Two years ago, Morgan Evans was a hungry singer-songwriter trying to make his way in Nashville after moving from his native Australia, where his career was already flourishing. In the brief time since, he has nearly lived an entire life. In late 2016, he became engaged to and later married fellow performer Kelsea Ballerini. Then in 2017, he signed a record deal with Warner Bros. and released his U.S. debut — and Mediabase Number One — “Kiss Somebody.” Later that same year, he was dealt a crushing loss when his manager Rob Potts was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Evans’ U.S. debut album Things That We Drink To, out now, chronicles much of what he’s experienced in that period through its breezy mix of up-tempo jams, lovestruck anthems and loop-driven creative mojo. Evans and his producer, hit songwriter Chris DeStefano (“Good Girl,” “That’s My Kind of Night”), wrote each of the album’s 11 songs (including a duet with Ballerini) together and played every instrument — save for a few drum parts — making Things That We Drink To a truly revealing debut, both personally and artistically.
You’ve had success in Australia, but you’re the new guy here. Did coming to Nashville feel like starting over?
There definitely is an element of starting all over again, but when you get here and you see the way this town operates — and the level the people operate at — I have no problem with that. Then again, as good as it is to be a part of, when you’re on the outside looking in, it’s a lonely place. It’s like, what do you do? You’re the new guy in town, nobody wants to work with you, you’re from Australia. The first couple of years were really tough.
How hard is it to make those connections in Nashville?
Everyone doing something creative has that thing hiding underneath, like “Am I even good enough?” Especially in a town like this, where everyone is the best in the world. It doesn’t happen overnight — I think the goal for anyone who moves here is to find out who your people are, who it is you’re going to make your best music with. It wasn’t until I met Chris DeStefano, in Australia of all places, that it happened for me.
Being from Australia, do you feel like you have a different perception of what country music is? Here it’s so tied up in social identity.
There are so many similarities between Australian culture and American culture, and I feel like so many of them overlap within country music. There’s definitely things that I can’t sing about genuinely — like I can’t sing about the American flag because it wouldn’t sound genuine. But one of the things I love about my song “American” so much is that living here for the past two years, I really have fallen in love with this country. I’ve been able to travel around and see it through the eyes of country music, and we found a way to sing about that in the song.
The album’s title track isn’t a party song. How did that one come about?
It’s about my manager [Rob Potts], who passed away last year — he was the guy who discovered me in Australia and brought me to America, and made me keep coming back when I thought it was too hard. He was like a family member to me, and he was in a motorcycle accident last year. The day of his memorial here in Nashville, I was in the studio with Josh [Osborne] and Chris, and it was all we could think about. I guess we could have just not written that day, but Chris started playing this beat and I started playing a melody, and the words “things that we drink to” just came out. We wrote this song as a celebration of life, and it could be for anyone who has lost somebody, but for me that day it was definitely for Rob.
With songs like “I Do,” “Kiss Somebody” and “American,” do fans get some insight into the dynamic between you and your wife?
Probably. But I feel like I don’t really get a choice in how open we are about that because Kelsea is so honest on social media. [Laughs] That’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me because there’s no energy wasted — we’re just so honest and open. But because we’re so open in life, I feel like the songs will complement that and make a lot of sense to people who follow us.
Why did you decide to team up with Kelsea on a tender ballad like “Dance With Me”?
That was one of my “pure songwriting” moments and felt so honest, and we actually turned it in without her on it and we loved it. But then Kelsea asked me to sing backing vocals on one of her songs, and I was like “Yeah I’d love to, of course. But if I do one of yours, will you do one of mine?” She came in and it was like “I don’t know, do we really want to mess with this?” But the second she opened her mouth to sing on that chorus, Chris looked at me and we both had the hairs on the back of our necks standing up, it worked out perfectly. It was the first song I ever wrote for her, and my favorite song I’ve ever written.
Your stage shows are unique in that you play solo with just a guitar and a loop pedal. Do you worry about becoming typecast as “the loop pedal guy”?
It’s interesting because the loop pedal started as a necessity — I just didn’t have a band. [Laughs] My band from Australia didn’t come with me, but since then it’s become this really creative thing that I love, and the way that I create onstage feels true to the record as well. You’ll notice that a lot of the songs are driven by the dude with the acoustic guitar. It’s the first thing you hear on a lot of those tracks, because when you come see me play that’s what you’re going to get. I make no bones about it, the thing I love about it is country fans know when someone is not telling the truth, and when they see me live they know everything is happening right in front of them. When I mess up, it’s obvious, and I’m like “Hey, this is live.”