"I don't think you ever quit learning," he admits. "You're always on a constant quest to find something and say it a little bit differently then it's been done before. And all these themes in country music, pretty much, have been...some people might call it well tested. Some people might call it over-used. They've been around forever, these themes."
"And they're the same themes that pull your listener in. These are the things that go on in people's lives. The process of writing - you should always grow on that. I would imagine that Harlan Howard, right before he died, the last song he wrote he probably felt like he learned something from it."
Although Wayne traces his artistic inspirations back to the singer/songwriter era of the seventies, he does not, however, lay his soul bare in the same way many of those artists used to opened-up.
Instead, he writes about behaviors he observes in others.
"I write very little from personal experience," he confesses. "Most of my songs are about alcoholism and marital breakups and problems with the opposite sex and things like that. Yet, I'm a pretty stable guy. My wife and I have been together for almost 20 years. I don't drink, but I sure do write a lot of drinkin' songs."
"So, a lot of songs are scenarios that you cook up in your head, in much the same way that Stephen King doesn't live every axe murderer that he writes about. It comes from, 'This would be a good idea for a song. This is a good hook.' Sometimes it's just an idea, and it is like, 'Ooh, I'd like to write a cowboy-surf-ballad.' So I set out to do that." Nevertheless, another cowboy-surf-ballad is rarely Wayne's first option. "You always write with George Jones and Merle Haggard in mind," he explains. "Because those are your teachers.
For Wayne, his writing process is a paradoxical combination of looking back and looking around, matching the sounds he loves with lyrics that are right up to date.
"You draw from that pool of knowledge and craft of songwriting, but you try to take it to something contemporary," he elaborates. "And probably from 'Big Thinkin'' on, the first album I did for HighTone (in 2000. A second, "Here I Am in Dallas" followed a year later), what I've consciously tried to do is write songs like stuff that made me love music in the first place, but modernize the themes a little bit. Staying true to the genre, but modernizing the themes to where they can be related to at this point."
Although Wayne has done his share of acting over the years, he doesn't put a whole lot of stock in his burgeoning theatrical talents.
"The acting stuff was just pretty much stuff I backed into," he says. "I don't think I ever seriously said I was going to go out and try to get a part. It was just something where, 'Well, that might be fun to do for the next six weeks or eight weeks or however long the run of the play is.' You go in, and you read, and you do it."
"And I had a lot of friends that were involved in that - especially the "Pump Boys and Dinettes," when it made the long run after it left Broadway and moved to Chicago. There were a lot of people I met during the course of that play that have become friends and songwriting partners. Ollie O'Shea and I write a lot together. Ollie was in "Pump Boys" for about seven or eight years, I guess."
"The only way I ever got into theatre was because I was a musician. That was the guiding principle behind it. The first thing was the Harry Chapin 'Cotton Patch Gospel' play. We were a bluegrass band - myself and Robbie Fulks, and Greg Cahill and Tim Wilson. We could memorize lines, and not bump into stuff, so we became musicians that did a little bit of acting."
Wayne calls Austin home now, but for four years, he lived in Finland where he had a recording career going. Finland is probably the last place you'd ever expect to find a diehard country artist like Wayne. Nevertheless, this overseas experience changed Wayne - and for the better.
"It made me a more tolerant person," he says now. "It made me a more patient person because culturally things are done differently everywhere. The biggest lesson it probably taught me was that there's more than one way to do things. There's more than one way to look at a world problem; more than one way to look at day-to-day problems, because the situation you're in is totally different than anything that you've been raised with, for example. So you broaden your mind a little bit."
Naturally, the people of Finland were initially suspicious of this outsider when he first arrived there.
"Through reputation and press coverage and things like that, people kind of knew where I stood," he reasons. But as much as he enjoyed his venture to Finland, he's probably much more content to be in the more familiar surroundings of Texas these days.
"Oh, I love it here!" he enthuses. "We're real happy. Summer's a little too hot, but it's a lot better than a lot of other places. The music scene is excellent. The country side is excellent. The people are interesting, colorful. It's just a wonderful place to be."
Although various speculative conclusions can be drawn about the true inspiration for a song like "I'm Your Biggest Fan," Wayne prefers to refer to it as a "fun bit of fiction," instead.
"I have in my mind envisioned singers that I dearly love, especially these female singers that I just think are cooler than canned soup," he says. "You know, the Emmylou Harrises and Connie Smiths of the world. And I can just envision some guy kind of stalking them around. It starts out as something nice and friendly, and then turns ugly." Although such a frightening scenario is nothing close to Wayne's real life personal experiences, he nevertheless has had a few tastes of edgy fan encounters over the years.
"It's always been kind of unnerving to me when someone will come up to me and say, 'How is your wife Jo?' Like, how do you know that? People get interested, and they dig into your kids, your family, and that kind of thing. And they pick up certain little things. Sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes they get it right, and sometimes it's totally innocent. And I guess, occasionally, it probably could be scary."
But happily, Wayne is nowhere close to the kind of obsessive junk that, say, Bob Dylan must face. You know, where fans dig through his trash in hopes to solving mysteries about the meaning of life, and such.
Wayne says wryly, "If they dug through my garbage, they'd probably be bored and disappointed."