First Published June 2022
“WHAT I DO THIS FOR”
Named one of Country Radio Seminar’s renowned New Faces of Country Music in 2020, Australian MORGAN EVANS has forged a path as one of the genre’s most promising stars. He has been named to People’s elite Ones To Watch list, MusicRow’s Next Big Thing list, and Bobby Bones’ Class of 2018, with additional recognition coming his way from CMT, SiriusXM, Pandora, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The Tennessean, and more.
His latest EP, The Country And The Coast Side A, sees Evans set aside his signature loop pedal to collaborate with a band of musicians for the first time in his U.S. career. For the project’s current single, Country Outta My Girl, Evans teamed up with Rivers Cuomo of the iconic 90’s band Weezer who offered his own perspective on the track with a brand new verse. The EP builds outward and upward from the foundation Evans created with his debut album Things That We Drink To, which hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and features the Gold-certified No. 1 debut single Kiss Somebody.
Evans’ recently wrapped a successful weekend at CMA Fest 2022 in Nashville, where he hosted an intimate Fan Party and played the highly coveted Riverfront Stage on Friday, June 10th. And next up, he’s on his way to Europe as the opening act for one of the undeniable greats of country music’s modern era, Brad Paisley. Morgan will be headlining a show at the Lafayette in London on July 14th before then joining Paisley to play two arena dates at the OVO Hydro in Glasgow on July 15th, and hitting our own 3Arena in Dublin the following day. As part of that same world tour, Morgan will also share the stage with Paisley in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand.
However, next month’s 3Arena show won’t be Morgan’s first time to land on Irish shores. He actually kicked off his 2019 World Tour at the Academy venue in Dublin, writing on his Instagram at the time that he couldn’t, “…remember a show where the crowd smiled so widely”. When I had the chance to sit down with him last week, I asked Morgan if he would mind taking us back to that night and sharing a little bit more about what it had meant to him…
“It was just so exciting. As you say, it was licking off the World Tour. And it was also in a part of the world where I had been before, but never spent enough time to feel like I knew my way around. It was a small, underground thing! And it just felt like that, like everyone was there because they really wanted to be there. There’s a level, I guess, of passion required for someone to show up to a show like that. They don’t just show up because they’ve heard one song on the radio or something, they show up because they maybe heard one song somewhere, BUT then they went and found the rest of it and fell in love with it. That kind of connection, I think that’s what I do this this for. It was such an enjoyable night, and it makes me really excited to get back.”
Is Morgan looking forward to coming back to play in a venue like the fabulous 3Arena this time?
“Oh yeah! Oh yeah! [Laughs]. That’s gonna be fun, man!”
One of the most instantly endearing qualities Morgan has when you’re chatting in person, is the fact that he smiles broadly almost the whole way through, clearly genuinely excited and passionate about what he gets to do. And, no doubt, that’s one of the reasons why so many ‘big-name’ stars of country have brought him on-board for their tours as well, with the likes of Taylor Swift , Dan + Shay , Cole Swindell, Chris Young and more all having shown their faith in Morgan the same way Brad is now.
So when it comes to opportunities like that, walking out in front of someone else’s audience – essentially getting to borrow them each night – what’s Morgan’s approach to making sure those fans go home with him on their mind?
“That’s a good question. Firstly, I think you have to, you have to prepare yourself because like you say, it’s not your own show, so maybe not everyone in there knows who you are. But that means it’s also a great opportunity to introduce yourself. And man, I always see like I’ve got a job to do too, which is to remind everyone that there’s a show on tonight and that they’re about to have a great time! And that that’s ok. I think coming out of the pandemic is an interesting experience because people maybe haven’t been to as many shows recently, so it’s a new experience again to be around so many people. So hopefully we can just go out there and have a great time, and help everyone have a great time as well, and get them ready for Brad‘s show.”
Is it a bit of a balancing act, the fact that Morgan, as the opening act in these situations, obviously wants to show the best of himself, but he also needs to remind people of what’s coming next and who he’s there with?
“Yeah, for sure. But I think what helps is that I’m stoked to be on the tour because I LOVE Brad Paisley too [laughs]. So we already have that in common. I mean, his early records – ‘Mud On The Tires’, ‘5th Gear’, particularly those two – I don’t know if they just found me at the right time, or if they were so ground-breaking at the time that they caught my ear – were part of the handful of records that turned my attention towards Nashville in the first place. So he’s been a huge influence on me, and I’m such a big fan. Having that in common with the audience when you go out to play definitely helps.”
Sitting down with Morgan also gave us a chance to chat about his latest EP, last year’s The Country and the Coast Side A. Now the first thing I thought when I saw the title, was cool…this means we’re gonna get Side B too! Is that something that’s in the works? Or in the can already perhaps?
“Good question, man. We just started recording it last week, actually. So it’s well on the way. And we’re gonna be playin’ some of the new songs for the first time on this tour. I’m gonna try and sneak one or two in every night! I get impatient! [Laughs]. I wrote these songs, and I love ’em, and I want to share ’em! [Laughs]. We’ll have more music before the end of the year, for sure. I can’t tell you a date, cos’ I’m not exactly sure yet, but it will definitely be before the end of the year.”
There’s a track on Side A called Country Outta My Girl, and back in March of this year, Morgan dropped a version featuring none other than Weezer frontman, Rivers Cuomo. A really cool song to begin with, but then you add Rivers into the mix as well, and wow! I wondered how the world happened to bring Morgan and Rivers into the same orbit, and why they then decided that Country Outta My Girl was the song they wanted to work on together?
“It’s funny, man, it’s still funny to me! [Laugh]. This makes me smile [laughs]. When I was off the road, I was doin’ a handful of cover videos on TikTok, and I did this loop set-up. We [Morgan and his wife, country superstar Kelsea Ballerini] came back from Australia at Christmas, and I heard that song, ‘Island In The Sun’ [by Weezer], a lot when I was there. That just reminded me how much I love it. So I made this loop video for TikTok, and Weezer commented on it, and I think they shared it. Then, they reached out through management, and Rivers apparently loved ‘Country Outta My Girl.’ And they sort of asked if I’d be interested in doing something. And I was like, well YES! [Laughs]. What do ya want to do, ya know? [Laughs]. At the same time, I already had this open-verse challenge out on TikTok as well. I just took the second verse out of ‘Country Outta My Girl’ and said hey, everyone write your own version of whatever that is for you and your relationship. And there were some awesome ones on there. But dude, as soon as I said yes [to Rivers], I got sent the finished vocals in an email! That’s like THE vocals that you hear [on the track]. He wrote all those lyrics, recorded his own vocal, sent it over, and we put it on the mix [laughs]. And, I mean, it was just too cool to not share with the world!”
The Country and the Coast Side A is produced by Dann Huff, also a gifted songwriter and guitarist in his own right. In one way or another, the Nashvillian has worked with artists like Michael Jackson, Amy Grant, Whitesnake, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, Lonestar, and Rascal Flatts…and that’s literally just scratching the surface! Before work got underway on his EP, Morgan and Dann got together to play some guitar, with Evans telling Huff, “Look, this is the guitar I write all this stuff on”, and pointing out how he wanted it up-front on the record, “leading the band like it will be when we go out on the road”.
I asked Morgan if he wouldn’t mind explaining the importance for him – as a songwriter and an artist – of what he had asked for, and then, being able to work with someone of Huff’s status who could make that happen…
“I mean, firstly, Dann Huff is such a legend, for anyone who doesn’t know all the things he’s done. Even I don’t know all the things he’s done! [Laughs]. I keep finding out new amazing things he’s done every day! You know what I said about the Brad Paisley records, his production on those Keith Urban records at the time, those Rascal Flatts records at the time, and I think he did a couple of the Faith Hill ones too, the huge pop hits that crossed over in Australia, the sound of those records – plus Brad Paisley – is probably what made me move to America! Getting to work with a hero of mine like that was a big deal. But at the same time, he has produced, and is producing, a lot of records. So before we recorded I wanted to sort of get to know each other, and made sure that this record sounded like me, and not just a band with me singing on it. I mean, he is maybe my favourite guitar player of all time! To go and sit down with him and just kind of jam, was unreal. We wrote all these guitar parts, particularly that one in ‘Love Is Real’…I mean, there was a riff, and it was kind of like that, but that day it just got exponentially better! When we went into the tracking session with the band, it’s my favourite thing that happens here in Nashville. These musicians are so good, they can do literally anything. And this particular band we had that day was like all my favourite players, from all my favourite records [laughs]. I was like [to Dann], ‘Man, I really like that groove on ‘Born and Raised’, the John Mayer album’. And Dann would be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Aaron Sterling, we’ll get him’. Or I’d say. ‘I really love the bass on…blah, blah, blah’, and he’d be like, ‘Oh that’s Jimmy, we’ll get him’ [laughs]. And Tom Bukovac is in there, Jedd Hughes, it was just all my favourite players. So when we went into them, it was really nice to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re building the band around’. I think that just set us on a good path to make something that really sounded unique and in the spot that I wanted it to sound. I’m really happy with it. Thank you for asking that question.”
I think my own personal favourite song Side A is definitely Beautiful Tonight. And I think the reason for that is in large part because Morgan has described it as being a continuation of his song Dance With Me, from his Things That We Drink To album. I love that he’s able to – and willing to – give listeners and fans a glimpse into his relationship with wife, Kelsea. And that led me onto a question about Morgan’s songwriting. It’s not uncommon to hear songwriters claim that they actually find it harder to write the happier they are. I wondered if there was anything that affected Morgan’s writing process in that way? Are there times, for instance, when he knows he just won’t be able to write? On the other hand, might there be times when he simply can’t stop? Or, by now, is it something that he’s learned to have full control over, more or less?
“Man, it’s so funny. It’s so hard…like, I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but for me, it’s a combination of, like you said, you just have to sit down and do it. Otherwise, you’ll never do it! [Laughs]. Sometimes you sit down to do it, and it’s just awful. And you know it’s awful [laughs]. But sometimes you sit there when you don’t want to, and something happens! So that’s what you keep showing up for. Every day I get up and with my first cup of coffee, I just write and see what comes out. I try not to judge it. If something comes out, that’s great. Or if it makes me feel something. I appreciate what you said about that song, cos’ that might be my favourite one too. Love songs are so hard to write for me, I think. They’re easy to write, but they’re hard to make like the ones that you think are great. I think it’s because it’s easy to say stuff, but it’s hard to say stuff, AND make it feel good as well. And particularly with that song, I remember I had that melody and the chord changes for the hook – ‘You look beautiful tonight’ – and then we wrote the whole song. I loved the stories in the verses. The co-writers I was writing with were Jordan Reynolds and Parker Welling, two good friends of mine. I was like, ‘Hey, before we record this, let’s have another crack at the chorus, and just see what happens!’ So I started singing that melody, and we had a screen, and Parker just started re-writing the lyrics, tweaking them to fit with the melody. And she was writing the line as I was singing the line [laughs]. And we just sang the whole chorus down! Jordan was pointing up and down with melody. And we all just looked at each other! Writing that chorus is one of my favourite songwriting experiences ever, actually, for that reason. Because no-one knew where it came from. But we were in there, and we decided to have another crack at the chorus. So I guess just showing up is the thing to do, and then try and catch the magic if it’s there.”
With Morgan being an Aussie, I couldn’t not ask him about the fact that he’s one of the two most famous Australians in American country music right now, the other, of course, being Keith Urban. Keith is someone who Morgan has referenced as being one of his biggest guitar influences (alongside Charlie Worsham). But how important was it for Morgan to see a fellow Australian proving that to be ‘country’ you didn’t have to be born-and-bred in Nashville, or even in America, for that matter?
“Really important. And you know what, I probably don’t even know how important it was. When you put out your first country song in America, I don’t know what it’s like now, but when I did it sort of four or five years ago, you go around and you visit every country station in America. I mean, hundreds, right. It takes a long time. But every time, I got asked the question, ‘Oh, do you know Keith Urban?’ [Laughs]. Or, ‘Is Keith Urban your hero?’, or ‘Are you friends?’, all that kinda thing [laughs]. And I guess he might have been asked the question [when he was starting out], ‘Well, why is an Australian here?’ So I didn’t have to deal with any of that, which I’m sure is a result of him and his impact and success. I can also attribute a lot to him because my mum dragged me along to one of his shows in my hometown (Newcastle, New South Wales), and my hometown is not a usual stop on an international tour! [Laughs]. He was playing in a little club, with like a hundred people there. We were sitting at these long tables and he came out and played this show that just blew me away! Within a year, he was in the biggest places in Australia and America. But I remember that night as a night that was kind of like the lightbulb coming on. That was like all the old country music I grew up on, and all the rock ‘n’ roll I love, all put together for the first time. Yeah, I have a lot to sort of tip the hat to Keith for, for sure.”
To end our chat, I wanted to go back to Morgan being on the road with artists like Brett Young, Rascal Flatts, Old Dominion, and the others we had already mentioned earlier in our conversation. I’m sure Morgan learned something different from each and every one, by watching how they conduct themselves and deal with different circumstances and situations. With the trajectory that his own career is on, it won’t be too long before he’s the one in a position to offer such important tour support slots to new and emerging artists, giving them the same kind of chances that Taylor, Dan + Shay and others passed his way.
So, when that time comes, what two or three things would Morgan like those artists to learn from watching and being around him?
“[Laughs] Good things! [Laughs]. I think one thing I’ve noticed, especially with the people who have been doing it for longest, is that they’re all extremely decent humans. They’re good to you, as an opening act. They’re good to their people. They’ve surrounded themselves with great people, people that want to be there, that love being there. I think THAT is the biggest thing I’ve learned, and the biggest thing I’ve tried to cultivate in my band and crew. Man, the first tour I did here, I went out completely solo, with no crew, nothing! [Laughs]. It was me, my loop-pedal in a Pelican case, and a backpack guitar-case, that was it. I rented a car, and I chased Cole Swindell [his tour-bus], three shows in a weekend! And remember, in America, they have tour-buses, right, because they drive through the night, covering crazy miles! So I was doing half of it after the show, in my rental car, and half of it the next morning. Cole came up to me at the end of the weekend, and he was like, ‘Man, are you chasing these buses around in a rental car? Why don’t you just jump on one of the buses?!’ [Laughs]. He literally invited me on one of his tour buses, and Chris Young did the same thing. Experiences like that have been everything. Because you hear all these other stories too, like, ‘Oh, the band wouldn’t let the opener use the full volume’, ya know, that kind of stuff. I haven’t seen any of that with any of the people that I really look up to. I just aspire to continue those good vibes wherever I can!”
~ MORGAN EVANS opens for BRAD PAISLEY at the 3ARENA in Dublin on July 16th. Tickets available from www.ticketmaster.ie
THE COUNTRY AND THE COAST SIDE A, the latest EP from Morgan Evans is OUT NOW.