Any way you measure it, Morgan Wallen had one of the biggest years of any country artist in 2019. His anthemic barstool bummer, “Whiskey Glasses,” was named Billboard’s Number One song of the year, he scored a couple of non-single hits and also pulled in red-hot reviews for his spot on Luke Combs’ Beer Never Broke My Heart Tour.
All told, Wallen is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with … and in his next chapter, he aims to reveal more of the man underneath the mullet.
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Couldn’t think of a better way or place to end the BNBMH tour, and the year as a whole. The growth in support and love I’ve felt has truly inspired me. Hopefully that’ll lead into music that inspired y’all next year. Once again I love you boys @lukecombs and @jamesonrodgers. Let’s do it again sometime 🎥: @davidnlehr
“2019 was no doubt the biggest year of all so far,” Wallen says, speaking with Sounds Like Nashville before the New Orleans date of his headlining Whiskey Glasses Roadshow Tour. “And my favorite part about it is that I don’t have to put on a front – I don’t have to do anything. I mean, I’ve gotta work hard to write songs and put out good music, but other than that I kind of just get to be myself. People are seeing that, and I think that’s part of the whole thing.”
Out on the road, Wallen has been working hard to be more “himself” than ever before – and his rowdy fanbase has in turn been giving back more than he bargained for. With nearly every one of the headlining shows sold out, fans have packed venues to revel in the electric energy of hits like “Up Down” and the grooving current single “Chasin’ You” – as well as the deep cuts from If I Know Me they all seem to know by heart. But he’s also started telling more stories about himself from the stage and for the first time, has incorporated a surprising solo-piano interlude into the set, hoping to show off a little more of his musical background.
“I grew up playing piano when I was like 8 or 9,” he says. “But I quit ‘cuz I didn’t think it was cool – you know how a kid does. Then I started messing around with it again in the last couple of years, and just decided ‘This is a headlining show, I want to challenge myself a little bit.’”
Meanwhile, that quest for personal challenge also extends to Wallen’s new music. At the top of the New Year he released the reflective, arm-in-arm swayer, “This Bar,” a nostalgic nod to self discovery and lifelong friends which begins to highlight the artist (and man) Wallen has become.
“There’s many different ways people can interpret it,” Wallen explains about the track, co-written with Michael Hardy, Jackson Morgan, Jake Scott, Ernest K. Smith and Ryan Vojtesak. “Whether it’s finding yourself in a bar, or finding yourself in church, it’s any place where there’s a lot of people you hold dear, and we chose a bar because we spend a lot of time in them.
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Wrote this song with my buddies about some moments and times in my life that have made me who I am today. Some good, some bad, but all of em I can look back on and grin a little. Hope it makes you do the same. Be safe in whatever Bar you find yourself in tonight. Happy New Years. #ThisBar out now!
“I still have a lot of the same friends from when I was in high school, and it’s kind of a nod to them as well,” he goes on. “Those guys have been with me through it all, and for me, I kind of feel like I’ve grown up a lot over the last couple years.”
The track marks the first taste of Wallen’s upcoming sophomore album, which has yet to be announced but he says to expect sometime in 2020. About 30 new songs are currently being whittled down to around half that number, and if his first album (If I Know Me) was all about proclaiming who he is, Wallen’s second LP aims to offer some concrete evidence.
“There will be some songs that are reminiscent of the first album, but also some that are showing a little more maturity,” Wallen explains. “I wrote the songs on my last album … three or four years ago, and I’m a lot different from who I was then. Hopefully I can show that through the music – show a little bit more about where I’m at as a person now.”
As for the album’s sound, that might be a little harder to pin down. Though his gravely Smoky Mountain vocals have been an irresistible constant, he scored hits with no less than three sonic approaches in 2019 – grooving mainstream country with “Whiskey Glasses,” a soulful cover of Jason Isbell’s Americana favorite, “Cover Me Up,” and a club-ready EDM crossover with Diplo on “Heartless.” Nevertheless, he vows to stay country – with a twist.
“I’m always gonna make ‘country music’ records,” Wallen explains. “That’s just my favorite thing to do and when I write songs, it’s country music. I do like a lot of different things, though. Like, one of my favorite bands is [indie rockers] The War on Drugs, and people would probably never expect that of me. But if I feel like [my music is] genuine and I feel like it’s me, then I don’t really care [what people say].”
Looking ahead, Wallen plans to keep doing his thing – and he’s expecting big results. After wrapping up the first leg of the Whiskey Glasses Roadshow this weekend, he’ll join Jason Aldean’s We Back Tour beginning January 30 in Columbia, South Carolina. Then it’s back to his largely sold-out headline run through May 1 in Denver, Colorado, and a high-profile debut at Tennessee’s massive Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 14. He’ll also join Luke Bryan on his Proud To Be Here Tour as direct support.
If all goes well, the rising star could graduate out of clubs and into bigger headlining venues as early as next year – and for him, that might even top 2019.
“If I had to guess, I would say  will be big,” Wallen says.