The Wrights — Adam and Shannon — take the call for this interview on a borrowed cell phone at the Relax Inn in New Cumberland, Pa. Later that day, the married duo will open a show for Alan Jackson and Sara Evans in nearby Hershey.
The object of this particular conversation, however, is to talk about their lives leading up to the recent release of their album, Down This Road. In tandem or individually, the Wrights wrote every song on the album — a feat that enabled them to showcase their musical eclecticism, as well as a burst of gorgeous vocal harmonies.
First, though, we have to get the obligatory Alan Jackson questions out of the way. Jackson is Wright’s uncle. He gave them an opening slot on his 2003 tour, he’s recorded a couple of their songs, and the duo’s album is released on ACR Records, a label Jackson recently launched in conjunction with RCA.
Now 29, Adam was just a kid when Jackson made his country breakthrough in 1989. But he remembers it well.
“Oh, I was aware,” he says. “I’d seen him play before — like at the local municipal auditorium. I knew he had a record deal. … But the first time it really connected, I guess, was when I was probably 12 or 13 and we went to the [Grand Ole] Opry and saw him play. We went, ’Wow. This is for real.’ It was a really neat thing, watching all that happen.”
Adam and Shannon, 31, met and began performing together in 1998. Each was already immersed in music and looking to turn it into a career.
“I don’t know that I would call myself a professional before Shannon and I began working together,” Adam reflects. “I played a million little bars and clubs with friends — in various configurations and by myself — and I wrote a lot of songs. I was definitely out there working. It just didn’t feel like [it was] a professional thing. I always had day jobs to support the habit. [I played] whatever was called for, whatever people wanted to hear — a lot of original stuff and a lot of covers, too, like classic rock and blues and old country.”
Shannon Tanner graduated from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.
“I finished up there right before I met Adam,” she recalls. “I had always been a singer since I was a little girl, but it wasn’t until the end of college that I thought about getting into the music business for real. I decided I was going to move to Atlanta. I’d learned my basic guitar chords and a bunch of songs and decided I was going to play out [in public]. I had just started doing that — probably for about six months — and that’s when I met Adam.”
For a time, Wright and Tanner sang and played with a highly regarded local band called Heritage Cherry. They also wrote and recorded an album of duets, and Adam cut a solo collection called My Love. In 2002, they married and moved to Nashville — within the same week.
“We did a lot of clubs — songwriters’ nights — playing out and trying to meet people,” says Adam of those first days in Music City. Within three weeks of his arrival, he was offered a publishing deal.
“He didn’t take it,” Shannon points out, “but it was kind of exciting that he was offered a deal so fast. … We came to town and went to a bunch of shows — as well as played a bunch of shows — and just got knocked out by the caliber of talent in Nashville. We just wanted to focus on getting better. That’s what we were doing.”
While they were polishing their act, Jackson would occasionally invite them to open one of his concerts.
“The first big show we did with him — we weren’t on tour with him, we’d just do shows as he had room for us — was at Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta,” Shannon says. “It was really scary. I wanted to throw up.” Adds Adam, “We were terrified.”
Jackson kept an eye on their songwriting, too.
“He always asked us to send him stuff,” says Shannon. Last year, he picked two of their songs, “Strong Enough” and “If Love Was a River,” for his What I Do album. “I don’t think we ever pitched him anything for a project prior to that,” Adam says. About half the songs on Down This Road, he estimates, were written two or three years ago and the other half just before or during the recording.
The Wrights picked Keith Stegall, Jackson’s longtime producer, to co-produce their new album. Besides the pure country sounds, there are also some discernible touches of jazz, notably in “On the Rocks” and “You’re in Georgia Now,” both of which Adam wrote by himself. “Adam is a jazz nut,” Shannon reports. “I don’t know that I’d say I play [jazz],” Adam responds. “I play at it. But I love it, and I listen to as much of it as I can handle.”
After releasing the album’s title track as their first single and music video, the Wrights continue to tour with Jackson and are scheduled to perform at the CMA Music Festival on June 10 at the Riverfront Park stage in downtown Nashville.