Interview: Morgan Evans (Newcastle) talks going #1, coming home and what it takes to make it in America

Morgan Evans has been dubbed as an artist to watch. His debut US single ‘Kiss Somebody’ recently topped the US country charts, making him only the fourth Australian to reach such momentous feat. The Newcastle born singer-songwriter now lives in Nashville with his pop-country superstar wife, Kelsea Ballerini, and is currently back in Australia on a short promotional tour of his latest self-titled EP.

I first you saw perform at CMC Rocks The Snowys in 2009. I’ve listened from the early days of your debut EP Blue Skies all the way through to your self-titled album release in 2014. So, for those of us who have been following your career, it seems like you’ve been constantly working at it, but to many others it may appear like you were an overnight success. Do you feel like everything has fallen into place and you’re only now just starting to gain some momentum and traction?

For me, it definitely feels like I’ve been doing this a long time, but, at the same time, it also feels like there’s been moments where I [thought] this is the start of something great. I think the first real moment of that here in the US, was when I met my producer Chris DeStefano.

I knew straight after the first song we recorded together it was the start of something really cool, the best music I’d ever made by a long way. That was two and a half years ago; so for the last two and a half years, I’ve been making music with him and collaborating with different people around Nashville and I know the music is better than all the other stuff I’ve been making.

You landed your first #1 with your debut US single, ‘Kiss Somebody’. There has been a lot of love on social media from the Australian country music industry and fans alike. Has the reception in America been just as celebratory? 

It’s a huge thing. It’s still one of those surreal things. It’s [starting to sink] in a little bit. I can travel to different towns in America, often towns that I’ve never been to, and I play [‘Kiss Somebody’] and every single person knows the words, it is the craziest experience ever! I like being able to walk onstage every night, play that song and to share that moment with people that love country music – it’s so special.

In many ways, Keith Urban opened the door for you to the crack the US market. Has it occurred to you that you may be the next Australian artist inspiring the next generation of aspiring young country music artists who dream of International success as well?

That’s weird to think about because I still feel like the guy who’s looking up to Keith and seeing what he did [laughs]. But, that’s cool! If I could have a song that someone hears and then they want to learn [to play it] on guitar, I’ve always wanted that.

When I write, what I want out of a song is to make you feel something, but as a guitar player, I always try and make the guitar part something a guitar player will hear and then went to learn. If I could have a part like that in a song then that would be a mission accomplished for sure.

How did you celebrate the number one?

Way too many things … I think I’m still hung over! [laughs]. I found out when I was in Chicago. I’d played on Friday in Detroit and Sunday in Providence, Rhode Island but I had a night off on Saturday. Since I flew in to Chicago where my wife Kelsea was opening for Keith Urban, I found out there, so that was the first celebration. I got up and I sang ‘Kiss Somebody’ with her and there was 20,000 people there singing. It was a real moment to really take a break, take it in and feel what that felt like. It was pretty magical.

You supported Taylor Swift during her Australian run of her 2009 Fearless tour and fast forward almost ten years, you’re now part of the same social circle.

Honestly, the whole country music community is so friendly and welcoming. I’ve found that everyone I’ve met – from Keith Urban to the new guy in town that just moved and wants to write songs – there’s a certain level of kind of camaraderie. That’s a really cool thing to be a part of. [Taylor Swift] and my wife are pretty tight. She’s a great person for Kelsea to have as a friend, but also somebody to ask questions and get advice from.

You’ve been living in Nashville for a number of years now. What where the biggest differences you had to adjust to when you first moved there?

For me, the biggest difference was the lifestyle difference in terms of not being near the ocean. I grew up in Newcastle and I used to go to the beach almost every day and go for a surf or swim before the day would start. I miss that part of my life a lot. When you get to the other side of the world, you don’t know anyone either, there’s no family or friend group, so they were the two biggest things to get used to. Obviously, I feel like I’m part of the song writing and musical community here now. It really does feel like home, but they were the two major differences for me. 

I haven’t had anyone tell me I sound American yet, but I need to change certain words for understanding sake. If I say my name normally [in the US] often people think I’m saying “Logan”. I had to change the way I say certain words and then when I’m talking to my family, I have to have to try to consciously remind myself not to change those words anymore [laughs]. 

Someone once said to me that to make it in the US, you have to be prepared to live on two minute noodles, work, work, work and really suffer for your art. As a bit of a reality check for other artists considering making the move, what kind of sacrifices does it take to make it?

I have lots of artists and song writing friends from Australia who ask me about it and the honest answer is: those first couple of years I lived here were the toughest years of my life, easily. This is the best town for music in the world, but it’s also the most intimidating. [When] you’re on the outside looking in, it really is a lonely place.

People talk about musicians and artists talking about how they work really hard. I think the music is not the work that is hard, the hard part is spending all of your time, all of your energy, all of your passion on this thing and not knowing what’s going to happen with it. Leaving a whole world behind and then spending years, day after day, writing two or three songs with strangers; the hard part is not knowing [if that’s worth it]. When a song hit number one was the first time I actually stopped and breathed a sigh of relief of gratitude. I’m so glad I did this. I was meant to have done this. That was the real moment when that really hit home for me.

You’re currently in Australia for a series of shows in Sydney [SOLD OUT], Melbourne [SOLD OUT] and Brisbane as part of your ‘Kiss Somebody’ promotional tour. What are you most looking forward to and can we expect more shows in the future?

Absolutely! There will definitely be some more tour dates in the near future and I’ll definitely do more than three next time. I’m looking forward to be back in Australia. I miss that place so much! I miss the people the most, but I get to play songs that I put out in Australia, which I have never put out [in the US] and obviously never get a chance to play, so I’m really looking forward to that as well.

There’s a lot of people in Australia that have been coming to see me for a long time; it’s so cool to be able to come back and play some music for those people that believed in me from the very start. I’ll always appreciate that.

His second studio album Things That We Drink To is set for release in October 2018. For more details on his music and his tour dates, head to his official website: