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'I'm Just Trying to Be True': Morgan Wade on Subverting Expectations on 'Reckless' and Beyond

Monday, 27 June 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Aspiring musicians who feel they don’t fit into a certain mould, or live up to long held industry standards, could do a lot worse than adopting singer-songwriter Morgan Wade as their role model. A sterling example of how to remain authentic and let all aspects of your  uniqueness pave the way forwards, there’s nothing conventional about this 27-year-old rough diamond, who shot to fame on the back of last year’s highly acclaimed debut album ‘Reckless’.

Hailing from Floyd, Virginia, Wade’s music can’t be tied up in a pleasant black and white aesthetic bow. Although it sits somewhere beneath the snug umbrella tag of Americana, everything from traditional country, soulful balladry and heartland rock ‘n’ roll are incorporated into gritty songs that also boast some of the finest pop sensibilities and earworm melodies you’ll hear this side of the Beach Boys.

Yet those radio-ready gems are far from candy coated, feelgood romps. Delivering warts and all sentiments that are as lacerating as they are vulnerable and romantic, the singer’s rough hewn voice fittingly conveys her roller coaster ride of hard-earned experiences with a captivating gravitas that belies her years. 

Produced by Sadler Vaden, guitarist in Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, ‘Reckless’ immediately catapulted Wade into the spotlight. After signing with Sony a deluxe version of that debut hit the shops earlier this year, boosted by new tracks, older cuts and a clever take on her hero Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds.  We caught up with Wade during her recent UK tour to discuss all things ‘Reckless’, how she’s forging her own path, and what we can expect from album two.  

Going back to the recording of ‘Reckless’, apparently Sadler cited Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’ as the template for the album. Can you expand on what he meant by that?

Sadler is the biggest Tom Petty fan ever. We wanted to take ‘Reckless’ in a different direction to what anybody else was doing right now. Obviously that was a big influence for him and I think it is with a lot of his music. So we wanted to give every song the vibe we thought it deserved, whether it’s Take Me Away, which has more of a country feel, or Last Cigarette, that’s definitely more of a pop song. Instead of being ‘all these songs have to be this way and we have to do it like this’ we were like ‘no boxes, we’ll just have fun with it and do what we think is right.’  

Prior to the record being released you were being spoken of as the next great outlaw country artist, so some were surprised to hear that ‘Reckless’ is much more stylistically varied than that. How did you feel about people wanting to label you?

A lot of people just wanted to put me in that box. I just want to make the music I like. So it was interesting that people were putting me in that category when I didn’t even have a record out. Not to say that I won’t ever put out an acoustic album, but a lot of people assumed I was going to go in and make this whole record acoustically, just me and a guitar.  Some were a little taken aback by that, but that’s not what I wanted to do. That wasn’t my intention. I’m just trying to be true to what I want to do.       

You’ve got a great ear for a memorable hook—who are your influences when it comes to great melodic songwriting? 

I’m a big Lana Del Rey fan. Julia Michaels is an amazing songwriter and writes amazing hooks. I recently got to write with her. We wrote a song that I’ll put on record number two.  I did look to people like that, they’re just really good with the hooks. They push me and inspire me to be a better writer.    

You began writing songs when you were seven years old, but at what age did your voice start to take shape?

Honestly, I would say it started developing a few years ago. I feel I had my little breakthrough there as a songwriter. I’ve always written, but I started to push myself a little harder and dug a little deeper within the last few years, which you can see through ‘Reckless’ trying to be as authentic as possible. A lot of that came with getting sober, too.  That changed a lot for me, with my material and what I wanted to talk about.     

How did it make you feel, as a young child, when you were told your voice was ‘too weird’?  

When that happened, obviously, I was upset. But then I was like ‘I’m just going to keep doing this for myself. I’m going to keep playing and writing.’ That’s why, when I was finally like ‘Hey, I have a band now,’ my parents were very confused.  They were like ‘What do you mean you have a band? What are you talking about?’ They were all very surprised because it was just something I’d kept to myself. I knew I enjoyed it so I was like ‘No matter what, I’m just gonna do this for me.’ That was one of the best things I could do because I wasn’t trying to impress anybody or do this for anybody else, so I could be open and honest with myself.   

You spoke about hearing the polished vocals of Shania Twain and Faith Hill, but was there a singer who made you realise that you didn’t have to be like that and there are plenty of unique voices out there?

That’s why I connected with Elvis. He does have a very distinctive voice, but also with how he held himself and how he changed the course of music. He was banned in many areas but was just true to himself and was different. At the beginning of his career he was bullied for that and just kept doing his own thing and didn’t let anybody stop him. I really connected with that.    

Do you think it took time for your material to catch up with your voice, because the way you sing now is perfect for delivering the emotional truths in your lyrics.

Yeah, I’m definitely not in the same place I was when I wrote ‘Reckless’. I’m continuing to evolve. That’s why I’m ready to make record number two, get going on that and get that out there because ‘Reckless’ was recorded two years ago. It’s been a while. I think I’m continually growing and changing, hopefully for the better.       

Wilder Days was the song that really brought you to people’s attention.  You’ve described it as being about the one who got away, but I initially heard something different and thought it was quite subversive. So many classic country songs find a woman wanting her man to settle down, but you’re almost saying, ‘I wish I’d known you when you were a badass’.

Right, yeah, man. That’s the thing with that song. A lot of people interpret it in a different way, which I like. I go back to Bobbie Gentry when she had the Ode to Billie Joe song.  There’s a million different opinions on what that was about and what actually happened but no one really knows, so everyone can interpret it for themselves. A lot of people ask for details like ‘Who did you write this about?’ and I’m just, especially over people I’ve dated that I’ve written songs about, I’m not going to go put them on blast. I see it as a personal thing. I don’t go into a tonne of detail and that’s good because a lot of people hear songs and make them for themselves. I think that’s what songs are for.       

Earlier this year you released the deluxe version of ‘Reckless’ featuring a number of newer tracks that were good enough to have been on the original.  Why didn’t they make the cut?    

We went in, recorded 10 tracks and didn’t leave anything off. The other songs we added were ones where, later, I was like ‘I have this idea for these songs that I’ve written that don’t have a home right now.’ That was the idea for the deluxe album. The Night was actually a stand alone single from several years ago. I wanted to do that with a full band and do it a little differently. So, when we didn’t put it on the original ‘Reckless’ people were confused.

The album has done incredibly well and you’ve said it’s changed your life.  Has that success been a challenge to your hard-earned sobriety?

There’s always going to be struggles. I drank so much and that’s a part of me that’s always going to be there. I have to remember to silence that voice, but I’m so busy and tired from travelling I cannot imagine being hungover and doing this. I’ll get a little exhaustion and it reminds me of that feeling of being hungover. I’m thankful I’m not doing that anymore.  There’s always times I wish I could go out and have a drink and celebrate with people, but I know I’m not the kind of person that can have one drink and go home. I try to remind myself of that and keep going.          

There’s that revealing line you sing about not being able to talk about mental health issues in the south. Why do you think that attitude was prevalent there and is it still the same nowadays?

It’s definitely getting better. I look back to my grandpa and dad and it was just not something they talked about. When they were growing up they were poor and struggling.  They worked and  weren’t there talking about their feelings. There was this big misconception men shouldn’t do that. That it makes them weak. So it was generational times, where it wasn’t something you talked about. People my age, we’re growing up and going to therapy and in a world of social media, so we’re talking more about stuff. 

Are you feeling any pressure when it comes to making your next album?

‘Reckless’ has done very well and made a lot of ‘top’ lists, so there’s a little pressure. But I know the songs I’ve written and the new stuff I’ve got is really good and Sadler’s a great producer, so I’m not worried. I’m gonna try to go in there like we did with ‘Reckless.’  We didn’t have any pressure on us, we just went in there, had fun and made a record we believed in.


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