In 2015, WWE star and onetime UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar shot the shit with Stone Cold Steve Austin about pick-ups, rib-eyes and football during a taping of his fellow pro wrestler's Stone Cold Podcast. But it was his mention of an unknown singer named Colter Wall that had the most wide-reaching effect. At least for the young songwriter from Canada.
"I came across this kid out of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, a kid by the name of Colter Wall," Lesnar replied when Austin asked what music he likes. "He grasped me from the very first time I listened to his record, and I haven't let go of it since. I've been listening to it every single day."
It was lofty praise from a high-profile athlete who rarely does interviews. And it helped build an early audience for the now 21-year-old vocalist with a room-shaking rumble of a voice.
"I had a lot of wrestling fans and people who pay attention to that kind of stuff get turned on to my music. I lucked out," Wall tells Rolling Stone Country of the Lesnar shout-out. "A lot of it has been good luck, good timing and meeting good people."
Wall considers Lesnar one of those good people, as well as a neighbor when he's home from the road in Saskatchewan. Lesnar has his own ranch in the Canadian countryside and reached out to Wall to come by for a visit. Wall, himself a wrestling fan, was dubious.
"I got an email one day that said, 'Hey, it's Brock Lesnar.' I was like, 'Sure, sure.' But sure enough, it was him," Wall recalls. "He said he liked my music and would like to meet me. I went out to his farm, hung out, talked and played some music for him. He has been a huge supporter ever since."
Earlier this month, Lesnar tweeted congratulations to Wall on making his New York City debut and included a link to encourage fans to buy tickets to the gig. Both Lesnar and Austin's support is still hard for Wall to comprehend.
"Stone Cold was one of my favorites back in the day. It's pretty unreal that someone who I used to watch on WWE as a kid…" he says, trailing off.
But Wall doesn't need the muscle of the Texas Rattlesnake or the Beast Incarnate behind him to carve out a career. The songs on his self-titled debut, released earlier this month, are his most potent calling card.
A blend of Woody Guthrie folk, Bob Dylan storytelling and Townes Van Zandt despair, all delivered in a deeper-than-Cash baritone, Colter Wall is a mesmerizing album, one made for solitary late-night listening, with lights low and whiskey in hand. Dave Cobb produced the record, mostly forgoing any elaborate production in favor of simply spotlighting Wall's voice, acoustic guitar and the occasional steel lick, delivered by Robby Turner (Chris Stapleton).
Wall makes a point of writing from experience. While artistic license is a creative right, he prefers to tell it straight. Lead track "Thirteen Silver Dollars" recounts a drunken, snowbound run-in with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
"I was in the snow, and I was not at my best, is what I'll say. And an officer of the peace came along. At the time, it was a weird thing that was happening to me, but in retrospect it was a good piece of the story," he says. "A couple months had passed and it was still fresh in my mind and thought it might make a cool song. I sat down to do that true story justice."
In that way, Wall considers himself more a folk singer than a purveyor of country music. He says his debut is a folk album and discovered the artists who influenced it – Guthrie, Van Zandt, Ramblin' Jack Elliott – through his own research.
"I grew up listening to a lot of country in our house, but the more folk stuff, I had to find myself. It was a lot of going down rabbit holes on the Internet and reading whatever I could find to learn about these guys and their stories. If you're listening to Dylan, you should eventually start listening to Jack and Woody, if you're doing it right."
With his album debuting at Number Two on Billboard's up-and-coming artists Heatseekers Chart and Number Six on the Americana/Folk chart, Wall seems to be doing it right. Along the way, he's winning over like-minded artists in both country and Americana.
"Colter is an old soul in a young man's clothes," says Margo Price, who has toured with Wall, recently performing Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Living Long Like This" together onstage. "He's got the earth in his voice and truth in his pen. It was great to have him and his band out on the road with us and watch them grow every night. His debut album is in the same vein as folks like early Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. I dig the hell out of it."
Since becoming immersed in the Nashville scene, Wall has set up shop in Kentucky and splits his time between the Bluegrass State and his home country, where he maintains Canadian citizenship.
"I love it back home, but I love it here too. People have been really great to me stateside," says Wall. "There are so few assholes I've had to work with."