Before up-and-coming country singer Morgan Evans became a Nashville resident a couple years ago, he got his start growing up in the working class town of Newcastle, Australia, where he saw an intimate Keith Urban show in 2004 and realized he wanted to follow the same path.
“He was the first artist I’d seen that really started to combine rock, pop and country music,” Evans recalls to Billboard. “That was the lightbulb moment – like, ‘Wow, these are all the sounds that I love all at once.’” After experimenting with different sounds throughout his school days — everything from playing in a metal band to trying out rapping — Evans felt like country was the lane he fit best in. “It kind of chose me,” he says.
In pursuit of a career in country music, Evans spent his post-school years flying back and forth from Australia to Nashville. Initially coming over for two or three weeks at a time, he was eventually spending almost half his time in the states — so in 2015, he decided to pull the trigger and make the official move. “The inspiration is huge, and something I definitely couldn’t have gotten just by living in Australia,” Evans suggests. “By default, I had to pack up the guitar and my three black t-shirts and get over here.”
Leaving his friends and family behind, Evans admits it felt “different” waking up in Nashville knowing he wasn’t going back to Australia. “Nashville’s the kind of place as a singer-songwriter, there’s like 10,000 of us – especially when you come from the other side of the world, you don’t know very many people, and the people you do know are just acquaintances,” he explains. “You’ve kind of got a choice to be inspired or intimidated. When you get lonely when you first move, you’re definitely more towards intimidated, like, ‘What am I doing with my life? Should I be here?’”
But toward the end of that year, Evans says he found “my person” in songwriter/producer Chris DeStefano, who has written some of the biggest hits for the likes of Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean. The Grammy winner was key in turning Evans’ initial intimidation into inspiration.
“I feel like that was the start of the journey of things starting to click, like if I bring the right emotion into a room then I feel like we can come up with something great with what I really want to say,” he says. “Even though it took a while to get there, when things started to click and feel good, I look back on being lost and confused and doubting [myself] and I just appreciate every second of that so much now.”
Evans says his biggest takeaway from his time with DeStefano and other hitmakers such as Hillary Lindsey (Keith Urban, Little Big Town) was learning his responsibility as the artist in the room of songwriters, and really honing in on what it is he wants to say. “That sounds so simple, but for me it was hard to get to that point of honesty and just being open with how to say something in a way that someone hasn’t said it before,” he admits. “I was uncomfortable because I was an emotionally closed off person, and once you open that up, it’s like the songwriting floodgates.”
Although his chemistry with co-writers was clearly working, finding a band in the U.S. wasn’t as simple. He was used to playing alongside his brother and best friends back in Australia, and none of the bands he put together felt quite right. So instead of continuing his search, Evans decided to learn how to use a loop pedal and do his shows all on his own.
“It wasn’t something I just picked up, I definitely put some hours in — it’s like learning another instrument,” he says. “But it’s starting to feel like an extension of what I do, and I’m really enjoying introducing myself that way.”
Evans’ loop pedal and Australian accent already makes him a standout among country newcomers, something that was apparent before he even moved to Nashville: While he was still making music in Australia, Evans was asked to open for Taylor Swift and Alan Jackson in 2011, later performing at a CMA Music Festival global showcase in 2014 and 2015. Following his songwriting success after moving to the U.S. and working with DeStefano and others, Evans signed his first U.S. record deal with Warner Music Nashville this past May, reconfirming the potential people see in him.
And on Friday (July 21), Evans officially made his American music debut with his first U.S.-released single, a lighthearted love song titled “Kiss Somebody,” the first track he and DeStefano wrote together that really clicked. “We sort of looked at each other and we were like, ‘I think we’ve got something,'” he recalls. “That became the new benchmark for everything else we did… I think it’s just a great introduction to who I am and what I’m doing.”
Evans has a handful of songs he’s eager to release in the coming months, which he calls “the chronicles of my life since 2014.” In addition to releasing more music, Evans will be hitting the road with Lee Brice and Josh Turner on a handful of U.S. dates this fall. And on top of that, he’ll also be working on planning his wedding to fellow country singer Kelsea Ballerini, whom he says has also majorly contributed to his accomplishments in the “year and a bit” that they’ve been together.
“She played a role in supporting me and believing in me. But the fact that she’s just a great singer and songwriter and artist, she’s a worthwhile and unique perspective,” Evans says. “It’s funny, I was saying to someone the other day that I used to go into songwriting sessions trying to write the best song in the world. And now I go in going, ‘Jeez I hope I get the best song in our house,’” he adds with a laugh.
As he prepares for everything that’s ahead, Evans is “equal parts excited, equal parts nervous.” Ultimately, he’s simply proud of achieving his dream of releasing a song in America when he came from a working class town on the coast of Australia — something he’ll never take for granted.
“This is the highest high right now, this is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career. I’m excited as I’ve ever been going on any stage,” he says. “There’s a lot of emotions surrounding it for sure, but hopefully it’s the start of a long journey of getting to play music in this part of the world.”