Morgan Evans certainly has plenty to toast. Over the past three years, the Australia native made a permanent move to Nashville, met and married country superstar Kelsea Ballerini, notched his first No. 1 in the U.S. with “Kiss Somebody” and recorded his debut LP, Things That We Drink To (Warner Music Nashville). He’s also raised a sober glass in honor of his longtime manger who passed away last year. Through both joy and sadness, he’s found the grit of life to be the leading inspiration for his music. Following his debut performance at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena where he opened for Chris Young only a few days earlier—an experience Evans calls “the pinnacle moment so far”— Sounds Like Nashville sat down with the singer, songwriter and guitar aficionado to talk about why he loves Music City and all the ways this town is making his dreams a reality.
What was your original dream? Was it to have a hit song on the radio in Australia? Was the dream to get to Nashville full-time?
In country music it’s always an American dream. When I was growing up listening to the records my parents had, I would look on the back and the older you get the more you realize, “Oh, this was done in Nashville.” And then when I came here for the first time—and I kept coming back—I discovered the writing community that’s here. I become obsessed with it. I had to be a part of it.
It sounds silly to say having been writing songs for so long, but I feel like in the last few years I’ve realized that leaving the house and trying to write the best song every day is not productive, because there’s people who write better songs. It’s about leaving the house and trying to contribute your story—bringing whatever it is that you can bring to these songs and being more open than I’ve ever been and more honest than I’ve ever been.
Is there a deep cut on Things That We Drink To that holds personal significance for you?
There are two songs that I would pick here: “Things That We Drink To”—the title track—which I wrote as a tribute to my manager of 10 years, who passed away last year, and then “Dance With Me” would be the other one. It’s the first song I wrote for Kelsea. It just feels like the most honest that you can be in a song. That first verse and chorus came in like 20 minutes one morning while I was waiting for her to come perform on one of the morning shows. When a song comes like that it doesn’t feel like you wrote it; it feels like something happened. So those two songs, whether they go to radio or not, are definitely two as a songwriter that I’m most proud of.
Did you know you had a hit when you wrote “Kiss Somebody”?
The day we wrote “Kiss Somebody” I remember at the end of the day Chris [DeStefano] looked at me and he’s like, “I think we got one here.” And that became kind of the first part of the record. We were like, that’s the new benchmark. That’s what we’re aiming to support with this album. That’s another reason I love that it got to be the first single, as well. It feels perfect that it was the introduction. Everything sort of built from there.
What’s your touring experience been like so far?
I’ve been so lucky. Everywhere we go there’s thousands of country music fans, which is the coolest feeling. You get to kind of explore this country through the eyes of country music. And then to be back on the road with Chris [Young] and Kane [Brown] again now and play huge arenas every weekend is a dream, really.
For every show, it’s just you, a guitar and a loop pedal. No live band, right?
Yeah, I just play solo. It’s kind of terrifying, but it’s so gratifying at the same time. What I like about it most is there’s no barrier between me and the audience. There’s no backing track. There’s no rehearsed dance moves or anything like that. It’s just what’s happening is happening in front of you, and I’m standing there sharing my stories. There’s nothing to hide behind, and I feel like the connection is greater than any I’ve ever had playing with a band. I haven’t written a set list for like two years. I walk on and whatever I feel like playing next, I play; and if someone calls out a song, I can play it.
On a rare day off in Nashville, where do you like to hang out?
The whole M Street area—that’s a pretty good, reliable spot. Depending on your mood, you can usually find something there. This is a great town to hang in. It’s a great town to live in. Having my folks in town the last few days, it reminds me that it’s a great town to be a tourist in, as well. I didn’t have much time to take them around but I definitely directed them. They went out and had a good time, got right into the whole Broadway thing. They’re like, “We went to Dierks Bentley’s bar!” All that stuff. It’s cool to remember how exciting that really is.