For Adam Mac, country music feels like home.
“When I sit down to create a song, it’s damn near impossible for me to not have country fused into the way that I write and the way that I sing,” says the boyish 33-year-old. “Because it is a part of who I am.”
A native of Russellville, a small town in Kentucky west of Bowling Green, with a population of about 7,000, Mac moved to Nashville eleven years ago to find his fortune, like so many do, in the music industry.
It was in Nashville that he also came to grips with his sexuality, forging ahead as a proudly out gay man in an industry that has not been historically warm to the LGBTQ community, though things are getting better, thanks to a recent deluge of major LGBTQ country artists like TJ Osborne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, and Fancy Hagood.
Mac’s first album, Horizon, was released in 2016. It didn’t catch on, which Mac attributes to his own hesitancy as a performer. Though he was out, he explains, he didn’t embrace being out as fully in his songwriting, and the songs feel as though they’re holding back.
That’s not the case with his sophomore effort, Disco Cowboy, an exuberant assortment of 16 cuts, released in May of this year. It’s a vastly more personal affair, finding Mac, through his songwriting, embracing his full authentic self, sharing his feelings, telling his sdtory, and, like the best country songwriting, wearing his heart on his western-fringed sleeve.
Disco Cowboy‘s songs — as well as their frequent, winking playfulness (the vibrant title cut is a tuneful pleasure that dives headfirst into dance-infused funk) — resonate with heartache, introspection, and potent, powerful triumphs. The album is a salute to love, visibility, and growth, powered by Mac’s raspy, frequently soaring tenor.
“Momma didn’t know what to do with a boy like me,” he sings on the tender, gospel-intoned “Boy Like Me.” “She was always so scared of what the church might see. She’s come a long way, yeah, she’s growing everyday. She’s the shining example for all these wooden pews full of mommas with a boy like me.”
“Disco Cowboy — the album and the song — were kind of born from the pandemic,” says Mac. “My boyfriend, Lee, and I, like everyone else in the world, were locked inside four walls and going crazy and really just wanted to go and dance. So we just re-fell in love with disco music.
“We would have disco parties, just the two of us, blasting Donna Summer. I knew coming out of that period of time when I started writing my album, that I had to infuse the innate joy of disco with the storytelling of country music — specifically queer southern stories.”
It might have been Mac’s shift to the more flamboyant side of queer performance that got him in a spot of controversy in October that led to a sudden, and encouraging, rise in his profile.
The artist was scheduled to headline the Logan County Tobacco and Heritage Festival in his hometown of Russellville on October 14. But organizers, fretting he might be promoting a “homosexual agenda” to a “family-friendly crowd,” requested Mac to mute his persona, to keep things toned down.
Things worsened when a local pastor and his church got wind of Mac’s appearance and threatened to protest the performance. Fearing violence — and offended at the lack of support from the festival organizers — Mac opted to pull out of the concert altogether, explaining his reasoning in an Instagram video that went viral.
Then, a remarkable thing happened. A majority of the town cried out over the cancellation. And major country stars, Brandy Clark and Maren Morris among them, loudly voiced their support for the young artist. Morris went as far as inviting Mac to open her show the following weekend in Chicago, which Mac now says “was incredible — probably the best show I’ve ever had.”
Mac, who, in conversation, is the epitome of congenial, country charm, says that the experience has been “the most making-lemonade of my life. We have just been saying that all week. It’s just been like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we are out here making lemonade from something that seemingly felt so disappointing and disheartening.'”
For his part, Mac is already devising album number three.
“I’m feeling inspired creatively,” he says. “There’s a lot to write about. I feel more energized to keep creating, to hopefully put out more music next year. Whereas normally I’ve taken long gaps in between putting out music, I feel just like now is the time to strike.”
METRO WEEKLY: I’d like to start with your childhood, your upbringing. Tell me about the early years of Adam Mac.
ADAM MAC: I grew up in a small town, pretty much all centered around the church. As early as I can remember, we were going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights — the whole week revolved around it. It was a very Southern Baptist environment. Religion was the culture. So I grew up from an early age knowing that I was gay, but from an even earlier age, I knew that that was not an okay thing to be.
It’s the most trivial, silliest thing, but I was obsessed with the Spice Girls. My first love was specifically Ginger Spice. It was my first heartbreak when she left the group. And so I remember being in the car and they had just released these Spice Girl Barbie dolls, and I was begging my mom to get me the Ginger Spice Barbie doll. And I remember her saying, “I cannot get you that — your dad would kill me if I got you a Barbie doll.”
I wanted to do all the things that other boys did not want to do. My mom tried to gently let me do things without causing too much of a stir in town. But people were always really nice to me — occasional hillbilly bullies here and there. But I don’t think you can grow up queer without having those experiences, at least at some point in your life. It was very early on that I started feeling I needed to hide certain parts of me or put on a front that was more masculine.
MW: When did you come out? And how did it go with your family?
MAC: Not until I moved to Nashville at 22. I had removed myself from my small town and I kind of had the space and the freedom to be myself. In Russellville, it was more so just like, “Let’s just keep this under wraps as long as possible.” Until I moved to Nashville and realized there is a much bigger world out there and I didn’t have to live like that.
Coming out was not the easiest thing, but then in some ways it was so easy. I didn’t lose a single childhood friend. I still have probably fifteen childhood friends from home that I still talk to, and they still come and visit when I go home.
My family was a little here and there. My mom, who is now my biggest supporter, called me yesterday and told me I need to send her a rainbow flag to Russellville so that she could hang out on her front porch. But she didn’t take it so well in the beginning. I think it was just the initial shock of it all, which I’m like, “How? How were you shocked?” [Laughs.]
There were some tears shed — she was not so happy. I think her also being raised as part of a generation even more strict, more just like, “He’s an abomination.” She cried and drove home from Nashville the night I told her, and we didn’t speak for two weeks. And then about two weeks later, she was calling me crying, and just apologizing for the way that she had reacted.
And from that moment to now, she has just been on the most beautiful journey of someone who was raised to think one way, who has had her eyes open to the beauty of diversity and queer culture. She has just truly come such a long way. And she’s such a voice in my community, in Russellville, in her community — to just be an educational moment for people to see someone who’s gone through it and come out on the other side a better person. My mom is truly like a rock in my corner.
MW: How did you get into singing?
MAC: Very early on, I had a love for singing. Church was one of the first places where I was able to sing. My mom would bribe me with Beanie Babies and $5 here and there if I would just get up in front of church and sing.
MW: Were you a natural singer?
MAC: Honestly, I never had any kind of lessons until later in high school. Also, in our high school, there weren’t a lot of arts programs. It was all sports and football and basketball, and that’s where any of the extra funds went.
There was a band. I tried to be in the band, but I really didn’t play anything. I made my mom buy pretty much every instrument in middle school. Trumpet, trombone. I even tried the drums at one point, but nothing really ever clicked with me.
MW: How did you get into songwriting?
MAC: My senior year of high school, the week before our graduation, my very best friend passed away very suddenly. She got sick one morning, didn’t show up for school, and that night she died. They just said, “Oh, she died of a heart attack.” So we never really got a lot of closure there. And for me and my 18-year-old brain and heart, the initial instinct was to just write a song about it.
And I had never really written a song. I had always loved writing short stories and poems and things throughout school, but I’d never really written a song until that point. So I think that was kind of like the fork in the road for me that kind of sent me on a different path, as far as being a songwriter and storyteller.
That was really the moment that connected all of the dots for me — that songwriting was a gift that I had to use just to let things out. And then shortly after that, after I was writing more, I realized I needed a guitar. I need to figure out how to play the guitar so that I could write these songs. So I taught myself how to play the guitar. And it’s been a long road of learning how to play the guitar even today. But I play well enough to write.
MW: Where did the jump come from songwriting to pursuing a career in the near-impossible field of music?
MAC: [Laughs.] Well, I think I’ve always been delusional. Even young, I was always putting on shows and being the entertainment for my friends and family. Really, I can’t think of a time where I had another thing that I loved as much. I’ve always loved animals and the Crocodile Hunter. Steve Irwin was one of my earliest heroes. So I think if I didn’t do music, I would’ve gone somewhere in the field of, I don’t know, biology or science. But I’m not smart enough for that, and I know that to be true. That was very quickly not an option.
I did go to college for a semester at WKU in Bowling Green, and I only lasted a semester because my grades were terrible. So then I got a job at Kroger, and worked there for a year and just couch-surfed with my friends in Bowling Green, and that didn’t work out. In Kentucky, you can bartend if you’re 19 or 20 — you don’t even have to be old enough to drink. So I moved back to Russellville, and I bartended at the local country club for a couple of years.
After a while, I was just like, “What am I doing? What is the purpose of this?” And all that time, I had been teaching myself guitar and writing more songs. Finally, I was just like, “I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to move to Nashville.” I’m not going to become anything here. So I just started working in Nashville at a mall, at The Buckle, which is a tragic style of — I don’t even know — plaid shirts and designer jeans that aren’t really designer at all. I was driving from Russellville to Nashville five days a week and not making any money because I was spending so much money on gas, because it’s an hour and 25 minutes from Russellville to Nashville.
My thought process was if I could just be in Nashville working, then I could meet somebody, maybe a roommate, get my lay of the land, and then move there. So I eventually moved my ass to Nashville, and I’ve been here ever since.
When I first moved here, I was not openly gay, I had no idea what it meant to be in the music industry, or how to even get my foot in the door. A lot of the people my age were going to Belmont University, which is really a catapult for the music industry. You go to school at Belmont, they hook you up with all the meetings. Your career path is planned for you. But Belmont was really expensive, I wasn’t good at school, and so that was never my path.
I always say I’ve just taken the longest way possible, but at the same time, in retrospect, even if I was openly gay, the music industry was far from open to seeing the potential in a gay country artist. So my timing has never been more clear to me than it is now. Having the perspective of all the things that happened the way that they did to lead me to where I am now — to this moment — feels like there is an open door for somebody like me to walk through. So that’s kind of the long and the short of it.
MW: At some point, you made the jump to recording and performing.
MAC: When I got here, I was totally clueless. I had no one to give me advice on how to do this. So I really spent a year trying to figure that out. In that first year, I made it onto American Idol — which was the first time I had flown on a plane, to go to Hollywood Week. And I was still very much closeted and presenting as straight. I got cut during Hollywood Week and it was never aired on the show or anything like that. But I will say it was the thing that kind of validated me like I had never been validated before.
I met a few other artists who lived in Nashville from that show. And so that was kind of the thing that steered me in the right direction. As much trauma as comes with reality television, I got back and was like, “Oh, okay, I just need to be performing these songs out. So how do I do that?” And I just started going to places that did songwriter’s nights where people would just get up with their guitar and play a few songs. And in doing so, I started networking and meeting other writers and setting up my first co-writes.
It was a lot of hustling. It was a lot of just going to all the things I can go to and learning on the job. A lot of these other kids who went to Belmont had courses on songwriting — which seems so fucking bizarre to me because, to me, you either knew how to write songs or you didn’t. It was so baffling to me that they had a whole class where they would teach people how to write songs. I’m sure there’s great knowledge and I could have skipped some steps along my journey. But yeah, I didn’t have all of those things, so it was up to me to just figure it out on the fly.
I met a guy named Nathan Cogan, and he would go on to be my producer. And he really worked with me in the beginning, especially for that tragic first album that I put out. And he really introduced me to what it meant to record and build a production. He also didn’t charge me what all the other producers in town were charging. So I was able to save up money and record a song every couple of months.
And so that’s really what kind of opened the door to recording my music. I’ve worked with him ever since. He recorded probably 90 percent of the album that I just put out. We’ve just kind of grown together over the past eight years or so. The universe just has dropped people in my path over the years who have nudged me in the right direction.
MW: You call it tragic now, but you must have been very excited when the first album, Horizon, dropped in 2016.
MAC: Oh, for sure. It felt like a huge accomplishment just because I knew how much work it took to record it, to pay for it, to have all the songs. I had also just gone through my first breakup with my first boyfriend ever. And so there was a lot of emotions in that album that felt like a stamp of like, “Okay, I did the thing. I put out an album that had songs on it that I put my emotion into.” Listening back, I’m cringing, but at the same time, it’s part of the journey.
MW: Your second album is much more deeply personal.
MAC: The problem with the first album is that, although I was openly gay, it was only eight years ago, and eight years ago was a really, really different landscape in the country music world. I was so desperately trying to fit in that mold that I refused to write or record songs that used “he” pronouns that would give away that I was a gay artist. So I would always try to write it from a perspective that it could be man or woman singing it or being sung to. I was so scared that that would be the thing that would knock me off course, which obviously I know now is actually the opposite.
But it was not the time for that. I played the game at the time. But all of the times that I tried to appease the industry, it never worked out for me. So I just hit a point where I was like, “I’m just going to write really honest, really queer songs that also tell my story from growing up in Kentucky in a small town.”
And that’s what I did — tell those stories that have never been told before, that are my stories, that are other people’s stories about growing up in the South, being queer, the struggle between what your religion tells you you should be or what people tell you that you should be and just carving your own path. And that’s kind of what this album did for me spiritually and emotionally.
MW: Given the stereotypical audience for country music, is it a tougher genre to work in as a gay man? I’m not even sure that’s the right question here.
MAC: Yes, yes, yes — it is the right question. My boyfriend and I went back and forth a lot, even in making this album. There were times when he would be like, “Let’s just release this as a pop record.” And I probably could have slapped a pop label on it, and it would’ve been just that. But I always countered him with, “I can’t just abandon this just because I don’t feel like I’m welcome here.” It’s not in me to just be like, “Oh, well they don’t want me here, so I’m just going to try something else and try to go the easier route.” That’s just not me.
So I was really adamant about continuing on and making this a country album, even if it were in spite of people telling me that it couldn’t be, or that a queer person will never be successful in country music. I think it’s kind of being proven that there are. Not just me, but Fancy [Hagood] and TJ [Osborne] and a just slew of other friends of mine who have had success this past year in putting out really queer, really country songs.
There was a time when I thought it would be a lot easier if I just said I wanted to be a pop artist, and we pivoted and started pushing all of this to pop labels and the pop industry, but that just isn’t who I am. People can argue that what I do is not country music, but at the end of the day, I’m from a really small, really rural town in Kentucky, and the fact that I’m gay doesn’t make me any less of a hillbilly.
MW: Let’s talk about what happened at the Tobacco Festival.
MAC: It all started back at the end of July. A lady on the Chamber of Commerce board called me — and she’s two years younger than me, so I’ve known her my whole life; we went to school together. She was so excited to offer me the headlining gig at the Tobacco Festival. She was just like, “Whatever it will take, let us know how we can get you and your band here. We would love to have you headline the festival and just make it like a welcome home show.”
And so everything was set. They were so excited. Flash forward to, gosh, a week before the festival, they announced on social media that I would be the headliner, showing me in these sequin pants and go-go boots and fringe jacket — just about as gay country western as you could get.
It didn’t take long for them to start getting backlash from certain members of the community. She called me on Wednesday before the festival and said, “Hey, Adam, a couple of the board members wanted me to call you to ensure that you would not be promoting homosexuality or sexuality, that you would not be making this a gay Pride festival and that it would be a family-friendly event.”
MW: What in god’s name were they thinking you’d do up there?
MAC: I know! Exactly! The words that came out of my mouth to her were, “I don’t know what they expect that I’m going to do besides put on a hell of a show that we always do.” I honestly don’t think that she even understood how offensive her ask was. I don’t think she understood that what it sounded like to me is that they were asking me, “You can be gay, but don’t be too gay.” As if also my sexuality is sexual in nature, or that it is not kid-friendly to be gay, which was really where I took offense.
I think they really thought I was just going to be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll just butch it up. We’ll just put on the most heterosexual show I’ve ever done.” That’s not what happened.
So I told her, “I’ll be honest, this kind of makes me feel a little uncomfortable to know that the board members are asking you to ask me to be less gay. Or that my gayness is somehow sexualized and not kid-friendly.” I told her I needed to take a beat, talk to my team, kind of assess where we were at, and that I would let them know the next day what we were going to do.
The following morning, I woke up to a text message from her at like 8 a.m., and she said that she just wanted to be transparent about what was going on. Already that day they had had multiple people showing up at the chamber, just angry that they would have asked a homosexual to headline the family-friendly festival. And then there was a group led by a pastor that came in telling them that they were going to be protesting my set if they continued forward and let me put on the show.
At that point, I told her, “I think it’s best we just cancel the festival. I don’t really want to be the catalyst for some other event that puts my band, my crew, the people who are actually there to see me and enjoy the show in any kind of situation.”
I’ve never had to cancel a show, and this was a really special show, and I didn’t want to just chalk it up to a text caption and put it on social media with no intent or emotion behind it. So I made a video explaining what was going on, explaining that it wasn’t just a decision that we just casually made and didn’t put any thought into, and that also these were the events that led to that decision.
Posted it. And it was probably an hour before I received another text message from her that was like, “Okay, things have taken a turn. We have ten times the people showing up here at the chamber yelling at us for canceling your show. Can you please go back online and reiterate that you’re the one who canceled the show?”
I called her and was just like, “I don’t know if you got to watch the video, but I was very clear in the video that this was a hard decision. But it was my decision and we decided not to do the show. I don’t know how much clearer I can be. I totally take ownership for canceling the show, but I’m not going to take ownership for why I had to cancel the show — which is because your board members questioned my ‘promoting’ of homosexuality and made all of these homophobic comments, whether they were intentional or not.”
What happened after that was just hundreds, if not thousands, of comments came in from people in my hometown who were so angry and sad that this is what it had come to. And that I had to cancel the show because of the protest and all of the backlash.
And then it quickly spilled over to Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini and Brandy Clark, and all of these country queer allies coming to my defense and having my back, which was just more than I could have imagined at that point.
And then to wake up the next day and see that all of these publications had also run the story, and that it was getting so much attention worldwide at this point. And only then to find out that Maren Morris’s team called me and asked me to open her show in Chicago the next week.
I couldn’t have even fathomed the way the universe just placed all of these things. Truly going through the storm to see the rainbow, no pun intended. I couldn’t have even fathomed that this is what events would’ve played out to get the exposure that I’ve gotten. To get an opportunity to open for someone who I adore.
MW: It worked out amazingly for you, but was their initial reaction also a sign of things to come for queer country artists?
MAC: I would want to say that this is an example of the opposite, of a minority of loud people trying to protest, and a majority of the community coming out and supporting an artist.
Obviously, it’s a very particular situation. I don’t think that our fight is over. I don’t think that it’s going to be over during my career. But we can’t not keep pushing forward and being as boldly present and visible as we can. And that only has become more apparent to me through all of this.
Receiving all of the messages from people back home truly put it into perspective for me, how important it is that I continue to tell these stories and sing these songs. And that it is creating a movement, and it’s creating conversations even. Like queer acceptance and love and support has never been the topic of conversation in Russellville, Kentucky, ever. But my mom told me it was the only topic of conversation that week — everyone that she interacted with, everyone that my friends have interacted with, it was the topic of conversation. So it’s that thing, like I was saying earlier, that just feels so inspiring.
We can be the bridge to connect those people with what it means to just love and accept people. It’s been the humanity of it all for me, of just meeting people with humanity. That’s kind of what I always say my superpower is: just being that connection. Because I was raised in that environment, and I’ve always navigated it that way, I feel like that is my thing.
The thing that I can do is reach those people, who are not necessarily racist and homophobic, but just have been taught all of these [negative] things and don’t even know why. But when you meet them with humanity, and you meet them with love and understanding, from my side of things, that is the superpower. That is the thing that changes people’s hearts and minds.
MW: This may be a bit of a weird question, but I have to ask: Do you dream of being a superstar?
MAC: [Laughs.] I mean, I think I have — it’s all centered around delusion, right? My whole life. You have to be, I feel like, to believe that something so crazy can happen to you, you have to give into that delusion. Because I still, to this day, dream of the giant stadium productions that I want to put on that are just over the top, like Elton John, Harry Styles, Beyonce, Taylor Swift. Those arena-style shows that are my music and my visions come to life. So, yeah, I see the path. I just know that I’m on the long road.
MW: You’ve worked so hard for this and now we all know the name Adam Mac. How does that make you feel?
MAC: Well… I’ve been crying a lot. I’m definitely in my crying era right now, is what I’ve been saying. Because I have shed a lot of happy tears over the past few weeks. It’s overwhelming. It feels like a dream. I’m truly living my dreams at this point. There comes a point where I’ve been in Nashville for 11 years, and I just kept my head down and kept working towards an endless goal. And it kind of can feel like if you get stuck in the rut of it, you can feel like, “Well, I’m just going to keep trying and doing this forever.” And to what end?
So to finally feel a little bit of a breakthrough, a little bit where this is all happening, it feeds the hunger to know that I’m just on the precipice. And I just have to work even harder. The dream is obtainable and possible — and I’m doing it.
Adam Mac’s Disco Cowboy is available for purchase and streaming on all major music platforms. Visit www.adammacmusic.com.
Follow Adam Mac on X at @adammacmusic.
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