Since releasing their self-titled debut album back in 2019, Morganway have become a feature of the UK country music scene.
The six-piece band scooped the Best Group Award at the 2021 British Country Music Awards and have performed all over the country, including Glastonbury and Millport Festival. Now, after a three-year wait, they’re back with their sophomore LP, ‘Back To Zero’.
I recently caught up with band members Kieran and SJ to talk about the new record, their recent UK tour and their plans for the rest of this year – including some more new music…
Your new album ‘Back To Zero’ was released last month – can you tell us a bit more about that?
Kieran: Oh, honestly it’s been a bit of a journey [SJ laughs]. Yeah, it’s really good for us to get it out because we actually recorded it between the lockdowns, and as there’s six of us we couldn’t get together for about seven or eight months for the first time since we’ve been a band. Morganway is all about performing live together so that was a very strange time. And yeah, I guess we recorded it when we could, when the rule of six was allowed, and then it was just the sort of excitement of playing together again. And finally we can release it to the world.
How have you found the response from fans so far?
SJ: Yeah, really good actually. We’re nicely overwhelmed, I’d say, with feedback and good comments. We haven’t had any unhappy people yet which is always good [laughs].
Kieran: There’s still some reviews to come in, but yeah! So far it hasn’t been the difficult second album, it seems.
SJ: Yeah, I think it’s gone down well. I think we’ve even surprised some people. A lot of people have said we’re showing a more rockier side. It’s cool ’cause it really feels like a kind of album that the six of us have all collaborated on together. It’s been a very democratic album, I’d say.
Kieran: That’s one word for it! [both laugh]
SJ: But yeah, it’s good to have it out.
One thing which really stood out to me was the range of influences on the album. Was that something you consciously wanted to do when you were making the record or did it evolve that way during the process?
Kieran: Yeah, I think on this one, truth be told it just happened like that. Because we were doing the sessions between lockdowns, it was like “oh let’s record three or four songs and then I’ll see you in four months when we’re allowed again”.
SJ: We weren’t thinking at the start, “oh, we’re gonna do an album”. It was more, “OK, we don’t have any gigs any more because the world has shut down so let’s just write music instead”. So it kind of came from a more relaxed creative place. We don’t ever really go into our writing thinking, “oh we’re gonna write a country tune” or “we’re gonna write a happy song”. We just kind of see what unfolds really.
Kieran: But there’s a song, ‘The Sweetest Goodbye’, which is a piano ballad halfway through the album. We actually only recorded that I think last November ourselves with a piano and it was SJ, Nicky and Matt completely live. We had this selection of songs and we were like, “we do wanna release this but it’s pretty relentless”, so decided to record that song just so it could be a bit of a breather in the middle of the album. So it wasn’t just hit you in the face nonstop [laughs].
Were any of the songs particularly easy or particularly challenging to write?
Kieran: ‘World Stopped Running’. One of the reasons we have so many different sounds is there’s a lot of writers in the band – SJ and Nicky wrote ‘Wait For Me’, me and SJ wrote ‘Come Over’, Callum wrote ‘World Stopped Running’. There’s a lot of different collaborations between the band, and ‘World Stopped Running’ Callum who’s my twin brother called me up when he’d written the song and he said, “I’ve got this banger, what do you think?” Well he didn’t say that [SJ laughs], he said “what do you think of the song?” I said, “that’s a banger, send it to the band”.
SJ: Did you?
Kieran: Yeah. And it got a very lukewarm response from the band [both laugh]. So I think Callum really believed in that song. And now we play it and we’ve released it and we play it to crowds and they sing along we’re all loving it, but I think that one took some convincing, didn’t it?
SJ: It’s not the band favourite but we all… unity wins on that one. But yeah, I think as Kieran was saying we all kind of collaborate together, but also differently on every single song. ‘Wait For Me’ was the first song that Nicky and I wrote together, and we were writing this furious, dramatic song when it was the two metre rule and we were allowed outside and we were sitting outside in the sun with our dogs having a lovely little time and then singing a really dramatic, furious song about being in a band! [laughs]
How do you feel your music has evolved with this record compared to the first record? And from making this album to now?
Kieran: Yeah, it feels like the beginning, weirdly. Because I think this album was the first time of all the band members writing in certain ways…
SJ: And being there from the beginning.
Kieran: And being there from the beginning. So I feel like we’ve come out the other side of this album as a family, everyone really trusts each other. Since then we’ve written loads of songs unofficially, we’ve already recorded a third album which has got loads of writers. But all of us have written on that as well. So it just feels like everyone’s taken the shackles off, is what it feels like [chuckles].
What was the main thing you learned from working on this particular project?
SJ: Oh! [pauses to think] I think one thing I learned was that even though it was between lockdowns and stuff, we did manage to record most of the album live together in a room. But we did all the vocals and backing vocals afterwards. And because we still had all that time where we weren’t gigging and stuff, we kind of almost overdid it I think on the backing vocals, to an extent where when we were taking it to the mixing phase we were like, “there is too much going on”. And we had to take some stuff out and that was overdubbed with instruments as well as backing vocals. We basically had too much fun with it, and I think it gets to the stage where you just have to be like, “that song is finished, that song is ready to tape, that’s good, it’s done”. I think we’ve learned that for this next batch of recordings that we’ve done. We just did it all in a week and we have the thought of what was done there was done and that’s that.
Kieran: Yeah, it captured a moment, and I think that this album will always capture a special time because I think the fact that we managed to do it. I’m really proud of the band. That’s what I take away out of it, and I’m really proud that we’re releasing it. Because it has been a long time in the making, because of everything that’s happened. It’s been so lovely because we’ve had some of the songs for over a year, as in finished, so it’s old to us but to have the reception of people being so positive, it’s exciting.
You’ve also recently finished your latest UK tour – were there any particular standout moments from that?
SJ: I mean I think the whole tour was great. Every show was different in a really good way, because it was so nice to do a grassroots venue tour as a grassroots band. But a lot of the venues were venues we’d wanted to play for a long time, like the Deaf Institute in Manchester, the Louisiana in Bristol and Omeara in London. I mean, I think for me Omeara, the London show was my favourite and the most special, because we weren’t expecting it to sell out on the night and it did. The vibe was so electric. And there was an amazing lighting show for us and everything, so that really got us all in the mood.
Kieran: Got the strobes going.
SJ: Yeah. I mean the whole tour though, it was just lovely. And we had Alyssa Bonagura support us and she was just fantastic every night.
Kieran: She’s a lovely person. And in the end I think we sold out six of the 10 shows, and that was a really big jump for us. But it wasn’t just “wow, people are turning up”, it was “wow, we’re absolutely packing out these venues”. And the ones that were turning up weren’t far behind. So it felt like a real jump in our career. So yeah, that was a real buzz.
Were there any songs that you played where the audience response surprised you? Like things you perhaps weren’t expecting to connect in a certain way or anything like that?
SJ: Ooh, yeah. I think we tried out quite a few new songs as well, and that was really nice for us as well to kind of experiment to see how they went down.
Kieran: From the second album, a lot surprised me. I think what was nice was ’cause we’ve released a few singles ahead of the tour, like ‘Wait For Me’ and ‘Come Over’ and ‘The Man’ and ‘World Stopped Running’, people were singing them back to us. They still felt new to us and it was, “wow, people know the words”.
SJ: That was cool.
Kieran: So that was really special. And one of our old songs, ‘Hurricane’, we got Alyssa to join us every night and she’d sing it with SJ and that was really cool. They’d do a little bit together. So that was a nice touch.
SJ: We like to change things up a little bit live. We never really quite sound like we do on recordings. But hopefully in a good way, ’cause live is such a different experience I think to recording. So we have breakdowns and solos to keep people excited and that’s always good fun.
Kieran: I mean set lists are quite a stressful thing for Morganway [SJ laughs] because by the time all six members have chosen five or six songs they definitely wanna play, you’ve still got way too much material [laughs]. And we’re only on album two so I’m like, “God, it’s only gonna get worse!” [laughs]
I mean at least you’ve got options so you’ll never have the same show twice…
Kieran: No. Absolutely. We’re definitely one of those bands.
SJ: I’m pretty sure every night on our last tour that we just did it was a different set every night. Even if we thought a set list went down really well we were like, “oh no, we wanna play this one tonight” [laughs]. It was a different experience every night! [laughs]
What’s still on the bucket list for you at this point in terms of people you’d want to work with, places you’d want to play and things like that?
Kieran: Many things! But for me two immediate bucket list things are playing outside the UK – that’s what we’re working on behind the scenes, getting out of the UK and spreading the Morganway wings.
SJ: Yeah. Like Europe and America is what we’ve got our sights on at the moment. And just festivals, festivals, festivals. We love supporting artists as well. We had some dates with Elles Bailey before our tour this year and that was lovely just to kind of play to a completely new audience in a more acoustic, stripped back way. We’re experimenting with what we can do with our lineup so we’re not always just blasting people in the face with our six-piece.
Kieran: But the problem is you’re asked to support someone and then you say “we’re six members and we need six vocals” and logistically they immediately go “no” [SJ laughs]. So that’s gonna be something to explore. And releasing new music. I think ’cause of lockdown, it has been a long time between our first and second albums and we wanna make up for lost time and get as much music out as possible.
SJ: Yeah, that’s it, I think. Ever since we’ve finished this second album we’ve just been wanting to create and record more. We’ve got a lot kind of ready to go now so it’s not gonna be another three year wait.
Kieran: That’s for sure [chuckles].
What does the rest of the year look like for you? I know you’ve got some festival dates coming up – are those and the album going to be the main focus?
Kieran: Yeah, yeah. There’s something big happening. We got festivals and then there’s something big happening involving overseas that we can’t announce yet.
SJ: But festival wise, we’re excited to play Black Deer…
Kieran: We’re playing the main stage at Fairport Cropredy Folk Festival on the Saturday afternoon which is really cool.
SJ: We’re playing lots of different festivals which is cool.
Kieran: And then the latter half of the year, basically there’s all these things in the pipeline that might happen so we’re crazy busy all year. We’re gonna be like, “sweet, get us some gigs!” [SJ laughs]
And lastly – have you thought about when there might be some more new music out?
Kieran: As soon as possible, to be honest. Obviously we wanna give this album what it deserves and that’ll be the main push, but yeah.
SJ: Already in the mixing phase. Almost.
Kieran: Hopefully more new songs later this year and then next album next year, is the plan, so crack straight on [laughs].
Morganway’s latest album, ‘Back To Zero’, is out now.
See Morganway live in the UK this summer:
17 June – Black Deer Festival, Tunbridge Wells
20 July – Secret Garden Party, Huntingdon
30 July – Chickenstock Festival, Kent
12 August – Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, Oxfordshire
18 August – Weyfest, Surrey
22 September – Deepdale Festival, Norfolk