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MORGAN WADE:
RECKLESS TALK


Morgan Wade
—spider-monkey thin, blonde hair pulled back in a messy twist, covered in tattoos—could be a BMX racer, the queen of the half-pipe or a thrash punk. But the most dangerous thing about her is the way she writes so viscerally about life’s ravages, emotional carnage, unfiltered desire and moments that would destroy most people.

Reckless, released earlier this year on Young Mary Records, bristles with the kind of turpentine truth that made Lucinda Williams a cultural force in the late ’80s and Patty Griffin a writer to be reckoned with in the 2000s. Unabashed and unafraid to put it on the line, she can toss off a lyric like “You told me I should be more free/Is that how you tried to control me” with a reckoning shudder, gently churning an arena-sized melody that will see drunk girls holding cigarettes aloft for years.

Told her voice was funny, the loud-mouthed child took it to heart. But that didn’t stop the young Virginian from singing to her heart’s content alone in her bedroom. In private, she wrote songs and learned to sing for herself. What might’ve stopped others became a blessing.

Wade developed a voice that’s both little-girl sweet and she-pirate swaggering; fearless, even when she’s needy, she’ll throw down hard facts and her own sometimes thwarted sexual craving with brutal honesty.

In many ways, Reckless tracks the burning wreckage of a scorching passion, over for one and not so much the other. Sadler Vaden, longtime guitarist for Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, pressed the twentysomething Wade, who was touring regionally and learning how to be sober, to really dig into her life and her writing.

It proved a magical pairing—so magical, in fact, that Sony Nashville Chairman Randy Goodman, the man who’s been minting next-wave superstars Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Maren Morris, as well as boasting the incomparable Miranda Lambert, had to sign her. While truly smart and vulnerable songwriter records—imagine Kris Kristofferson as a Gen Z woman—aren’t today’s country, Wade's work as a vocalist and writer is so strong that the label is committed to taking her as far as possible.

Given that she writes about pills and cigarettes, wanting “to get you high and lay you down,” older men who can’t man up and the existential weight of what doesn’t work out, Wade is musically austere, Loretta Lynn-frank and Mary Chapin Carpenter-real about coming up short as well as Kacey Musgraves-astute in ciphering small-town mores.


You realize no one is writing songs this soul-baring.
I know. Not everybody’s going to connect with it, but those who do are going to really feel it.

You put it out there.
I’ve been in some co-writes where people have looked at me, saying, “Are you sure you want to say that?” And yes, I do.

Brave. That’s what makes the writing so critical.
I wrote to save myself. It’s something that benefited me throughout my childhood. When I was seven, I didn’t share it with anybody. I could be honest with myself. Say what I was really feeling.

Why weren’t you sharing your songs?
People at school told me I had a funny voice, so I just stopped singing. Then I got home, and I sang for myself. It was the most freeing thing: I didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought.

That’s changed.
It’s... fun to see these big, bearded men crying.

Huh?
I guess the songs are saying the things they can’t say. I’ve had these great big men come up to me after my shows to tell me I’m saying what everybody’s thinking. So I figure if I keep saying the things I want to say, people are going to be thinking them, running into those feelings.

Your first band...
Found ’em on Craigslist. My friends and I went to this very rough part of town, went down into this basement. Not the smartest, I know. But we jammed for a while, played some music—and I made some really cool friends.

That was college. What were you reading?
Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker, ’cause I was a total fucking nerd.

Then you met Sadler at a festival.
This guy comes up and asks if I have a CD, and I suggested the merch table. He explains he’s Jason Isbell’s guitar tech—and he wants to give my CD to the guitarist. I figured, “Why not?” Next thing I know, I’m getting an email from Sadler Vaden asking me about my music, and would I like to do some recording.

You went into the studio and made Reckless.
I spent months thinking about what I wanted it to be. I wondered if maybe I should write a little more shallow, but that’s not how to write. I was a little reserved about putting it out, not just the writing but the way the sounds evolved. Was it gonna be country enough for the people who want country? Will it feel like pop to the people who want pop? Will it rock for the ones who want to rock? You can’t be all things, they say, but I think “Why not?”

Not since Loretta, Dolly, Tammy and obviously Conway Twitty has there been such sexual candor.
I never even thought of that. It’s just the way I write.

“The way you move your hands across my body/ Kissin' you in a hotel lobby” from “Wilder Days” is pure “The Night’s Too Long” by Lucinda Williams. Patty Loveless had a #1 with it, but that wasn’t so much about sex and romance.
I’m gonna have to plead the fifth. Last time I checked, I don’t name names. Look, women aren’t supposed to be sexual, but we are. Why are we pretending that doesn’t exist? Sobriety? Being lonely? Those things are real.

You’ve been vocal about being sober.
That was really when I realized I could write stuff that really affects people.

I wasn’t necessarily wild, as much as... My thing with drinking: I didn’t have any limits. I was never going to have one drink and enjoy that drink. I never did it onstage, but after? I’d get super-hammered, get into these super-deep conversations with someone. Or I’d sit home and drink by myself—I was less likely to get super-drunk at a party because I was so annoyed by people. I typically connected with people 10, 15, 20 years older, people who go deeper into themselves and others. But I knew [drinking] was a problem.

Insightful.
I want to be vocal about my sobriety. There’s a lot to me, all that pieces me together. But do I want it to define me? No.

 

And the tattoos?
I grew up believing tattoos were bad. Bible verses from Leviticus, leaving them on my father’s nightstand. Why did I even feel that? In college, a friend said, “I think you’d like getting a tattoo...” And I thought, “Why not?”


Big change-up...
I was smart. I got my siblings’ initials tattooed on my arm so my Mom could only be so mad because she’s got a... how do I say this?... a butterfly...

A tramp stamp?
[Laughing] Yes.

Was it the same thinking about a major label?
Absolutely. You think one thing: Everyone is always “indie label or no label at all.” “They’re corrupt,” that kind of thinking. But when I took the meetings, I didn’t get those vibes. I was surprised they’d done so much homework. Randy was quoting the lyrics back to me, making puns from the song titles.

So what do you want out of this?
Beyond world domination and collaborating with Miley Cyrus...

Seriously?
Yeah, I wanna make music with Miley. I have some country songs we’d be great on.

What else.
We did such a good job of writing these songs, telling this story, I want to continue to tell the story to even more people. We’re going to put out a Reckless Deluxe with four more songs. “The Night” was a single from several years ago, one song we didn’t put on Reckless originally. We’ve got four we went in and recorded, and it just extends what we’re doing.

You had an interesting condition to sign with Randy...
Part of me really didn’t believe he’d get me a dog; I’d asked for a French bulldog, thinking, “Yeah, whatever....” I just wanted to feel like this was more than contractual paperwork. His wife was like, “You know you have to get her that dog, right?” So I was researching online and I saw these puppies who’d just been born. I sent him the picture, and I said, “I think this is Sony... But I have to get him now.” It wasn’t even signed. He was calling the breeder with his credit card. I could’ve gone somewhere else, but I wouldn’t. I mean, after all that and he bought me the dog?

A STAR-SPANGLED
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