Visiting with “Kiss Somebody” singer and Australian native Morgan Evans is a glimpse into the lives of musicians who immigrate to the U.S. to pursue their craft.
Fans around the world know Evans as a monster talent, and to his wife, Kelsea Ballerini, he’s the love of her life (the two married in Mexico on Dec. 2). But to the U.S. government, Evans is “an alien of extraordinary ability.”
“That’s what’s on my visa,” Evans told CMT.com during a visit to the network’s headquarters. “That’s my official title. It takes a long time to gain citizenship. I think that’s what most of the people who are not from America working in the music industry would be considered legally as. It takes a long time to gain citizenship.”
Evans had been visiting Nashville for years before he decided to establish a forever home in Music City. He remembers his first visit like it was yesterday. At the time, he had won an international music competition in Australia, and the grand prize was a trip to Music Row to record a debut single. The timing of the trip coincided with the annual CMA Music Festival — an event that attracts up to 80,000 music fans a day for live music downtown.
“My booking agent at the time called me and said, ’What are you doing on Friday night?’ I was like, ’Just going down to watch the shows at the stadium.’ he said, ’Well, how would you feel about opening that show?’
“It was nuts. After five days of being in the country, I was up on the stage at the stadium opening CMA Fest. To get that shot and that feeling so early on in life, is something that I can always keep going back to.”
Evans is currently working on a full-length debut with Grammy-winning hitmaker Chris DeStefano. His debut single “Kiss Somebody” is currently climing Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
CMT.com: You had a huge following in Australia before moving to the U.S. Talk about the courage that it takes to leave home behind and try something new in a place you’ve never lived before.
Evans: I’d come over on trips for weeks or even a couple months to write, and I always had such good times. It was so productive, too, because we’d be writing every day and recording. I thought, “I’ve just got to move. I’ve got to move.”
It was tough to move over here, and there are quite a few people you know. But there’s no old friends and no family here. So there are some tough times. But those were the times when I bought a loop pedal. Those were the times when I wrote a bunch of the songs that you’ll hear on the record that isn’t out yet.
I look back at that time like it was a lifetime ago, but it was two-and-a-half years ago. Those kinds of situations make you who you are and give you a perspective to sing about things like that.
What kind of songs do you want to be known for?
I love love songs. My favorite song I’ve ever written will be on this record. It’s called “Dance With Me.” I grew up writing songs on the other side of the world where I’d be waiting for that romantic moment of inspiration because you’re at it so hard here, you often don’t have the time for those inspirational moments that hit you. And this was one of those.
It was Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. and this whole verse/chorus just came out, and I thought, “I love that.” And it was one of those songs, it’s just for me. I almost wouldn’t mind if no one had heard it, but I’m really proud of it. I’m looking forward to sharing that.
At the same time, my favorite thing about music is playing live. If we can get to the chorus and everyone in the crowd has their fists in the air, that’s a good feeling, too. So music an evoke that feeling, too. It’s a bit of fun and a bit of love.
Tell me the story behind “Kiss Somebody.”
It was a song that was inspired by a mate of mine who lived in town here. I used to stay with him before I moved here, so I’d come over on a writing trip for two weeks or three weeks and stay with him. We’d play down on Broadway together, and we became really tight. He had this girl, they broke up and he was heartbroken. I was there for him through all of that. A year-and-a-half later, I came back, and he was still heartbroken over the same girl.
I was like, “Dude you need to kiss somebody.” Sometimes you’ve got to drink about somebody. And sometimes you got to cry and miss somebody. Sometimes you’ve got to kiss somebody.
Talk about the difference between international country music fans and U.S. country music fans. What is the difference to you as a performer?
Australian country music fans have been so good to me for a long time now. I could talk about them all day. What I’ve noticed about country music fans in different countries is that they are pretty similar. They’re similar in the way that if you like country music, you dig everyone.
And what I notice in America, I think we’re just spoiled. Every big city in America has a big country music artist coming through every week. So that one CMC Rocks weekend in Australia where the big American acts come down, it’s like the weekend. And it’s the best weekend for country music in Australia.
So you see this guy standing up on shoulders singing his heart out to the second verse on track eight on Cam’s record because he’s been waiting all year for that moment. He didn’t get to see Tim McGraw last week. He doesn’t get to see Kenny Chesney next week. This is it. I think that’s what you notice. I notice the same thing in the U.K., too. I went there for the first time this year and the people who came out, they were asking me about songs that haven’t been released.
Evans is on tour through 2018. Headlining shows at the Georgia Theater in Athens and the Stage on the Bay in Savannah in January are sold out. He joins Chris Young’s Losing Sleep Tour in April and May.