“This club I was working in was all windows, so I could see this guy in an Army-green shirt coming in with a backpack, a guitar and a mic stand,” she remembers. “He came in and started singing harmony, and I said, ‘OK, there is something special about this.’ I didn’t know exactly where it was going to go, or that it was going to last this long, but I knew there was something that I liked about the way our voices sounded together.”
“When we met, it was like a light switch came on in me,” says Adam, seated next to his wife on the couch in their publicist’s living room. “We were eaten up with each other.”
At first the relationship was a purely musical one, but that didn’t last long. They married in 2002 and moved to Nashville, the city where Adam’s uncle, country superstar Alan Jackson, had found his fortune a decade before. Since then, they’ve lived together, written songs together, sung together, played together, recorded together, toured together and generally spent more time in one another’s company than is advisable for any married couple,
“Since the day we met, that’s what we’ve been doing,” says Shannon. “I don’t know how it works. It just does. It’s what we’re used to.”
“It’s not for everybody,” Adam admits.
Typically, such familiarity is death to artistic chemistry between a man and woman—there’s no sexual tension, no sense of the exciting unknown. Somehow, The Wrights have reversed this equation. Their intertwining voices gave off sparks on their 2005 debut album, Down This Road, while their often thorny songs about the ups and downs of romance avoided the cliché of a married couple slobbering over one another through endless devotional ballads.
“The tension is probably real,” Adam says with a chuckle. “She’s a passionate person, and I can be sort of stubborn, so maybe there’s a natural tension there. We may just take out all our anger musically.”
The Wrights have reason to be at least a little angry about the course their musical career has taken since their debut was released. The two had signed to Jackson’s ACR imprint (that’s Alan’s Country Records, y’all), and recorded Down This Road independently. Then the album was picked up for national distribution by the RCA arm of the Sony BMG empire and...well, let’s just say it didn’t set the cash registers of America ringing.
RCA wanted more of a say in the making of the planned follow-up, and the label began setting up Adam and Shannon with Music Row songwriters. So far, so good. “They did introduce us to a lot of great writers,” Shannon says. “That was a good experience for us.” Not least among them was veteran tunesmith Paul Kennerley, who co-wrote three tracks on The Wrights and produced two (the other six were handled by Keith Stegall and John Kelton). “I’ll sing anything that Paul Kennerley writes, ever,” Shannon declares. “It’s the coolest sounding stuff.”
The label also suggested some outside songs the duo might consider recording—and that’s where the trouble began. “We heard a lot of songs that sounded like hits,” Adam says. “But it was like somebody saying, ‘Oh, you should wear this. This would look good on you.’ You put it on, look in the mirror and feel like an idiot. Some of it was kind of like that.”
“There are some amazing writers in this town, way better than I could ever be,” Shannon says. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the kind of song I should sing, or that I can pull it off well.”
The push and pull between artists and label went on—and on, and on, and on. “With the whole major-label thing, you’ve got to get the approval of everybody under the sun,” Shannon says. “It was a long process, and different for us because we had always done everything on our own.”
Finally, the duo parted ways with RCA. In most such cases the unreleased material would end up moldering in a vault, but The Wrights’ master recordings were owned by ACR. They were pleased with what they had recorded—and so was Jackson, who was suddenly their sole label head. (“We’re usually on the same page with him,” Adam says. “He usually likes what we like.”) Thus we have The Wrights, whose release the two will celebrate with their Tuesday show at the Mercy Lounge.
“That’s a really good reason to only record songs that you like and are proud of,” Adam notes. “No matter what situation you’re in at the time, that may change. We were pretty fortunate. It’s really cool that we got to take these songs and put them out.”
Among those songs is “You’re the Kind of Trouble,” written by Adam and Shannon with Kennerley and previously recorded by soul legend Solomon Burke on his 2006 Nashville album. There’s also “True Love is a Golden Ring,” penned by Jackson and Roger Murrah. The couple discovered the tune by accident: Jackson suggested they record a different song he had written, and the demo CD from his publishing company included a work-tape recording of “True Love” tacked onto the end. “We heard it and were like, ‘That’s the song we need to record,’ ” Shannon says. “It was a total mistake. That song could have been forgotten about forever.”
In the seemingly endless downtime while they waited for the label mess to be sorted out, a period Shannon describes as “soul-wrenching,” The Wrights busied themselves with touring, writing and recording dozens of songs in the basement studio at their house. Last summer they spent a week making an album of cover tunes. “After doing the major label merry-go-round thing, it was a passion project,” Adam says. “It was something that was really creative, with no agenda and no chance in the world that it would get on any radio station at all. We just wanted to do something creative, that we’re excited about.”
“We rented some old microphones, locked ourselves in our basement for seven days straight and recorded 21 songs,” Shannon explains. “Talk about spending time together.”
“When you do that and run ProTools at the same time, you know why people snap,” Adam says with a laugh. “That was pretty intense.”
They’re hoping to release the result, slimmed down to 10 tracks, as an album this summer. But if there’s any lesson Adam and Shannon Wright have taken from their experiences over the last three years, it’s that no plan is set in stone.
“We’ve tried to have goals before, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing—but you just have to be open to them changing,” Shannon says. “That’s what we’re trying to learn now.”
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