When Lainey Wilson won the ACM Award for Best New Female Artist, nobody was really surprised. But when the 29-year-old Baskin, Louisiana-born artist’s #1 single, “Things a Man Ought to Know,” was announced as Song of the Year, everything stopped—“and I blacked out,” she recalls.

This plainspoken song about self-respect and how to treat others established a harder take on modern country. Like Carly Pearce, who won Female Vocalist, Wilson’s wins speak to a real hunger among fans and the Nashville industry for actual country music.

With “Heart Like a Truck,” another unlikely-for-a-woman metaphor, Wilson continues her forthright approach to making one’s way through life’s turbulence with dignity in spite of circumstances. She knows it’s not always easy, but that’s what fires her up.

This has been some year.
Girl! Zero to 100 real quick. But I’m glad it’s 100.

You’re truly country.
I’m a downhome girl, and I’ll always be one. We grew corn, wheat and soybeans.

Literally the farmer’s daughter?
I was on a horse before I could walk. My sister and I were PRCA Rodeo flag girls; we ran barrels, did 4-H stuff. I’m definitely a product of how I was raised—from a blue-collar community where people took a lot of pride in how hard they worked.

You know, tornadoes come through, wipe it all away and it’s gone. But you get up and do it anyway, ’cause you love it. It’s about planting seeds, watering ’em and taking care of ’em.

You wanted to be a country singer.
I knew at nine years old. I was in the backseat on I-40—we’d gone to Dollywood—just staring at the “Batman building”, and I said, “This is home.” My mom turned around and said, “What?!”

Couple weeks later, I wrote my first song. It was called “Lucky Me.” I didn’t even write it down; figured if I couldn’t remember it, it wasn’t good enough. I went and told Mama, “I wrote my first song.”

Country music in my area of just 200 people was a way of life. We eat, sleep and breathe country. It’s not a genre.

“Things a Man Ought to Know” is an interesting turn on manning up.
It’s hard to tell a story without too many details, but it’s really a song about treating people right, how you ought to do. It’s also about having good character and the Golden Rule; never “Look at what you did.” Across the board—from little girls to old men—people really connected with the idea.

How did you react when you heard “Things” called for Song of the Year?
I blacked out. I had to go back and watch to see what I said when I woke up the next morning. It’s the most prestigious award I could’ve won, and I’d said I wouldn’t go to the awards until there was a reason to be there. Just being nominated was plenty. But this!

It feels like you.
I take pride in that. That’s the truth in the song, and if you listen to how I talk, it’s how I was raised. When a song comes to me, I let it come. Songwriting’s where this all started for me; I wouldn’t be here without it. You see why it’s so important to me.

You’ve come back with “Heart Like a Truck,” another unlikely metaphor for a woman.
It’s my journey to get here. ’Cause I’m a girl… I don’t know, maybe. But I want people to know it hasn’t been easy. That’s being real, putting it out there so people understand how this goes.

I’ve been to hell and back too. But that’s just part of it. Don’t be ashamed of your bumps and scratches. That shiny new truck on the lot doesn’t have a story to tell, hasn’t been anywhere. It’s pretty, but there’s nothing to it.

Who were you modeling yourself after?
Of course, Dolly Parton. Everything—beauty, kindness, talented writer, incredible businesswoman—inspires me. She tells it like it is with a little bow wrapped around it.

Lee Ann Womack was big. Tim McGraw grew up down the road from me, so I was thinking, “You can do this!” Seeing’s believing.

Just look.
Yup. That little nine-year-old girl who dreamed this dream? She knew in her heart she could make it come true. And she was right.

Now what?
I’m already “What’s next?” The Lord put this dream on my heart. We’re here to make history.