Mason Adams Published

Morgan Wade Rises In Country But Stays Anchored In Appalachia

A PR photo of country music singer Morgan Wade
Morgan Wade

This conversation originally aired in the January 20, 2023 episode of Inside Appalachia.

Morgan Wade’s album “Reckless” launched her as a country music star, but her connection to Appalachia has kept her rooted in place.

The 2021 album became a hit on the strength of its single “Wilder Days,” charting at number 14 on Billboard’s Heatseekers charts. Wade grew up in Floyd, Virginia, where she became a sensation, first as a talented local musician and then again when she started to rise in country music.

Wade toured throughout the last two years, including a run opening for Chris Stapleton. At one point, she played Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, long known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry — and then a few days later came back to play at the Floyd Country Store, a small venue that hosts the Friday Night Jamboree.

Inside Appalachia host Mason Adams recently spoke with Wade.

Adams: You’ve been all around the country and played famed venues like the Ryman in Nashville. But you keep coming back to local places like the Floyd Country Store. What’s that like, to balance between traveling around the world and coming back to where you grew up?

Wade: There’s always going to be something special about coming back home. This past year, doing the country store, it was really incredible. I got to shake everybody’s hand and stand there, and thank them for coming out. It was like a trip down memory lane. A lot of these people I haven’t seen in years. Every time I come back home, I feel a little more grateful for all those people. I really realized I was blessed to grow up in the setting that I grew up in.

Adams: How does touring change your conception of home?

Wade: Growing up in a small town, you kind of get a little stir crazy and you’re like, “There’s nothing to do here,” and you want to leave and go somewhere else. But as I’ve gotten older, I love the simplicity of a small town, and coming back home to this familiar, easygoing place is a really good feeling.

Adams: Appalachia is known for its music and so is Floyd. How did coming up in that culture affect your approach to songwriting and how you write music?

Wade: I talk about the Floyd Country Store a lot. I love that place. I spent most Friday nights with my grandfather up at the Floyd Country Store, because they have the bluegrass music, and people are out on the streets playing, and it’s just a really good time. That was my first introduction to live music. I don’t play bluegrass music. But the thing about bluegrass — take the instrumentation out of it, just focusing on the lyrics. They’d be singing these extremely sad, dark songs, but it sounded happy with the banjo music with it. I would always listen and connect with a lot of the words. They were singing about smoking and drinking and failed relationships and dark stuff like that. A lot of people don’t really see it that way. But I’m such a lyric person and always have been. That was my first introduction to music. As a person that does focus on lyrics, I took a lot away from that.

Adams: Can you tell me about the new single that came out “The Night (Part 1)” and “The Night (Part 2)?” Where did those songs come from?

Wade: “The Night (Part 1)” came out, I think in May 2019, the original one. It was the first song that I wrote about my sobriety and dealing with my mental health. It was just one of those that I sat down, and I recorded it on my phone, just a video in my room. I didn’t think I would do anything with it, but I ended up putting it online. Then that video blew up, it really took off. I didn’t expect that, because it was so personal to me that I didn’t expect other people to really connect with it. So of course they did. You know, when I’m playing shows, “The Night” is one of the songs that people are singing along just as loud to that one as they are “Wilder Days.” 

I wrote “The Night (Part 2)” about a year and a half ago. It was just the continuation of where I’m at. I’m not in the same place that I was in when I wrote “The Night (Part 1),” but I still had those struggles. I still have these dreams, where I’m taking shots. I am five years into my recovery, but I’ll still have these dreams that I relapse. It’ll take me a while after I wake up to really realize, “Oh, that was a dream.” It’s hard sometimes when you’ve been on a tour, and you’ve been gone for two months, to come back home and really be able to relate to the people around you and be able to kind of come back down from that high that you’ve had on the road. My main point of that song was just like, while things do get better, there’s still struggles, no matter what part of your life you’re in, no matter where you’re at. In your journey, you’re still going to have struggles. While it does get better, there’s a lot of ups and downs. The main purpose of that song was just really putting it out there, where I’m at what I’m feeling.

Adams: I wanted to ask about another lyric on “Other Side:” “You knew my skin back before I had all these tattoos.” Now it seems like a lot of people recognize you because of your tattoos and that iconic album cover. How did you start getting tattoos, and what’s your relationship with them now?

Wade: I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. And so tattoos were not something that they promoted, obviously. I grew up really thinking that tattoos are really bad. Then I went to college, and I was a freshman, everybody I knew pretty much had at least one tattoo. My friend was like, “Hey, I think you would like to get a tattoo. I think if you got one, you’d see it’s not that bad.” Then just a broke college kid, you know, the real smart thing to do is to go spend what little money you have on a tattoo. I went over to a tattoo shop in Roanoke and got my first tattoo. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, even a month later, I went and got three more. And then it was just on from there. I promised my mom I won’t get any past the elbow, and then it became a sleeve, and then it became my hands, and here we are. I’ve got quite a few. It’s kind of like with my songs, I’ve gotten all these tattoos at a different place in my life. This is something I enjoy doing, and I’m not going to stop.

Adams: What’s next for you? You know, you’ve worked hard and achieved this breakthrough success. What are your ambitions for the next record and beyond that?

Wade: I’m almost finished with writing the next record. I’m actually going to write a couple days this week. Right at the beginning of next year [2023], I’m gonna go in the studio. I’ve cut half the record already, but I think there’s a lot of pressure because “Reckless” did so good.

I’ve got a big, almost completely sold out tour starting in February, and so I’m gonna be busy. I’m gonna be really busy. I think I’m gonna take me a little two-week vacation in January, [and] go somewhere really warm. And after that, it’s game on.