music, like Molly Hatchet and Guns N’ Roses. So we would listen to those records. Then, my mom liked Steve Wariner. She lent me my first secular CD because we listened to so much Christian music. The first CD that wasn’t Christian that she let me put in my CD player was Boyz II Men’s Evolution when I was 10 years old. I have to imagine I listened to that record for two years straight. It was the only thing that I wanted to listen to that wasn’t Christian music. And, I enjoy Christian music, but to me, genres are all the same. Also, I was already naturally attracted to it too. So I don’t know how to make sense of music, really, but I think that’s the beauty of it. I probably did sharpen a natural gene in me as far as soul and country music goes. But, I’m from the country, and I live downtown, so I’m like a cultured country person, sonically and things like that. Also, I’m trying to be creatively commercial, and I think that’s what I do naturally.

Was it easier to navigate the music business since you were born in Nashville? 

I think a leg up would be understanding that there is a music industry here. A lot of people come here and think everybody’s an artist. They don’t know that songwriting can be a career. That was something I understood because my mom wrote a Gospel record. So I think being exposed to that creativity helped me realize there are multiple avenues here for people to dive into. I don’t know that anyone gets a leg up, though. Typically, if you’re from Nashville, it could hurt you in many ways. [As a local], people know you when you’re young. So, I always say, ‘Imagine pursuing your dreams in your home town. It feels harder. You’re with your insecurities, and all your peers are going to watch you either fail or succeed.’ I stayed in my hometown to pursue my dreams. So, sometimes taking a leap of faith isn’t taking a leap at all. That’s what I did. I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to move anywhere. I’m going to do it right here.’ 

Who are some of your biggest musical influences? 

Bill Withers is always a go-to for me because of his songwriting and how incredibly honest he was. I feel like I can relate to him as a songwriter because that’s how I try to be. In Nashville, we have this community of songwriters where we listen to all of our music that’s unreleased. A lot of the time, I’ll listen to my friends and peers’ stuff, and I’ll get inspired. I’ve also been listening to this NF rapper (Nathan John Feuerstein), and his record called The Search. I love his record and the way he comes across on it. He says what he feels but also puts genius behind it. If you’re a person that feels that emotion at that moment, it has to be relieving to hear the words you don’t know how to say when someone else can say them.  So, I’ve been listening to that and anyone that can do that because I get shaken by music in that way. 

You recently released your single, ‘American Original.’ Can you tell us the inspiration behind that song? 

I went to Stagecoach Festival last year, and I was opening for Devin Dawson on his California Smoke Tour, where he was fundraising for all the California wildfires. I got to be a fan for a day and hang out and run around the grounds. He was opening the Main Stage at 7:00 p.m. There were like 40,000 people there, and it was so fun! I was up in the front, watching the sun going down, and Kane Brown, and Luke Bryan, and all of these artists were performing. All of our friends were there. So, we’re singing along to all of these songs, and looking out, and it’s like, ‘What more could you want?’ It’s like, the California sunset is gorgeous, everybody’s having fun and in this drinking beer mood. As an artist, you always imagine yourself in places that keep the dream and hope alive. I was having so much fun and looking up at the microphone, and I was like, ‘Man. If I were standing behind that and seeing all the crowd, what would I say? I was like, ‘I want to go back and write about that. I want to create an EP of that.’ So as soon as I got home, I started writing song after song after song, just remembering that feeling and that moment to put this EP together. 

How many songs did you write for the EP? 

I probably wrote for two weeks. I typically write four to five times a week with co-writers. And, I probably wrote eight to 10 songs that were those, kind of, I hate to even say show openers, but fun energetic, summertime, appropriate Stagecoach Amphitheatre-type of songs. 

Having been inspired by Stagecoach Festival, and now being unable to tour due to COVID-19, does that collection of songs hit a little bit more for you? 

I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. I mean, it either goes one way or the other. The projected release for the record was April 24, the first day of Stagecoach Festival, to make sure fans would understand the story behind the inspiration and all that kind of stuff. And, of course, it cancels. Then the whole world’s canceling [because of COVID-19], and it’s still going on right now. So, at a certain point, my manager was like, ‘Hey, let’s move forward with this. We still have some fall dates in small clubs, and they’re saying we should be good. And we’ll work toward our little headlining thing through the Southeast.’ And we were like, ‘Man, it’s time to release something fun or easy, you know?’ I think music is a beautiful thing to preach a little bit or speak for the people, but sometimes people go to music to get away from things because it’s entertainment, so I was like, ‘This is needed. If people want to relax, because you can go boat safely, and you can do all these things, I think it’s going to be cool. Also, a record like that never really has a date to it because it’s not specifically about a time period, it’s about a present time. 

Can you tell me more about the song ‘Hang On, My Wife’s Calling?’

I was planning on getting engaged, and this was last summer or fall. Anyway, people take me so seriously, and probably rightfully so. I don’t show a ton of emotion. But, I love to have fun and be happy and relieve seriousness at times, so I was like, ‘I want to show this side of me.’ That’s why we did the ‘Til the Wine’s All Gone’ video the way we did. It was funny and goofy. But, I watched two or three guys on the same day be like, ‘Wait, hang on. My wife’s calling’ in mid-conversation. So, it’s just an understanding [among men]. It’s like, ‘Oh, he has to take that call no matter what we’re in the middle of talking about, and he’ll come back when he’s done.’ It’s just understood that you‘re not going to silence that call. It’s not worth it. So, I tried all week to get someone to write that with me. In all my writes, everyone would say, ‘No.’ That’s something in co-writing where you all have to agree on something and go for it. So, the two guys I wrote it with, Mark Trussel and Jason Massey, I was like, ‘Guys, I have this idea and I’ve been shut down all week, but I’m telling you, I want to sing a few things to you.’ They loved it, and so we ran with it. It was so fun, and everybody can relate to it. 

You recently got engaged to your girlfriend, Hannah Ellis. Can you tell us the story of how you proposed? 

Before all this craziness started, I went and asked her parents in early February 2020. They live in Kentucky, so I drove up there while she was in Amsterdam on a writing trip. I found the ring and bought it, and I planned on proposing to her either in mid-April or on May 1. Then, in March, the whole world shut down, and I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ But, I don’t panic. I feel like I’ve learned to understand that you can’t worry about things that are out of your control; you can only worry about what’s in your control. So I was like, ‘Alright, we’ll just see how this goes.’  I got down on one knee on June 7, and the protests were like the weekend before that. So everything lightened up enough to do that. And, we do Sunday walks to the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville. We both live downtown, and we live across the hall from each other, and that’s how we met. We’ve been doing those walks for about four years, and we’ve been dating for six years. So, we just did it, and I had her family come in and surprise her after I dropped to one knee. So, it was amazing! It turned out great, and I’m glad we have memories like that in 2020.

You and your fianceé collaborated on a remake of Julia Michaels and JP Saxe’s ‘If The World Was Ending.’ Why did you choose to record that song, and how did you feel when it collected millions of streams? 

There was no real thought behind it of success. What happened was, JP Saxe and Julia Michaels released the song. Hannah played it for me, and she was going like, ‘Man, this is amazing.’ I listened to it too, but I must’ve been busy with my thoughts or something and making coffee, because I was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of cool.’ Devin Dawson texted me the next day while Hannah and I were doing a video shoot for a song that we wrote with one of our friends called, ‘Never In Love.’ The guy that was shooting the video was a friend of ours who does “The Acoustic Room” on YouTube. He had been doing these cover songs with friends, and was like, ‘This guy reminds me so much of you. Check out his music.’ So I’m like, ‘Alright.’ Laurel Kittleson, who is Hannah’s A&R person at Curb [Records], was also like, ‘You and Nick need to sing this song.’ So, the song had been out for maybe 24-48 hours, and we were like ‘Gosh, maybe we should do this.’ We were getting texts from so many people saying we should do it. At that point, it wasn’t even a hit song. Typically, when you do covers it’s top radio hits, where the cover comes up in a search bar. So we were like, ‘Let’s do it.’

Hannah and I recorded the song, and our version came out on Dec. 10. It floated around Music Row and social media fast, and we were like, ‘Man, this is hysterical!’ Then YouTube started jumping off, and it was like getting 100 thousand views a day over Christmas break going into New Years. Then Bobby Bones emailed us, and his producer asked us to go on the show and sing a song, so we did that in January. Meanwhile, the song is just flying. Julia Michaels and JP Saxe released an acoustic version too, and it still hasn’t gotten that kind of traction. A Lot of people thought it was our song on TikTok. It’s not our song. But, it’s been fun to see people moved by something that you can’t explain. 

Was ‘If The World Was Ending’ your first collaboration together? 

We write together all the time. We wrote my song, ‘How Do I Get Close,’  together, and she’s singing on there with me. We also wrote one of her songs, ‘Home and a Hometown’ together. We always collaborate but never release our songs under both of our names. So that was our first time creating an acoustic video together. 

Can fans expect to see the two of you do more collaborations together?

I think eventually for sure, like an actual original song, but I always tell people that we do stuff together. A lot of people, I don’t know how they do it, but I can understand wanting to stay out of the frustration of sharing your art with the person you date. We try to break through those barriers and do it all together. So, I always say, ‘Yes. We do collaborate, but we release our music under two separate businesses.’

What are you doing to stay busy in quarantine, and what does the rest of 2020 look like for you? 

I’m still writing a bunch. We do a lot of Zoom writing sessions, and then I write in-person with people who feel comfortable enough to do that. I also play golf. I love golfing, and I started something called Thursday Golf Club. So, basically, I’m walking 9 holes in this Metro golf course here. Golf is a safe game to play during these times, and we’ve gotten up to 20 guys at a time with people wanting to get out and walk and feel good. Then, I also started this Bourbon Neat live event, where I’ve been linking with Bourbon Distilleries on Instagram to do a live show. Then, I’ve been working with Hannah. She’s working on her record, and we also recently got engaged. So we’re keeping busy. 

Fans can keep up with Nick Wayne on Instagram.

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