But now they’re inextricably linked on “wait in the truck,” a dramatic story song that is generating whispers as a potential award-winner just weeks after its official release.
“Lainey’s truly like a sister to me,” HARDY says. “And she’s killing it.”
That’s an ironic choice of words, given that “wait in the truck” is a murder ballad — rare in the genre’s modern era. Before the four-and-half-minute plot concludes, the listener discovers the male protagonist is five years into a lengthy sentence that was doled out for killing an abuser. It’s built on a simple, dark guitar part and enhanced in its final minute by a gospel choir pleading for mercy.
“You rarely hear songs like this that bring light to heavy situations that people are really scared to talk about,” says Wilson. “I feel, in my heart, that our job is to sing about the things that people are afraid to talk about. It’s a song that definitely starts a conversation.”
It’s also a song that started from a conversation. HARDY and songwriter Hunter Phelps (“Holy Water,” “Thinking ’Bout You”) were contemplating what they might do if someone attacked their fiancées. HARDY casually mentioned that he would get his girlfriend, Caleigh Ryan, to direct him to the attacker’s house, then tell her to wait in the truck.
“We just kind of laughed,” HARDY recalls. “And then we had that songwriter moment where we looked at each other and we were like, ‘Oh shit. “wait in the truck” is a good song title.’ ”
On March 18, 2021, they worked it up at the home studio of songwriter Jordan M. Schmidt (“Like I Love Country Music,” “God’s Country”). HARDY picked out a spare acoustic guitar pattern, and they started writing from the opening line, uncertain where the plot might take them. They used “Ol’ Red” as faint inspiration, knowing its Southern sound and penitentiary setting mirrored the tone of the song they expected to develop.
“It seems like the story songs always have a criminal character,” notes Phelps. “All my favorite ones do.”
The plot revealed itself as they proceeded. They devoted two eight-line verses to the small-town setting and the discovery of a battered woman at the side of the road before they ever got to the chorus. But they grew uneasy as they worked toward that “wait in the truck” hook.
“How do you [say] that in a non-chauvinistic way?” Schmidt asks. “So we kind of started kicking around the idea of like, ‘What if she’s telling the story in that part? What if it’s her relaying that whole story of how it came to be that she heard the words “wait in the truck”?’ That, to me, kind of softened the blow.”
She signals her appreciation for her rescuer at the outset of that chorus — “I don’t know if he’s an angel” — and she foreshadows the crime by referencing “a Judge from under a seat.” (Taurus manufactures a magnum revolver called The Judge.) In verse three, as she waits in the truck, the driver confronts the abuser at his double-wide trailer, and when the guy goes for his shotgun, shots are fired from the Judge.
“I don’t think we wanted it to be like, ‘This guy’s just impulsive and kind of an idiot,’” says Schmidt. “We wanted to give him a redeeming quality — and that’s where it’s like, ‘Well, his life was being threatened as well when the guy reached for a shotgun.’ ”
The protagonist subsequently waits for the police to arrive while smoking one of his victim’s cigarettes. The writers did a short “Have mercy on me” bridge to set up the final verse, which finds the driver rotting in a prison cell, 60 months into a sentence of uncertain length. “’Sixty months’ sang really good,” Phelps says, explaining that part of the outcome. “And it makes the end of the song cooler, because it has been some time.”
They knew, even as they wrote it, that they had something special, and they wanted to complete a demo that night and put out a request for a female singer. Schmidt finished it at his studio with numerous special touches, including an artificial siren that arrives at the end of verse three. He also enlisted his fiancée, singer-songwriter Renee Blair, to provide the demo’s female voice. In addition to the assigned part, she added a rolling “Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy” vamp on the back end. That symbolic cry provides the emotional punch to “truck,” which otherwise relies on narrative drama for its impact.
“The gentleman in the song that was abusive to the woman, he would probably not stop there,” says Blair, who grew up in a violent home. “People like that tend to have a repeated pattern of inflicting that kind of pain onto many others, so I think it’s like, ‘Have mercy on me for ending someone’s life that is potentially ruining many lives.’ ”
When HARDY and Ryan heard the demo that night, he was stunned at the results. He offered Blair co-writing credit for providing such an essential section. “After the song was over, I just started weeping,” HARDY says. “Caleigh was crying, too. And I couldn’t explain why — I just knew the song had so much power behind it.”
Producer Joey Moi (Morgan Wallen, Jake Owen) got a copy that night, too, and recognized on first listen that it was significant. “When somebody’s had the guts to write something completely alternative and also make it sound completely mainstream at the same time, it’s a unicorn-type song,” says Moi.
Moi used some of the parts from Schmidt’s demo, including the artificial siren, while rerecording the primary instruments at Nashville’s Ocean Way with guitarist/co-producer Derek Wells, guitarist Ilya Toshinsky, drummer Jerry Roe, bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas and keyboardist Dave Cohen.
They gave the female part to Wilson because she had intrigued them from the start. HARDY swung by Big Loud when she sang her vocals, providing reassurance as she got into character. “We really have this kindred-spirit, brother-sister connection that we would fight for each other,” Wilson says. “And that’s really what this whole thing is about.”
Before the production was over, session keyboardist Charlie Judge recommended that Moi hit up Jason Eskridge for a gospel choir. Eskridge retained three singers and stacked up multiple voices and harmonies during an off-day from his work as a backing vocalist on Lyle Lovett’s tour. Moi asked for as much wailing as seemed appropriate — and each vocalist, as well as HARDY and Wilson, has moments before the one-minute closing vamp is over.
Big Loud released “wait in the truck” to country radio via PlayMPE on Aug. 25, even though its four-minute, 38-second length and dark storyline are not what broadcasters typically request. “The way that it goes against the grain is its strength,” reasons Moi. “If it [works], it can be iconic.”
The artists and the writers are getting mostly positive feedback from the public, bolstering Moi’s sentiment. “Just because people don’t talk about it often doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen often,” Blair says. “And that’s where sometimes our responsibility as songwriters can be so powerful to convey the truth.”
HARDY performed it live for the first time on Aug. 26 in Rogers, Ark. Just two days later, an entire club in Madison, Wis., knew all the words. He and Wilson sang it together in concert for the first time on Sept. 3 at the Seven Peaks Festival in Colorado.
“People need to hear that song,” says HARDY. “And that’s pretty much it.”