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Interview: Morgan Wade - "It's important to remember where you've come from, and to be proud that you're not there anymore"
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - read it online or buy print editions here.
US Country singer-songwriter Morgan Wade chats to Maxim about walking the line between self-improvement and self-acceptance.
Hi Morgan! Thank you for taking the time out to chat today. You released ‘The Night’ back in 2019, and this has a brilliant mental health message. In particular, the line “There’s a rule down in the South that you can’t talk about your mental health” feels very significant. Two years on from its release, do you think mental health is any easier to talk about in Southern US culture?
I think we’re getting there, especially since COVID. People were stuck at home, struggling financially and mentally, so it became more evident that we have to talk more and embrace things like therapy. There are also artists like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Julia Michaels who are all very outspoken about mental health, and they’re getting radio play. The more people that speak up about it, the more people will feel comfortable talking about these things.
It almost feels like a contradiction, because songwriting is by its very nature a personal process where artists are seen as baring their soul and putting themselves in a vulnerable position. So isn’t it strange that, despite this apparent openness about emotions in Country music, which is known for its songwriting, mental health isn’t something that’s widely talked about?
I think it’s interesting. If you turn on Country radio over here it’s just men, and having been around ‘Southern men’ growing up, they don’t talk about emotions. They don’t talk about processing feelings. They’re told, ‘You’re a man, you don’t cry’. Men are told not to be weak, and that women talk about their feelings, but men don’t - which is so stupid, because everyone should talk about their feelings. So I think it does make sense that I’m hearing a lot of that on Country radio, because it’s mainly men on there. It needs to change.
This makes the album even more inspiring, because it’s unashamedly vulnerable. In Britain, we’re also known as being reluctant to open up about our feelings, with our stereotypical ‘stiff upper lip’. What advice would you give to people that might feel uncomfortable expressing themselves?
I got to a point where I realised I was so sick of feeling like the people I listened to didn’t have any problems. You get on Instagram, and everyone acts like everything is always great, when in reality it’s not. I started just being honest, and I realised there’s a lot more people out there that want this honesty and vulnerability. As you slowly start to become yourself more and more, it becomes easier. It feels a lot better to just be honest about things rather than pretending, because if you pretend for so long, you’re going to explode. It’s easier to just let that go, and just be yourself. We only get one life, so we might as well try to live that as authentically as possible.
'Last Cigarette' has a really interesting double meaning - there’s the struggle to let go of a lover, as well as the difficulty of emerging from addiction. Now that you’ve been sober for four years, how does it feel listening back to this song?
I wrote that song around two years ago. I’m a big fan of Russell Brand and his book, Recovery - people think that recovery only pertains to drugs and alcohol, but you can be recovering from a lot of different things, such as people, relationships, social media - anything. For me, it’s a song to look back and reflect. We as a society are so addicted to so many things - I don’t even know how many times a day I pick up my phone and think, ‘Well, why are you doing that? If you picked up a book as many times as you pick up your phone, you might be feeling a little bit better’. ‘Last Cigarette’ is actually my favourite song off the record, I had a lot of fun recoding that one. The sound is different to anything I’ve done before.
"We only get one life, so we might as well try to live that as authentically as possible."
It can sometimes be the case that when people go through something difficult, like addiction, once they’re on the other side, they want to forget that part of their life, and perhaps pretend it never happened. What inspired you to be so open about your own struggles through your music?
I’ve always been pretty honest, even as a kid writing songs for myself, because it was a way for me to release what I was struggling with. That’s the only way I know how to write. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Did I maybe say too much?’ - but generally those turn out to be my best songs! I feel like a lot of times if I’m scared to release something because I’m scared of being judged, then it’s probably the best thing for me to just put it out there.
There’s a line in ‘The Other Side’ where you say to your partner, “You’ve seen the parts of me that the world says I should hide”. Parts of this album are about transformation and self-development, while others are about embracing flaws and staying true to yourself. Has it been difficult to find this balance of when to say, ‘Okay, I need to change this’, and when to say, ‘No, you know what, this is who I am’?
Even as we grow and change, I don’t want to look back on the times before I was sober and be super ashamed and mad at myself for who I was, because I had to go through that. A lot of the time, we try to sweep things under the rug, but I think it’s okay for me to remember the things that I went though because they made me who I am. It’s important to remember where you’ve come from, and to embrace that that’s where you were in your life, and to be proud that you’re not there anymore.
‘Don’t Cry’ is another hugely emotional song, where the lyrics find you reassuring yourself in midst of a difficult situation. The overall tone feels optimistic, and you reach a point of acceptance – epitomised in the line ‘It’s okay not to be alright’. How important to you was it to include this recurring theme of self-acceptance on the album?
I start that song saying ‘I’m my own worst critic’. If you want to make any changes regarding mental health or addiction, it starts with you. Unless you really want it, you can’t make those changes and get healthy. People can reach out and offer you help, but until you really want that, it’s just not going to happen. We’re the hardest on ourselves, and we always believe that we don’t deserve good things. If I believed everything my mind told me, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you, I wouldn’t be involved in music. You’re going to be stuck with yourself as long as you’re here, so take care of yourself, and that’s something I’m continually learning. We just don’t treat ourselves. It’s been pushed into my brain that if you take time for self-care, then you’re being selfish. But it’s alright to tell people ‘No’, and it’s okay to do things for yourself, and we need to continue to normalise that and not just do what other people want us to do. ‘Don’t Cry’ isn’t just about sobriety, it’s also about killing that part of me that was like, ‘You have to do this’ or ‘You can’t do this’. I was writing it at a time too where I was trying to figure out who the hell I was. We’re all on that journey. It sounds so cliché to be like, ‘Love yourself’- I was always one of those people to be like ‘Okay, well that sounds like some ‘granola stuff’, I don’t want to hear that’! But now I’m that person that’s like, ‘No I totally get it!’
On ‘Mend’, you are looking to someone else for support. As you talk about all the ways that person has helped you to grow, how important do you think it is to look outwards in times of need, as well as inwards?
If I’m feeling depressed and just generally having a hard time, when I start feeling myself separate from other people, and not wanting to reach out because I feel like I’m a burden - those are the moments when I need to reach out to people the most. I think we all need some help. In trying to be independent, I’d sometimes think, ‘Well I shouldn’t have to ask anybody else for help’. But sometimes we really need that, because we can’t see clearly what’s gong on in our own head, so it can be helpful to get someone else’s perspective. I don’t think we should always listen to everything everybody else says, but I think there are moments where reaching out to other people is super important.
Finally, what are your favourite three songs with a theme of mental health?
Morgan Wade's brand new album, Reckless, is available now on all platforms!
Photos by David McClister.
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - you can read it online for free or buy print editions here!
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