10 Questions with ... William Michael Morgan
March 6, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
William Michael Morgan is a 22-year-old Country traditionalist who wears a cowboy hat and boots and cites influences that include Keith Whitley. Morgan was signed to Warner Music Nashville at the tender age of 19 and will release his debut self-titled EP on Friday, March 18th. His current single, "I Met A Girl" is climbing the charts, and recently, he sat down with us to talk about his journey, his musical inspirations, and what he hopes to accomplish as a "hat act" in a ball cap world.
1. William Michael, thank you for sitting down with All Access! You're such a young guy with a bright future ahead of you, but you've been working at your career for a while now, already. Can you tell us what you were like as a young child and how you came to be interested in music?
I was very to myself and kind of reserved, which I still am now, but you wouldn't believe it as goofy as I am! I was very to myself, and I liked just staying in my room a bunch, playing my guitar listening to music. It's kind of cliché, but that was me. And it still is, really!
2. So, during those days alone in your room with a guitar, was that when you decided you wanted to pursue music?
Yeah, I mean, I always walked around the house humming little things. I didn't have the story of growing up in the church singing in the choir, or this and that, but when I was about 14 I ended up cutting my teeth in some of the old honky tonks down there [in Mississippi]. That's when I really got my first band together and started playing literally everywhere back home in Mississippi - anywhere they would let me in. Or that I could sneak in to, either one! Haha! I just always really knew that I wanted to sing. I knew it was something I loved to do as a hobby, but then about 14 or 15 when I got my band together, it changed, and that's when I really knew I wanted to pursue it as a career.
3. All that time in your room really worked out if you were hitting the stages at honky tonks when you were 14! Who was the first person to really tell you that you had a voice and were talented?
Well, of course, it was mama! My mama, whether she was lying or not. You didn't hear me back then. But everybody grows and changes. And that's where the encouragement really came from. Yes, ma'am, it was my mama. And I had a lot of family support, really. My mom and dad were both so supportive of me, to the point that my dad at one point was running all of my socials - MySpace at the time! He was driving me here [to Nashville] and making calls. He was taking me to Nashville just so I could meet a songwriter for a day. They both really put a lot of time in to a dream for a little kid. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them - wherever here is. I just wouldn't be at the spot in my life that I am right now without them and all that support. I officially decided that I wanted to move to Nashville when I was about 14 or 15! But I started coming back and forth. I was here any chance I could get between working and school and whatnot. But I moved to Nashville officially when I was 19.
4. So, if there were to be a young child come up to you at a show or on the street and ask you about it, would you encourage them to pursue music at such a young age?
Oh, of course! Anything you love, you should pursue. Put the time in to it, love it, and just do it.
5. Do you remember your first gig in Nashville? Were you already living here, or was it during the time you were making the commuter trips back and forth?
Yes, I absolutely remember! My first gig was at Loser's - Winner's I don't think was up yet. It was at Loser's Bar and Grill, and I guess I was about 15. I had just started working with my management [Mike And Joe Show], and they got me the gig up there. They knew Erv - Erv Woolsey was George Strait's manager and owns the bar up there, and a couple other bars around Nashville and now the US. They were so gracious to open up their doors to me, and I was - of course - a huge fan of George Strait, so getting to play in there for the first time was great! After that gig, I started playing Tootsie's and a couple places downtown. Again, I was having to sneak in at times, because I wasn't old enough! But Mike and Joe are huge supporters of me, too. They've been here since day one, also, and I wouldn't be here without them, either.
6. So, when it came time to make it official and sign a record deal, how did your partnership with Warner Music Nashville come to be, and what made WMN feel like the right fit for you?
I took a meeting with [Warner Music Nashville VP/A&R] Cris Lacy, and she's actually the one who signed me. We did the one meeting and came back in a couple months or so. Then we had another meeting with Cris and [WMN EVP/A&R] Scott Hendricks at the time. I think maybe [WMN President/CEO John] Espo[sito] might have been in there that time, and maybe [WMN EVP] Peter Strickland, too. And we played a little showcase a couple of months later - you know how it goes on Nashville time, "come back in a couple more months." And at that time, I wasn't living here, so I was still coming back and forth. So, I think it was around December of 2012 that contracts were going to lawyers, and it looked like everything was going to be going through. So I called my dad, and I said, "Dad! You've got to get up here! We've got to celebrate!" And he immediately came right up here. I was staying with my management, and dad and mom drove up. Dad snuck me a couple of beers - but don't tell nobody! Haha! It was a great moment to share with them.
7. So, since then, you've made your home here in Nashville. And I know you've got a champion and a friend in Espo. How have Espo and the WMN shaped you and helped you the past couple of years as you've prepared to release your debut single and EP?
Everybody loves Espo! He is a total bad ass - excuse my language! But with Espo, you have to say that! He is the coolest guy I know, especially to be the President of the label. The label I'm lucky enough to be on! He's a funny guy - a character! The whole team here really believes in what we do and support what we do. They let me wear my cowboy hat, and they let me wear my starched jeans and my boots. And they let me talk like I talk and sing like I sing. They really support that, and they support all of the artists in that way. They let us do - within reason, obviously - what we want to do, and for the most part, they give us a lot of freedom. And I just really love that. I love how Espo is such a music lover - from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to Sheryl Crow to Dan + Shay. He's just a music lover, and it doesn't matter if it's different genres or artists, he just supports what he loves. So to have that is better than gold, I think.
8. You touched on how you're different than a lot of the artists out right now. The cowboy hat and boots with starched jeans is becoming rarer, in favor of ripped jeans and ball caps. But, with the rise of people like the Chrises - Young and Stapleton - and with the addition of guys like you and Mo Pitney on the scene, do you feel the pendulum swinging back toward the traditional center at all? And does that even matter to you when you're creating your music?
You know, I wear the cowboy hat, and I wear my boots and everything. And I sing traditional Country music songs in my shows. I was raised on traditional Country music. But I really think that in today's world, that it's not "Traditional" Country, or "Bro" Country, or "Pop" Country, or even "R&B" Country, nowadays. It's all one big highway! You've got your Luke Bryans and your Sam Hunts and Jason Aldeans in the left lane. Then you've got your Chris Youngs and myself and Mo Pitney and Jon Pardi over in the right lane. And we're all going to the same place! We're all making Country music. People want to call us Traditional, then by God, let them call us that. We're all just trying to make really good Country music, and the best music that we can make. Hopefully people like it, and hopefully people continue to grow with us. The Wild West is also a very good way of putting it, because there's a lot of exploring. There's a lot of going out and testing the waters and finding your path.
9. In 2015, you launched into a radio tour, made your Grand Ole Opry debut, and entered 2016 by tackling your first CRS. So, with all that has happened to you over the past twelve months, has there been a defining moment for you, personally and professionally?
We just played the Opry again a couple of days ago. It never gets old playing there - it's always like walking out there on that stage for the very first time. We've got an EP coming out [on Friday, March 18th], and so we've just really got a lot to look forward to this year. We had our music video that came out in 2015, and that's now getting played on CMT and GAC. And I'm really looking forward to 2016! This Summer, we have a lot of shows lined up with festivals and things like that. And we're working right now on trying to get on a tour for the Fall. So it's really looking up for us this year, and I can't wait to share all the good news with everybody.
10. Who did you work with to produce this EP? And talking about the single, "I Met A Girl," and the difference in the traditional and non-traditional lanes - can you talk to us about how you selected a single written by Sam Hunt and really made it your own?
The man himself, Scott Hendricks, and my very great buddy - who has been with me again, since the beginning when I moved up here - Jimmy Ritchey [produced the EP]. They supported me, and I say this - it sounds cliché - but I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. Whenever people ask me, "What did you do? How did you do this or that?" I usually say, "Well WE did this," or "WE did that." Because it really is a team. You would not be anywhere in Nashville - or in life, really! - if you didn't have your team around you! And, when we first heard "I Met A Girl," Universal Music Group had sent it to us, which is Sam's publishing company. I think it was Sam Hunt's mixtape version that they had, and Jimmy Ritchey played it for me. Immediately, I fell in love with it. Just the way - Sam has a great way of painting pictures in his songs. It's just great storytelling. When I heard, "I fell in love in the back of a cop car," I just see them there in that cop car. When I hear, "Come Over," I can see that story, too. He paints a great picture. And it was the same way with "I Met A Girl." When I heard it, I saw that girl crossing the street - with her baby blues and crazy shoes, biting her lip. Immediately, I said, "Man, we've got to cut this!" And of course, it was a different production, so me and Jimmy Ritchey went in and just laid down a basic work tape. It was just one guitar and my vocal. We took it in to the band, where we were tracking, just knowing we were on the more traditional side - we didn't want them to have any pre-conceived notions about the song. And we did that with all the songs we cut. Just because I'm a big Waylon Jennings fan, and he kind of did the same thing! But we took that work tape in so they wouldn't have that pre-conceived notion about it. And, I'll tell you, these players in Nashville are so fantastic! It was just magic; they made magic. And we all kind of looked around at each other after just a couple of takes and said, "This is the one." Which, of course, everything changes going in. You think there are a lot of really good things, but sometimes the second or third choice can easily be made the first choice when that magic happens - and it was happening right then! And just like with any other artist doing any song they didn't write, we really just made it us. Same way that Kenny [Chesney] did [with "Come Over"], and the same way Keith [Urban] did [with "Cop Car"]. We just loved the song, and we were so blessed to get it.
1. So, you just finished your first CRS, and you had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of the guys and gals in Country radio. And you've been out on radio tour and played some radio shows. But what is something about you - who you are, and what your music is about - that some of the programmers still may not know about you?
Well, I'm from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and I grew up in honky tonks listening to Waylon Jennings, and singing some Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck. I'm just a downhome, good ol' Country boy who likes to sing some downhome, good ol' Country boy songs about some good lookin' Country girls! Oh, and I really like to drink cold beer! Or maybe a room temperature beer will do, if the fridge is out. We also just want radio to know that we appreciate the chance they're giving us. The opportunity, and them playing the song first and foremost, we're just thankful. And for the people who really went out on the ledge, like [Cox Media Country KKBQ/Houston OM/PD] Johnny Chiang, and a handful of other people, I can't tell you how much we appreciate that. I think them doing that really opened up a bunch of doors for us, and I really think that if a couple more people were to give it a chance, we could really get this song going. We're so very happy with where it is and how it's going right now - it's looking up. We're just very excited to see how it's going to turn out, but no matter what, we're just excited and thankful for everything that everyone has done for us. There were people who jumped out on that limb with us and risked their head, and we'll always remember who they are. A few champions will make a man win.
2. We had the chance to hang out some in the Warner Music Nashville suite at CRS and had such a good time with you and Michael Ray. What a treat it was for you two - dubbed "A Lot Of Michaels" - to share some of your own music with us as well as your duets on some great, traditional, classic Country songs! So, thinking about that night and the performances you gave - if you were going to take the "Crossroads" mentality and setup that CMT-TV has with their "Crossroads" shows and put together a night with you and some buddies performing with some of your heroes and mentors, who would you want on stage to represent the Old School and the New School of Country music? And yes, I'll allow you to bring some people back from the dead for this one.
Dang, that's a really good question! I would have to say Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Hank Williams Sr. That would be an interesting show! And for my New School buddies, I'd of course have to bring my buddy Michael Ray - gotta have "A Lot Of Michaels" up there! Then I'd bring in Granger Smith, because he's been really good to us. I'd bring the Randy Rogers Band, but I'm only counting him as one person. And I'd call up Ryan Kinder, because he's a new cat like me, and we really get along great and have a couple of things coming up together that I'm really looking forward to. And, let's see - this last one has got to be the right pick, so let's see - I think I'll take the Love & Theft guys, Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker-Liles. One, because I know we'd always have a party, and two, because when everything really came down to it, those are the ones that you'd really want to have in your corner as far as being great people and real people. That was a really hard bonus question! I would love to do something like that, though - just my buddies and me - and just do a show like that and just play anything. I mean ANYTHING! Like, from Michael Jackson to Jackson Browne! I think that would be a blast.