Though Things That We Drink To, the title of Morgan Evans‘ debut Warner Music Nashville (which dropped Oct. 12) might suggest an album chock full of heartache and loss, the songs on this guitar slinger’s 11-track album are unabashedly optimistic, echoing the wide-eyed cheerfulness of an artist enjoying both the first blushes of career success (with his first No. 1 single, “Kiss Somebody”) and relishing a solid relationship with wife and fellow country entertainer Kelsea Ballerini (who joins Evans on the dreamy track “Dance With Me”).
Even the album’s heart-wrenching title track, which Evans penned alongside Chris DeStefano and Josh Osborne, brims with a hard-earned, stubborn optimism. Evans penned the track while still reeling from the death of his longtime manager and mentor, Rob Potts, who died in a motorcycle accident last year in Australia. In the wake of tragedy, Evans and company focused on the joy of working alongside Potts.
“We talked about writing a song as a way to celebrate the life we got to live together and all the good times we got to have,” he recalls.
Early in his career, Evans established a strong fanbase in Australia, releasing two EPs as well as a full-length self-titled album via Warner Australasia. He’s picked up five CMC Awards in Australia.
With encouragement of Potts and others in Australia’s music community, Evans set his sights on a career in the U.S. and began regularly making the nearly 20-hour flight to Nashville, where he would stay two and three months at a time.
Nearly four years ago, Evans made the transition to living full-time in the U.S. Ironically, a visit back to Australia during the Christmas season led Evans to meet country songwriter-producer Chris DeStefano. Evans took part in a songwriting camp during his stay in Australia, and was paired in a writing session with DeStefano and a New Zealand rock band.
“It was the oddest experience, but also the best,” he recalls. “Obviously I knew exactly who [Chris] was and what he’d done. He wasn’t even the producer in the session. This rock band was producing and one of the guys kept turning to me and saying, ‘How would you produce this in a country way?’ And I looked at Chris and was like, ‘You should probably ask that guy. He knows.’”
Through the writing camp, Evans was also paired with another Nashville songwriting heavyweight, Ashley Gorley. “By Wednesday of that week, we were all in the studio together making demos, and they said, ‘You should move to Nashville,’” he recalls, laughing. “I was like, ‘I live there now, so that kind of works out.’ It was just a chance meeting with those guys, and I started writing a lot with Chris and he took the reins on the production for the album.
“Once we had ‘Kiss Somebody,’ ‘Dance With Me,’ and ‘Everything Changes,’ that was when the conversation started between Warner in Australia and Warner in Nashville,” Evans recalls. “Looking back now, that was one of the best things that could have happened because we started working with this great label but we already had this great thing going already, with Chris writing and producing these great tracks that were already well on the direction we wanted to go. That’s such a cool place to start the project.”
Things That We Drink To is driven by churning music loops and soaked in country-rock stylings that have brought comparisons to fellow country artist Keith Urban, whom Evans has long counted as an influence. Also driving the album is the musical vision shared by Evans and DeStefano in the studio.
Together, Evans and DeStefano contributed nearly all the instrumental work on Things That We Drink To, showcasing their versatility and willingness to experiment with various sonic textures. Studio session drummer Nir Z also contributed percussion to five of the tracks.
“During the process of recording one of the songs, I said, ‘Man I could hear a string section on this.’ And it was just me and Chris in the studio. So he got up, got a violin and played 30 tracks of violin and suddenly we had this string section for a song. I still remember that as the moment of us working together where I thought, ‘This really is limitless, the most pure form of creativity I can imagine.’ The whole process was a lot like that and his ability as a musician and producer meant a lot of those tracks came to life as we were writing them.”
As buoyant as the album sounds on shimmering tracks like “Day Drunk” and “Young Again,” Evans comes across as engaging and authentic throughout.
On the hopeful “We Dream,” Evans brought in Ashley Gorley’s daughter and a few of her friends to sing on the track, creating a choral moment in the chorus.
“Originally, I was singing that part that the choir sings on. I felt like there was something missing, on those words like ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ That just felt like a youthful feeling and I thought, ‘Why don’t we get a choir on this? How cool would that sound? It would make it feel like what it’s saying.’ Having them on the song was the magic missing from the album. It was the last song we recorded on the album, and their part was the last part we recorded for the album.”
For most of the year, Evans has been opening for Chris Young on his Losing Sleep World Tour, allowing Evans to watch his fanbase grow on a near-nightly basis, as “Kiss Somebody” has wound its way up the charts.
“I got to watch this year what it means to have a Top 40, then a Top 30, then a Top 20 single, and you can feel a difference between all those things and the energy is crazy. I’m the first onstage of three artists, which quite often you wonder if anyone is going to be in the audience yet, but the places have been pretty much if not full every night so I really feel like I’m in a good position in my life and career to appreciate what that means.”
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