Morgane Stapleton Talks Being Husband Chris' Secret (Vocal) Weapon

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Morgane (left) and Chris Stapleton at the CMA Awards in 2015.

According to an old adage, “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” In the case of country music’s breakout star, Chris Stapleton, that’s certainly true. Except wife Morgane Stapleton won’t be found behind him, but rather right beside him on stage at every performance providing strong harmony vocals that echo the harmonious partnership they share offstage as well. While she prefers not to be the one in the spotlight, Morgane takes the lead on a track from producer Dave Cobb’s critically acclaimed compilation album Southern Family. She recently talked with Billboard about that project, her solo ambitions (or lack thereof) and juggling touring with raising two young children.

What made you want to be part of the Southern Family album? Was it the lure of Dave Cobb?

[Laughs] Yeah, I adore him. He’s a really wonderful human being and an especially talented guy. I trust his instincts, so I knew it was going to be a really special project and was honored that he asked us to be a part of it.

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Why did you choose to cut "You Are My Sunshine" for Southern Family?

It’s one that Chris and I have done [live] for several years now. We brought it up when the [album] discussion first started happening, [but] Dave was really into the idea of everyone writing original material. So we kind of put it on the back burner, and Chris and I worked at trying to come up with a song or dig through our catalog. At the end of the day, we didn’t feel like we had anything that beat [“Sunshine,”] and wanted it a home for it anyway. We finally just all said, “This seems like a no-brainer. Let’s give it a shot.”

Why did you add the song to your set in the first place?

It kind of morphed into a darker version years ago when we were messing around and trying to change it up a little bit. Chris wanted me to have a song of my own in our sets, [and] the more we started playing it the more it was requested here or there. I don’t want to sound cocky at all. That’s not where I’m coming from in any way. But it certainly became one that I think a lot of people enjoyed hearing.

 

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Before you were married, you had a deal on Arista Nashville. Was that a good experience?

I was a kid; I made dumb mistakes. I feel like I mishandled a lot of that, but I wasn’t ready. [But it] all sort of led us to where it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be doing what I’m doing right now. It was never supposed to be about me. It was always supposed to lead here. I support Chris, and I get to do what I love and he gets to do what he loves, and we get to do it together. That means more than anything.

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Does that mean if a label came calling with a solo deal, you wouldn't be interested?

I’m not going to say no. Chris has taught me a lot about walking through the doors that are open. It would definitely take some soul-searching, but I’m open to it.

Some of the best moments from recent awards shows have been those times when Chris’ name is called as the winner, or he’s on stage making an acceptance speech, and the camera cuts to your beaming face in the audience. What is going through your mind in those moments?

We have had one hell of a year. At some point my jaw should stop hitting the floor, but I don’t think it ever will, because I’ve watched Chris work so hard and been right there with him. He’s so appreciative and so thankful and so humble about where we’re at and the success that we’re having. He doesn’t take it for granted, and I find that’s an overwhelming thing. Those people in that room are people who voted to get you there. It’s a truly amazing feeling to know that there’s that much love in the room for him, because I feel that every day. To know that everyone else thinks of him the way I do is beyond an amazing feeling. I’m very proud.

You two have such a great partnership. How did it happen that it wasn’t just him in the spotlight, but both of you?

It wasn’t always that way. When he was in the SteelDrivers they all leaned on each other as a band. And when he was in the Jompson Brothers it was the same thing. I was very much hands off. I was there as a supporter, but not a big part of any of the decisions or business. When he [got offered] this [solo] record deal at Universal, it was almost like from that moment on we made decisions together. From me singing with him, or picking songs, or deciding what gigs to go play, we’re just figuring it all out and we’re doing it together. It’s become a very natural thing.

As a songwriter, you had a big hit with Carrie Underwood’s “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” in 2006. What are some other cuts you’ve had that you’re particularly proud of?

Another one of my favorites is a song Chris and I wrote with one of my favorite songwriters in [Nashville], Liz Rose, and it’s on a Trisha Yearwood record called “We Tried” [from Yearwood’s 2007 album Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love]. Anything she sings just blows my mind. She’s a hero, so to have that come full circle from listening to her records and wishing I could sing like her and be like her to having her [cut] a song was a kind of incredible feeling.

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Do you still moonlight as a session background vocalist, or does touring keep you too busy?

Touring does keep us very busy. But I went and sang on a John Prine thing a couple of weeks ago, so that was a highlight for sure. Like bucket list stuff. I do it as much as I can, and really as much as I’m asked. It’s something I like to do. I love to sing harmony. There’s nothing more fun as a singer for me. I don’t prefer to sing the lead. I like getting to sing with someone. I find it more interesting. I think it has a lot to do with growing up in a family of singers and always trying to find where you fit in. It reminds me of home.

Do your kids come out on tour with you? How does that work with you both on the road together?

We’ve started doing as much of that as we can. It’s been a bit of a transition trying to figure out how to go about juggling this much work with family life because we’re gone so much. But any time we can bring them out, we do.

Are they showing signs of being musical given their gene pool?

[Laughs] We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t want to jinx it either way. Whether they want it or they don’t, I want them happy. If they love to sing or drum or teach or preach or whatever they want to do, I’m all for it.

An edited version of this article originally appeared in the May 14 issue of Billboard.


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