Morgan Wade may only be 26 years old, but she’s already done an awful lot of living.
Originally from Floyd, Virginia, she began performing just seven years ago and has gained legions of fan with her distinctive, raspy vocals, alt-country sound and honest, open lyrics. Last week, she released her brand new album Reckless, produced by Sadler Vaden (guitarist with Jason Isbell’s band The 400 Unit), which is already winning rave reviews – including from us here at Entertainment Focus!
Ahead of the album’s release last week, I spoke to Morgan about the project, how she approaches her songwriting, her plans for touring (including a possible trip over to the UK) and more.
How would you describe your music?
That’s been a big question. Obviously Southern accent so it comes across country, but to me this record is a blend of country and rock and Americana, and some pop music in there. I think it’s just a nice blend. So if I had to label it something I guess I would say Americana.
Was having that variety of sounds and influences on there something that was important to you when you were making this record?
Oh for sure. I mean I listen to all different genres, so to me I didn’t want to be put in any kind of box, y’know, or just labelled as one thing. We just kind of went in there, basically making the songs the way we felt they should be made. And then whatever sound that ended up coming out, that’s what came out. But personally I thought it was a good blend. Obviously Sadler has a lot of rock and roll to him, so that definitely comes through a lot as well.
Speaking of Sadler, how did you end up working with him and what was he like to work with?
Yeah, some of his crew caught one of my sets at a festival before they played and mentioned my name to Sadler, and he checked me out. And a couple of days later we started chatting and we got on a Zoom call and started playing some songs, and we just clicked. He was looking to produce a record, I needed a producer. And so that was two years ago. We started working together and doing a lot of pre-production and just seeing how things were gonna go, and now here we are with a record. But he’s a super great guy and he believes in me and in the project and lets me be who I wanna be. So it was a perfect match.
This record has been a while in the making – is it quite strange that it’s now going out into the world?
Yeah, it is weird because I was in such a hurry. I’m very impatient. So we get the record done and a week later the world shuts down ’cause of the pandemic. And so then I’ve just had all this time – it’s literally been over a year. So now that it’s actually time to put it out I’m like, “is it really time to put it out? Are you guys gonna let me?” But I’m excited, I’m ready for everybody to hear it. We worked really hard. But it’s a little weird. It doesn’t feel like it’s real.
Do you feel the way you’ve approached your music has changed at all since you made the record? Or is it still pretty much the same?
Yeah, I mean to me, towards the end there’s a couple of last songs that we put on the record that I’d written to tracks. It wasn’t me sitting down with a guitar or piano or whatever, it was just a track. And so I’ve been writing a lot of stuff like that now, because I enjoy it and it adds something different. It allows me to change things up so they’re not the same. So a little bit has changed but it’s kind of like here and there. Since working with Sadler and a lot of these really talented people out here it’s challenged me to work harder with my writing and challenged myself. So, definitely.
I wanted to ask about your songwriting process – can you tell us more about that?
Yeah, I mean, after coming out here I realised when we were going into the studio to record and I had to sit down and type all the lyrics out for the songs ’cause they weren’t written down anywhere. I just memorise ’em as I go, I’m not really big on writing stuff down. I feel like it kind of throws me off if I’m sitting there trying to either type or write something out while my head’s going so fast. So I’m not big on that. But I’m trying to be better so I don’t forget anything. I just keep repeating a line in my head. I can’t remember anything else but I can remember songs, for some reason. Which I guess is good, you know, it’s my career! [laughs]
Were there any songs on this record that were particularly easy or particularly challenging in terms of the writing?
I feel like most of the songs just kind of flowed, which was great. There’s one song called Last Cigarette that originally had completely different lyrics. And I had the lyrics to Last Cigarette with a different melody. Last Cigarette was originally gonna be a song called Crazy Heart, and we just weren’t feeling it. We loved the melody, we loved the beat, and so we actually took Last Cigarette and put those lyrics over the Crazy Heart melody, and so we got that. So that took a little bit of time. But that’s my favourite song. It’s fun to do.
You’ve also been very open on the lyrics of this album about your mental health and sobriety. Is that something that’s important for you to talk about – both in your music and more generally?
Oh, for sure. Like I feel like that’s such a big part of my life, and I feel like my fan base… I’ve gained a lot of fans through that because they connect with that, and so I feel like I owe that to them. It keeps me being honest and authentic. It’s something that I struggle with daily so it’s something that I shall always be open about. We have to talk about those things to be able to overcome them.
How have you adapted to things like Zoom writes or live streams over the last year?
Well now it feels so normal. But to me, at the beginning it was a little weird to do the writing via Zoom and stuff like that. But the live streams were great – I tried to find the beauty in it. You can sit in your living room and connect with people. Obviously you miss the live shows and the interactions and stuff, but I feel like it’s the new normal now. I’ve met so many people through Zoom and Facetime that I’ve never met in person. It’ll be nice to finally get to see them, but I guess I’m just like everybody else having to adapt to this. You get it – this lifestyle [laughs].
Are you at the point where you’re thinking about going back out on the road yet at all?
Yeah, I feel confident with the vaccine and things starting to get better and numbers going down. We’re getting some more socially distanced stuff – it’s safe and we’re taking all the precautions, and I feel good. Shows aren’t being cancelled right now! Like we’re getting closer to them and they’re not being cancelled, so I’m feeling really good about that. I’ll believe it when I see it but I’m ready to get out there as soon as it’s safe and things are good.
You recently did some acoustic sessions for OurVinyl – do you have a preference for acoustic sets or full band? Or does it depend on the situation?
Yeah, these obviously… I’ve been working on some stuff out in Nashville, recording some stuff and it’s been able to be full band. And that feels really great, to actually be able to play these songs with a full band. I haven’t been able to do that since recording them. But we did the OurVinyl things… these were songs that weren’t gonna make the record, but they were songs that were gonna be available for people that really enjoy that singer-songwriter, acoustic thing. I go back and forth. I enjoy both. If I’m out there with just me and a guitar I can make it a more kind of singer-songwriter, talk to the crowd, more intimate thing versus then going and rocking out with a band. I love both. It’s fun. Honestly right now solo, full band, whatever, I’ll do it! I’m just ready to get out there [laughs].
You mentioned these were songs that weren’t going to be on Reckless. Was getting down to the final track listing quite difficult, or did you always know it would be those songs that made the cut?
Actually I didn’t feel like anything got left off, because I felt like we did a really good job on all these songs. They just meshed really well. So it wasn’t like we were arguing over no or yes. It just all came together really good. There’s a couple that we left off and I’m OK with leaving those off as I look back. I don’t think they really fit with the record and that’s OK, but I’m really glad with the songs that we did pick and super pumped for everyone to hear ’em.
I read in an interview that you wanted more people to ask you about your ultra running…
So how did you get into that?
Basically because I’m a little bit insane [laughs]. I was visiting a town, Damascus, Virginia, and I wasn’t running yet, and all these people were talking about this race that comes through there. It’s called the Yeti Race and it’s 100 miles. I was like, “What?!” I thought, “A marathon, 26.2 miles, OK”. I thought that was it. And then I was like, “That’s stupid, I don’t know why anybody would do that”. And then the next week I went and signed up for a six hour race [laughs]. Running continuously for six hours. And I just went and ran about 30 miles and I just got addicted to it, in a good way. To me it’s such a beautiful environment because it’s people of all body types and it’s not like you’re out there being really pressured and feeling self-conscious. Everyone’s super supportive. I mean you got people in their 70s out there running 50 miles, man. And so it’s been a really good environment. A lot of people from the sober community are really into the ultra running and honestly you just push yourself. We’ll go ultra running and all these trail races, it’s just a great environment and super supportive. I would rather go run a 50k versus go run a 5k because it’s just a different environment. You do a lot of walking and everyone’s super supportive. So it’s been really good for me to have something other than music to be involved in.
I also wanted to ask you about your tattoos – do you have any particular favourites?
Yeah, the Morton Salt girl [on Morgan’s forearm]. When I was younger I lived with my grandparents, and when I was younger I remember just eating dinner and staring at the Morton Salt sitting on the table. That’s like a big memory for me, so I got that one pretty early on, like a long time ago. Sometimes I forget what I have on there. I’m a fan of the nutcracker right here [on her other arm]. I like nutcrackers. But I’ve got so many. I have a roll of toilet paper with 2020 on it tattooed on my leg. My mother still cannot believe that I did that.
What’s the one song that you wish you’d written?
Man, that’s a good question. No-one’s asked me that one yet. I would have to say on Taylor Swift’s record evermore, she has a song called Cowboy Like Me. It’s very, very good. I wish I would have written that song. Super cool. She’s awesome.
What’s next for you? Is the record and your upcoming shows your focus for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, just seeing what we can do, getting back to touring however we’re allowed to do that. But just pushing the record, getting out there and doing live shows. I’ve got some other TV stuff coming up to promote. There’s still the pandemic but at least we’re coming towards the end of it maybe, I can see the light so fingers crossed [laughs].
Are you thinking about the new project yet? Or is that still a way off?
Yeah, yeah. No, that’s not way off, not in my head. I’ve been sitting there thinking about record number two for months and they’re like, “well we kind of need to get the first one out”. I’m impatient, I’m always thinking about the next thing, so definitely I’ve been writing a lot and looking for future stuff.
And finally – when we’re allowed to travel again, have you got any plans to come over to the UK?
Absolutely. Absolutely. 100 per cent. I’m on board with that. I’m ready for it. I’ve never been over there, so when the world’s shut down and you can’t do anything it makes you realise how much you’ve missed out on. So yeah, that’s top of my list.
Morgan Wade’s new album ‘Reckless’ is out now on Ladylike Records/Thirty Tigers.