In 2020, singer-songwriter Waylon Payne released his long-awaited sophomore album, Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me -- a project 16 years in the making. His first album, The Drifter, arrived in 2004.

A collection full of intimate, incisive lyrics and harrowing personal stories, set to vibrant guitarwork, Payne's album chronicles his hard-fought journey toward finding sobriety and happiness. The project includes songs he wrote while in the grips of a meth addiction, as well as during his process of getting sober, highlighting the friendships that helped him along the way.

Blue Eyes also finds Payne confronting his often painful past. Born into country music royalty as the son of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" star Sammi Smith and Willie Nelson guitarist Jody Payne, the singer was raised by his aunt and uncle — the latter of whom was sexually abusive toward Payne. When the artist came out at the age of 18, he simultaneously revealed that abuse, and his family refused to believe him, ultimately causing his relationship with them to be severed.

Payne clarifies that it wasn't just the fact that he was gay that his family couldn't accept: It was the fact that his uncle had been abusive.

"Rather than confront that and deal with it, they just disowned me because I was gay," Payne says. "I didn't really come out. I was telling on somebody, and they didn't like the way that sounded."

It was the beginning of Payne's tumultuous journey toward finding himself and his identity as an artist. Along the way, he never stopped making music, nor did he stop making life-changing musical friendships.

Read on to learn more about Payne and how he became the artist that he is today:

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