Three years ago, a single Morgan Evans moved to Nashville from Newcastle, Australia, with an acoustic guitar and three black shirts. A year ago, he made his U.S. debut with the peppy love song “Kiss Somebody.” Today, he’s a married man celebrating a top 10 single at country radio.
“Kiss Somebody” is currently at No. 9 on the Country Airplay chart (dated July 28), a position that recently earned Evans — who wed fellow country singer Kelsea Ballerini in December — his Billboard Hot 100 debut.
“I didn’t even know I was on that chart!” Evans tells Billboard with a laugh. “It's a representation people digging the music. And for me, that means I'm able to go play more shows to more people now, which is awesome.”
He’s certainly taking advantage being able to play more shows. Evans just wrapped his 10 Cities in 10 Days Tour, which took him all across the U.S. as a headliner following an earlier cross-country trek in support Chris Young. And just after that, he made his American television debut with a performance “Kiss Somebody” on The Bachelorette.
It’s safe to say that a lot has changed for the 33-year-old in the three years since he moved stateside, but it’s been the last year that has made him feel like he’s headed in the right direction. As he’s been crafting his debut album (due later this year), Evans isn’t just feeling more reassured in his songwriting — he’s literally feeling the growth in success as he continues to perform for fans.
“Every day the crowds get louder and louder and louder,” he gushes. “That's awesome to be able to feel that and be like, ‘Yeah, okay, we're doing something right.’ All year that's been happening. That's the reality what that number on that chart means.”
Billboard caught up with Evans to talk about the breakout success “Kiss Somebody,” connecting with both American and Australian fans, his Bachelorette experience, and why he’s no longer comparing his music to his wife’s — or anyone else’s.
You previously told us that “Kiss Somebody” was the benchmark for the other songs that you were going to be writing after that. What made it the one to beat?
It just had all the elements that I wanted to have in the music I was making, and I think that was the first time we cracked the code on what that was gonna be. In the past I've tried to write things too high or too low or you know, or too country or not country enough. And “Kiss Somebody” kind just had the perfect spot where I sound honest, I'm telling a story and not trying too hard.
I moved to Nashville with just an acoustic guitar. Having a band for so long and then moving over with an acoustic guitar, that was a big shift. To be able to find a sound that was sort defined by that acoustic guitar that I brought over, was a big deal to me.
As an Australian artist, how has this song helped you connect with U.S. audiences?
A year ago, me playing a festival here, there would be no one. Now, I’m playing venues I’ve always wanted to play, like Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, and people are singing along. That’s what you dream about when you move from the other side the world.
Have you seen a change in your connection with Australian audiences as well?
You know what, it's funny you say that because "Kiss Somebody" really did connect] down there, kind by accident. Often with pop radio in Australia, people will make "pop remixes" and stuff like that to try to get played on pop radio. And, it never really works down there. I think there's been like four artists in the last 20 years that's being played like pop radio that are country.
Warner Australia just took this song — not any remix or anything like that — to pop radio in Australia, and they played it. And it ended up being a top 20 pop song in Australia. It has completely changed the way that I communicate with Australian audiences, because there's so many different people there now that know the song, which is great.
What was your first performance back in Australia like after the song blew up there?
Over New Years Eve, I went back out and played at a festival, and it was the first time I'd gone back since "Kiss Somebody" had come out, and it was the first time I played in Australia solo doing the loop pedal] thing. I stopped playing at one point and the entire crowd starting singing the song — a couple thousand people — and it was the first experience that, having left that country a few years beforehand and not put any music out. Spending all the time in studios and then, to stand up there on that stage and to hear people singing the song on the other side the world to where I live now was just an incredible feeling.
The other cool moment was driving into my hometown and hearing it on pop radio, because there was no country radio station in my hometown. I was opening up for Josh Turner in Boston and I had to get to the airport to go somewhere else that night, so I get f stage, put my guitar on my back, run to the rental car, stressed out driving, and I remember I’d just pulled onto the interstate. I turned the radio on and it was playing. It was just starting the second verse, and I couldn't believe it. I was looking around, I was trying to remember if I put a CD in the car — there's no CD playing, my phone wasn't plugged in. If you go on my Instagram I took a video the moment, and it's kind embarrassingly exciting.
Why do you think the song is connecting the way it is?
I love that you can sing it with a smile on your face. I love that it's kind little lighthearted, but also has a deeper meaning behind it. It's funny because some people you meet at shows, it's like, "Oh, I love that song 'Kiss Somebody'! It's so catchy!" I'm like, "That's awesome!" And then some people you meet after the show — it's happened a bunch time with girls — they're like, "Man, that song really helped me fix up my head after a breakup" or something like that. And I'm kind like, "Wow, I never really thought it as a song that had any sort power like that." The deeper the connection the better.
The song also recently landed you a spot on The Bachelorette. How was that experience?
It's obviously a weird situation to be in — like, creating reality on a reality TV show — but it was a cool experience for sure. We were part this experience where at the end the date, they came into this theater. We played it and they got up and thankfully, they kissed. It would've been super awkward if we sang "Kiss Somebody" and they didn't kiss.
Do you feel like it gained you some new fans?
Yeah, I've seen people on social media reaching out going, "Who is this guy? I love this song." Bachelorette and Bachelor fans, they're their own breed. Just like country music fans — they're super loyal, and super passionate. I know them well, I'm married to one.
Are you a fan yourself, now?
I'm not going to go home tonight by myself and watch it, but next time she's at home insisting on it, maybe I'll be a little less resistant. Laughs.]
Speaking being married — last summer, you were talking about writing the best songs in your house. Do you feel like you're doing that now that you’ve had more practice?
No, I just gave up on that. Laughs]. But you know what, I feel like I'm comparing myself less to other songwriters. And that jokes about the house aside, I feel like in the few songs that I've been able to write this year, it's really been about just saying something truthful and making a song the best that I can make it rather than, "Oh, we need to do that but better, or we need to do that but better." I think that's probably the perspective that I got from writing less and being on the road more and I guess finding my identity here. Sometimes it takes a little more experience to really get your head around something like that — and I feel like that's happened.
Has marriage changed the way you think about songwriting?
I mean, there's obviously different perspectives on love. It's less about meeting the girl and trying to impress the girl — I guess it's a little deeper. I'll have to see what comes out and tell you after I've written a few more songs, but wife's definitely great and married life is treating us both well.
Is there anything that you want fans to know about your debut album that’s coming?
There's a lot songs on there that tell the story my last couple years, and that's obviously meeting a girl and getting married. It's also moving to the other side the world and trying to chase down some crazy dreams — and, you know, the loneliness that comes along with that. Finding different parts yourself that comes along with that. And also, I lost someone really close to me last year, as well, too, so there's a song that talks about that. There's a whole lot stuff on there that hopefully people can discover when it comes out.
A version this article was published in the July 21 issue Billboard.