Morgan Wallen on controversy, accents and the escapism in fame

8 January 2021 | 11:31 am | Mallory Arbour

American country music singer and songwriter Morgan Wallen discusses his highly-anticipated second album, Dangerous: The Double Album.

Morgan Wallen

Morgan Wallen (Morgan Wallen)

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Morgan Wallen is an American country music singer and songwriter. The 27-year-old competed on season 6 of The Voice in 2014, initially as part of Usher’s team and later Adam Levine’s team. This resulted in him recording a five song EP called Stand Alone and later, his platinum debut album, If I Know Me in 2018.

Now, the Tennessee-native is set to release his highly-anticipated second album, Dangerous: The Double Album early next year. Featuring 30 tracks, the single 7 Summers broke the record for the most day streams (4.5 million) for a country song on Apple Music and earned Morgan his first top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, debuting and peaking at number 6. This success came after he celebrated another career milestone, reaching the top of Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart with his debut album 114 weeks after its release.

Your second album, Dangerous: The Double Album gets released early next year. The album features a vast 30 tracks – which is quite unusual – and includes the hit singles, More Than My Hometown and 7 Summers. Why did you decide on a double album?

Towards the beginning of the year, me and my manager, Seth England had joked about putting a double album out because we had accumulated probably 20 songs that we were really pumped about recording. Instead of whittling that down to 15 to make one, we poked at that idea of doing two. I was just joking, because I was messing with the thought, because I didn't figure I'd have enough time. I was gonna be on the road and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to actually do something like that. So, whenever covid happened, it was like, well, that's not an excuse anymore, so let's work our way up.

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30 was never the magic number or anything, it's just where everything ended up. Once I got like five or six new songs that I felt were worthy of recording, we decided to go ahead and move forward with the double album idea, probably sometime around May or something like that. It was never something that was a goal of mine or anything, it just kind of happened, and I'm really stoked about all 30 – and it'll actually be 32, eventually, once the bonus tracks come out. I know it's a lot. It was a lot of work. It took a lot of time. But I enjoyed it and I'm really proud of it, so I can't wait to get it out.

Is there an overall theme to the album?

It's got two sides, so that would be the obvious thing. The first side is more of a personal, relationship-driven, looking back type deal. The second is more of my rowdy, redneck, rambunctious side. I love all of them, so it's hard for me to say which one is my favourite, but I may be a little more partial to the first.

I didn't mean to do it that way when I was writing it [but] once we got the 30 songs picked, we looked at them and said, “Is there a theme anywhere? Do we have anything we can work with?” And, the more I looked, the more I realised we could do the more personal side and redneck side, so we went with that.

How was the experience making the album?

Making it has been awesome. I’ve got to spend more time with this one, [with] everything [pandemic-related] that's going on. With my first album, I didn't have very long to get it recorded and put out. With this one, I got to be more hands on. I got to go hang out with my producer a lot more, give him my thoughts, riff off ideas with him and be more involved than I have ever been before production-wise. It's been cool. He's a legendary producer and I really respect him, and he respects me. I feel like we bring out the best in each other. This album has been fun [and] I feel like I'm closer to it than my first one.

Many people choose not to listen to full albums straight through anymore as often intended or envisioned by artists and labels, instead choosing to replay their favourites over and over again. Seeing that the album is split into two distinct halves, this, brilliantly and ultimately, satisfies listeners who may gravitate towards one side of your music over the other. Do you listen to album from start to finish or are you more of a sporadic and selective listener?

I think it depends on how big of a fan I am of someone. If they've established themselves as someone that I think is gonna put out an album worth listening to then I surely will [listen to the whole album]. I can appreciate that for sure. But if it's someone I'm more of a casual listener to, I may not dig as deep. But I have some artists that I'll listen to everything they put out, for sure.

Do you think it’s important to connect with a song lyrically or can it just be a damn good song?

I think those go hand in hand for me ... I don’t know ... I really do like lyrics. I love listening to them. But at the same time, I listen to a couple bands where sometimes I'm not even sure what they're talking about! [laughs] So, I guess a little bit of both. It depends on the genre of music too.

With country music, lyrics are very important because it's pretty straightforward with what we're saying. For a genre like alternative rock or something, like, [American rock band] The War on Drugs is one of my favourite bands, and their lyrics are a bit more abstract and poetic, so I'm not as concerned about those when it comes to them. I just really like the sound of what they do. So, I think it just depends on what you're listening to.

In the opening track, Sand In My Boots, there’s a lyric that says: she tried talking with my accent. As an Australian, we hear that all the time – g'day mate, crickey, put another shrimp on the barbie, just to name a few common phrases. Is people trying to mimic your accent a common occurrence for you?

Yeah, it is. If I'm in the southeast of the United States, no one really says much, because I don't sound that different. But if I go outside of my region, then yeah, I get it quite a bit. Now, most people I meet, they probably already know where I'm from, so it's not as common now. But, when I first started travelling and started meeting new people, they all had a lot of questions asked me about it and they would maybe mimic it. Mostly all in good fun. But yeah, it's something I’ve experienced a lot [laughs].

Earlier this year, you caused some controversy when footage leaked of you partying mask-less and ignoring social distancing regulations at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa – which you later poked fun at during your appearance on the comedy series, Saturday Night Live alongside actor Jason Bateman. After the footage leaked, you posted an Instagram video apologising and announcing taking an intended break from the spotlight to do some work on yourself.
However, I assume most musicians don’t go into the profession with the dream of also becoming role models. How frustrating is it wanting to do things, you could argue, others your age would maybe do – whether right or wrong (though, in this case, wrong) – and then being scrutinised for it?

It takes some getting used to. I wouldn't say I'm frustrated by it. I feel blessed that people even care what I'm doing. I've tried to focus the good things, but some days it can be a little annoying. And, I personally, know that we're in a weird time in the world right now anyway, and everybody's kind of on edge and things are a little bit off. I don't have any bitterness toward towards people or the things they said about me or any of that [because] people are in a weird place. I hope that once [the pandemic] gets over with, people can go back to having a little more grace and mercy towards others.

But it is definitely weird and, even before all that happened, I didn't realise how much people actually did care about what I was doing. With the way everything was, I didn't realise that our platform had grown that much to where people cared like that. So, it was it was kind of a wake up and a realisation for me that I have more eyes on me than I realised I did.

On the album, there’s two songs – Livin' The Dream and Country A$$ Shit – that I thought may have been written in retaliation addressing the controversy. Was that the intention?

It was a little bit of that for sure. Livin' the Dream, specifically, I didn't make it for pity or anything. I wanted to let people know how I felt sometimes, and say, “I didn't do this to piss anybody off. I didn't do any of this stuff because of anyone other than me. It's just a weird thing that I'm trying to learn and deal with every day.”

My life is different now than it's ever been, and no one raised me to learn to be able to handle this. I didn't grow up with tips on what to do in this situation. I'm learning as I go and sometimes, I may mess up, and that song was definitely about that. Country A$$ Shit is more of a different approach towards the situation, but yeah, it's letting people know who I am.

When you’re a somebody you get given tonnes of free stuff, people throw themselves at you, and you get to hang out with other super, important people. You’re made to feel special in what seems like almost a completely different world. Why is it so easy to get caught up in ‘fame’?

For me, I'm always making people feel good. I can go pretty much anywhere around here, where I'm at, and make people feel good. And in return, that makes me feel good. So, I guess that's part of it. It's easy to get caught up in that and not really think about all the real stuff that's going on. It's kind of like a little side fantasy world in a way – it feels nice for a little while, but then your real stuff that you’re having to deal with is still there – so, it's like an escape, but at the same time, it doesn't really solve anything. So, you’ve got to be able to put it into perspective, use it for good and try to make the right decisions about it. But it is a place I could find escape in, and probably not the healthiest place, so I had to reset a little bit.

Keep up to date with Morgan Wallen on his Facebook page here.

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