“You have your whole life to make your first record,” is a popular saying in the Nashville music community. For rising artist, Morgan Wallen, he’s confident his debut, If I Know Me (out April 27), captures every moment in his musical journey so far.
“To be proud of every single song on there, it’s cool,” he told CMT.com with a shy smile.
To Wallen, it’s a milestone: a combination of blood, sweat and tears and of vast musical influences that both exemplify country music and expand beyond it. What it also sounds like is an album full of singles. No lulls here; even in the project’s softer sentiments and slower tempos.
“That’s kind of the way we viewed it for sure. I don’t think anybody ever knows the exact plan as far as how many singles or that kind of thing, but we definitely wanted to get the music out there and see what people think. You know, ‘What should we do next?’”
A great barometer for hits is an artist’s fan base, and being out on tour with his “Up Down” collaborator’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard from Florida Georgia Line gave him a chance to road test these songs for audiences nationwide.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to have this record out — because your fans get to listen to the songs and know what you’re singing instead of just going, ‘Oh, I like that! How do I find that, how do I hear it, how do I learn it?’ So to have a full album out so they can get a full idea of me and who I am, and to come to the shows and know the words — I’m looking forward to that.”
Even at current shows, fans have found unreleased Wallen songs online and have memorized them by heart.
“You can just tell that there’s an eagerness and a want for it,” he said.
And is there anything better than knowing you’ve got an audience and that they’re demanding more?
It’s a record that is meant to be experienced live. Bringing the party vibes are songs like the hit “Up Down,” “Happy Hour” and “Watcha You Know About That,” which also happens to be Wallen’s favorite to play at shows.
Then there are sweet emotions and grooves on the almost-ballads “Redneck Love Song,” “Little Rain” and “Chasin’ You,” the latter of which is the equivalent of a love song done Wallen’s way.
And then there are the simply undeniable jams, like “If I Know Me” and “Not Good At Not.” Sonically the album’s tone boasts the swagger of rock and hip-hop, the infectious melodic drive of pop, and nods to ’90s country in Wallen’s own natural twang.
“There are definitely a couple of songs especially like ‘Happy Hour’ or ‘If I Ever Get You Back,’ that are very direct, honky-tonk sounding songs in that world and we did that on purpose. I know that a lot of people my age and my demo love that kind of music. I think the nod toward that and the relatability toward that is there and important.”
And it was a little bit of learning curve for Wallen who admits he brought more of the rock and hip-hop sensibilities to the album, as those particular genres were an enormous part of the soundtrack to his childhood.
“I grew up on a lot of classic rock: AC/DC, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s funny, because nowadays if the Eagles or Lynyrd Skynyrd put out a record, it would be country, more than likely. That’s where I probably got my country influences from back in the day,” he said.
But then high school hit and ushered in a whole new world for the singer/songwriter: radio pop/rock and hip-hop.
“I loved Three Doors Down, that was my jam. I even loved some hip-hop. I love it all. For me, if a song makes me feel something — whether or it’s straight up ’90s country or hip-hop — if it makes me feel something, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
And the development of the artist he is today took time, and it’s a journey he’s grateful for and hopes to continue.
“When you first move to town, you have a completely different perspective on life,” he said.
“I’ve put in however many hours and however many days, and I’ve changed a lot of things: my look and the way that I carry myself. I don’t know if this is the right word, but I wasn’t as ’focused’ when I first got here. I moved here, got a record deal in six months, a publishing deal in six months, and you’re like ‘Well, that’s easy!’”
But music is anything but easy. He’d put in years of hard work before he got to town, and with the release of his new album, now even harder work lies ahead of him. But he’s got his eye on the prize, and the faith that he’s on the right path. So much so that he doesn’t even worry about that old injury that took his once-promising baseball career away.
“A lot of it is just — it’s just what God wanted me to do with my life. I’ve always had a musical love — it was either baseball or a musical instrument or singing. I never played with any toys it was music or sports.
“Looking back, that’s the way it was supposed to happen, I’m so glad it did.”
Catch Wallen on the road with Luke Bryan this summer, and then on his own headlining tour this fall.