Morgan Evans is hoping lightning strikes twice: The 33-year-old Australian was a bona fide star in his home country, winning awards, releasing several popular albums and even touring with Taylor Swift.
But there was something missing.
He had grown up listening to American country music from Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and others, and always dreamed of making his own mark in Music City. So he started traveling from Australia to Nashville and one year made the trip nine times. “With 18 of those flights, I spent almost a month in the air that year,” he says.
Knowing that schedule was basically unsustainable, a little over three years ago Evans permanently moved to Nashville, which he calls “just the most epic music community I’ve ever seen or experienced. That’s the main reason I moved. I needed to be a part of that community. I love that I can get up and walk over to my producer’s house or to my record label. There’s no place else in the world you can do that, and I love it. It’s really just a pleasure to be a part of. There are the best songwriters in the world, and I want to be involved in that to get better.”
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Keith Urban, another Aussie who successfully made the leap to the top of the U.S. charts, Evans put his head down and slowly started clawing his way up the ladder in America. And he has no regrets, although sometimes it does give him a chuckle.
“Is it like starting over? It’s completely starting over, but that’s OK,” he says. “The one time it becomes apparent is when you’re on the festival shows because, as the new guy, you have to play at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. But it’s awesome and the music part of it is so fulfilling.”
Evans’ current single, ”Kiss Somebody” on Warner Music Nashville, just cracked the top 10 and continues to move up the charts. The song has surpassed 41 million on-demand streams and is on Spotify’s Global Viral 50 chart. Evans has also been named a One to Watch by CMT, SiriusXM, Pandora, Rolling Stone, Bobby Bones, The Tennessean and others.
He cowrote the song with two friends and it was inspired by a guy he used to stay with in Nashville. “We became pretty close and he went through this pretty rough breakup one of the times I was there. I went back to Australia and a year-and-a-half later, I came back and he was still heartbroken over the same girl. And I was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to kiss somebody.’”
In addition to his music, there’s something else that is helping introduce Evans to the U.S. country music community: his wife, country star Kelsea Ballerini. The two met when they cohosted an awards show in Australia in 2016. They married on a beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in December 2017.
Being a newlywed at the same time as trying to launch a solo career in country music is no easy task. Ironically, Ballerini is opening for Urban on his Graffiti U world tour while Evans just completed a 10 in 10 tour where he played 10 intimate clubs in 10 cities in 10 days. That tour wrapped up last week and tonight, he will be featured on “The Bachelorette” performing “Kiss Somebody.”
The two do their best to see each other as often as possible and have set a goal that no more than 14 days can go by without them being together. Ballerini was supposed to join Evans for his New York show at the Mercury Lounge last week, but it didn’t work out.
Instead of being backed by a band, Evans played his 10 in 10 tour alone, accompanied only by a guitar and a loop pedal, a device that records music and, with a kick, immediately plays it back, essentially allowing you to serve as back-up to yourself. The device has been successfully used by Ed Sheeran, another inspiration to Evans.
In Australia, he had been backed by an actual band that included his brother and some longtime friends, but they didn’t follow him to the U.S.
“It came about because we’re putting out a bunch of music now,” he explains about the tour. “We put out ‘Day Drunk’ a couple of months ago and between now and fall, we’re going to put out a few more songs, and we said, ‘what can we do to tell people the music is coming out?’ And I just love playing live. So we said, ‘how about 10 in a row?’”
The shows sold out and while he admits that he was a little tired toward the end of the run, he was happy with how it turned out. “The shows have been such fun. I’ve never done my own shows in America before and it’s so different playing 25 minutes opening for someone else and playing your own show for an hour or so.”
His enthusiasm for performing is undeniable, and Evans transitions between uptempo numbers and ballads that showcase his eclectic musical style.
“The stuff I grew up on was a mixture of rock ‘n’ roll and my parents’ records, which were Garth Brooks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Glen Campbell,” he says. “But also things like Led Zeppelin, Credence Clearwater Revival, stuff like that. It was a mix. I went through a bunch of phases as you do in your teens, Keith Urban was a huge one that probably makes a lot of sense, and I love the Foo Fighters. I love Dave Grohl, the way he can write serious songs and then look like he’s having the best time on stage. I’m into Ed Sheeran as well and I love him in the same way: he has these really emotive songs but he’s just a fun character. That’s the combination I enjoy — I love writing meaningful songs but I also like having a good time on the stage.”
Earlier this year, Evans opened for Chris Young on his Losing Sleep tour and starting this fall will pick up and start playing on that tour again. “We did 20-something dates already this year and we start up again in September for another 30 or so, all the way through almost to Christmas,” he says. “He’s a good dude. He’s got the kind of voice that makes me say: ‘He’s got a real man voice.’”
Also coming this fall is Evans’ first U.S. album. “There are a couple of dates floating around, but it’s definitely going to be this fall and there will be another two songs before then,” he said. “We finished it two-and-a-half weeks ago, turned it in, and it’s a pretty crazy feeling.”
Evans won’t let on whether there will be a duet with his wife, but hints that there just might be. “We’re working on it,” he says with a smile.
The other thing he’s working on is upping his fashion quotient. Ballerini is among the most stylish stars in country music, and that puts a spotlight on her husband. “Do I feel pressure, absolutely,” he says. “I’m the guy standing next to her and I’m very aware of that. I’ve definitely improved the way that I dress — she doesn’t put up with the board shorts anymore.”
When he’s on stage, he likes to wear “stretchy jeans” and a T-shirt. And because of the loop pedal, he’s traded his boots in for sneakers, with Vans as a favorite.
“I try to wear Australian stuff when I can. There are not too many things left in my life that are Australian: I have an Australian guitar and if I can wear Australian brands as well, I try to,” he says, pointing to his Zanerobe T-shirt and Ksubi jeans. “And I’ve just started wearing suits, which I never thought I’d do, for the red carpet. So I’m learning. I wore this Emporio Armani one to the CMA Awards last year and all of a sudden, all the other suits didn’t feel as good. It felt like business class. So that’s my very early experience being fashionable.”
But while he’s learning to embrace fashion, it’s still new to him. “The other day I was wearing this outfit at the CMT Awards and I guess it’s fashion-forward to have your pants above the ankle and then you don’t wear socks that show. I’d never done that before, but I thought it would be a cool thing. I woke up the next day and my brother and all my old bandmates in Australia said, he’s got a song on the radio but he can’t afford socks.”