“It’s one of the earlier songs I heard that were being pitched to me,” Wallen tells MusicRow of “Whiskey Glasses,” which was penned by Ben Burgess and “All About That Bass” writer Kevin Kadish. “As soon as I heard it, I thought it was unique and all the clever, double entendres. Also, just the feel and phrasing I thought was unique. The only thing we added in production was between the chorus and the ‘Whiskey Glasses’ line at the end, just a couple of little phrases to fill in the space there.”
For Big Loud’s Seth England, the early radio response was a surefire indicator of the song’s hit potential.
“Even when you get a song that is a three-week No. 1, that happens when, as they say, a song could work itself,” England tells MusicRow. “The research is through the roof in most markets so when you call the program director, sometimes they are almost cutting you off to tell you how well your song is researching. That was very much the case with ‘Whiskey Glasses.’ Many times they were calling us to tell us they were converting the song before we were calling them.”
Along the way, Wallen notched another No. 1 hit, as a co-writer on Jason Aldean’s “You Make It Easy” in 2018.
Wallen’s debut album for Big Loud Records, If I Know Me, has been a mainstay in the Top 5 country albums chart—topping off a wellspring of success for Wallen, who wasn’t exactly looking to be an artist before he signed with the label in 2016.
“Kevin Neal was the first person I met in Nashville, and I was still living in Knoxville at the time,” Wallen said. “He told me to move to Nashville, and he sent a couple of songs I had written around town, and sent them to Seth. I was really just looking for co-writers, really wasn’t looking for a record deal.”
“I’ll never forget the day he walked in the studio,” recalls England. “They said they had a kid from Knoxville with a lot of raw talent. We love working with all types of artists, but nothing makes us happier than developing something brand new. Morgan came in, and he looked like a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd or something with long, mangled hair.
But when he started singing, Joey [Moi] and I just looked at each other like, ‘What is this?’ And his focus and goals were aligned with what we do.”
Now, Wallen is as well-known for his “business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back” mullet as he is for notching a three-week No. 1.
“Not everybody likes it. Everybody at my label was like ‘No! We are not doing a mullet!’ But I was like, ‘Give it a chance. What could it hurt?’” Wallen says, noting he got the inspiration for the ‘90s throwback hairstyle after looking at old family photos. “I [looked at] my parents’ wedding photos and my dad had a mean mullet. My dad and I are very similar in looks and personality. If you put our pictures side by side of me at 26 and my dad at 26 it would be scary how we look alike. He had a perm in his. I don’t have a perm in mine—yet. It turned into this whole thing that I didn’t really mean to happen. I think that makes me like it even better, because I wasn’t doing it as a branding or business move. And it’s a throwback to earlier country singers.”
Underneath the striking mullet and sleeveless denim shirts is the heart of a songwriter, combined with the rawness of an artist who simply aspires to be himself, something that was evident when country radio received Wallen’s debut single, “The Way I Talk.” While the track only peaked in the 30s at country radio, it cemented the newcomer as a unique talent.
“When you sit with Morgan, his accent is Tennessee thick and authentic. I couldn’t stop picturing Morgan singing this song,” England says. “So many people to this day tell us they feel like it was a hit that never was. But it made people aware of him and he followed it up with uniquely branded material.”
Following in the wake of chart-toppers “Up Down” and “Whiskey Glasses,” Wallen’s hoping to continue his hot streak with his latest single, “Chasin’ You,” which he co-wrote alongside Craig Wiseman and Jamie Moore. The track marks the first that Wallen co-wrote with legendary Nashville songwriter Wiseman, a creator behind songs such as Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe.”
“It was a big day for me just writing with him,” Wallen recalls. “It verified to me that I could hang, you know? It gave me more peace about moving to Nashville. He’s been like a mentor and second father to me throughout the years. It’s cool to see our relationship grow out of songwriting and to being friends.”
Wallen found subtle ways to pay homage to his Tennessee roots throughout the track. “There are a lot of East Tennessee references like the Chattanooga freight. Not all of it is literal …the Los Angeles part is just to signify they were gone, but the ‘guitar town’ line is obviously me, and where I ended up.”
Wallen has tours lined up with Luke Combs and Florida Georgia Line. The FGL tour is special, given that Wallen toured with them in 2017, and is now revisiting some of the venues he previously played before being able to count the three-week No. 1 “Whiskey Glasses” among his credits.
“I end my set with that now, and it’s a great note to end on,” he says. “Back then, I had 15 minutes and I didn’t have any hits. It’s been a mind-blowing difference. Every show, the venue has been 90% full when I go out to play, and we are the first of three acts on the bill. That’s special.”