Later this month, Morgan Wade will join a lineup at Mile 0 Fest in Key West, Florida that is traditionally heavy on the Red Dirt sounds of Oklahoma and Texas. Wade is from Floyd, Virginia.
But she’s heard nothing but the best about Mile 0 Fest from BJ Barham of American Aquarium, a mainstay at the festival returning for the third straight year. The two were scheduled to tour together before the pandemic abruptly canceled everyone’s plans in 2020.
In March, the 26-year-old Wade released Reckless, a perfect collection of ten songs about love and loss; addiction and mental health. The record has been years in the making. She first met Sadler Vaden when the two shared a festival bill in her hometown of Floyd, a town renowned for its’ country and bluegrass. But Vaden and his co-producer Paul Ebersold saw something else within her.
She hinted at what was to come as far back as May of 2019, when she released the single “The Night,” a track not included on Reckless. It tackled mental health in a way that her brand of Appalachian twang never quite had.
“Why do the demons in my mind never wanna leave me alone;
It’s the pistol and the bottle;
It’s the drugs and it’s the throttle;
That tell me they’ll make me feel alive.”
She addresses the same themes on “Don’t Cry,” a cut that did make the album.
“I’ll always be my own worst critic;
The world exists and I’m just in it;
Find something good and mess it up;
Lie and say it just wasn’t enough.”
And addressing that is important to her, as she has seen too many people around her in the rural South struggle to talk about their needs, or oftentimes, be unable to afford to talk about their needs.
She and I spoke about that and about her own sobriety. We talked about the long process of getting the record out and about how after recording in Nashville and traveling outside of the South to perform, the most important thing that she’s learned is that “being out in the middle of nowhere is actually kind of nice after traveling so much.”
This record has been a long time in the making, and I’ve been following it for a long time. I guess you’ve been working on this for two or three years now. Were you especially deliberate about it? Was taking your time by design?
Honestly, if I had my way, I would have put it out way sooner than that just because I’m impatient. Sadler [Vaden, co-producer] was like, “Let’s take our time on this. Let’s really work on this.” And I’m glad that he did because everything fell into place like it’s supposed to; meeting all of the right people and getting on with Thirty Tigers. Originally, when we started working on the project, we thought we’d have to put it out ourselves. We didn’t know that we’d get a deal with a label or anything like that. It’s good that we waited, because that definitely helped push things along.
Sadler is still somewhat new to that “producer” title. What was working with him in that role like for you?
It was great. I had never worked with a producer, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to; but Sadler – and I call him “Dadler” – he knew my vision for the record and what I wanted it to be. He had the same ideas and the same outlook on it. He was really positive the whole time. He encouraged me to do what I wanted to do and not worry about what anyone else would think and that was exactly what we did.
I’m obviously no songwriter, but the structure of these songs has a bit of an early ’00s pop rock vibe. Was that any kind of influence for you?
I’ve gotten a lot of early ’00s comparisons from people, and I think a lot of that has to do with Paul Ebersold [co-producer] being on the record. He produced 3 Doors Down and Sister Hazel and stuff like that, so there was a lot of that style in there – which I like. I don’t mind that as a comparison at all.
When you go through these interview cycles and constantly get asked about your sobriety, does that strengthen your resolve or does it just get exhausting?
I think it’s good for me to continue to talk about it. Sometimes you can see sobriety as a burden versus what it really is; it’s a good thing. Any time that someone asks me about it and I can shed some positive light and let people see how far I’ve come, I think that’s a good thing. I should never get tired of talking about that, and hopefully, I’ll always be able to talk about still being sober.
I get that there’s a huge rush after getting off stage. What does a post-show look like for you now? How do you come down from that high, so to speak?
That’s a good question. I obviously haven’t played shows for over a year. I had the ones back in Nashville – show was over and I was back in my room by midnight or whatever, and I don’t think I went to bed until 4 a.m. I was so keyed up; I haven’t been doing that in a while. But eventually, you kind of get used to it. I get in a routine; I head back to the room and let myself decompress a little bit. I try to not let myself eat a bunch of snacks, which if I’m up super late, I just want to snack on stuff.
If I’ve been on the road for a few days, I’m usually tired enough. There isn’t a real routine at that point. It’s just go back to the room and go to bed and try to get enough sleep to get up early and go to the gym.
What kind of quarantine hobbies have you had? Is it the gym? Are you a reader? Are you a movie watcher? How have you spent the year?
The gyms finally opened back up, so I’ve been able to do that. I’ve been running a lot; we have a treadmill at the house, and that helped out a lot.
And yeah, I started reading! I started seriously reading two or three weeks before the pandemic. I was glad I had picked that up. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime. I was able to order a bunch of books during the quarantine. I did some paint-by-numbers, actually. They look horrible, and I will never show anybody what they look like. I saw my nine-year-old sister’s paint-by-numbers and it looked great and I was like, “What the heck?” So I’ll never show those. But it was good stress relief.
The record’s themes include the stigma of addressing a mental health crisis in rural, Southern America. How do you think that has evolved over the course of the past few years as we’ve watched the world around us? Have things improved? How do we fix it?
Over the past few years, I’ve even noticed that my family talks more about things. People in my family that don’t talk about mental health and don’t discuss things; I had a cousin that doesn’t talk about such things tell me, “You know, I always had a weird feeling growing up, and I just didn’t know what it was and I’m just now learning that I have panic attacks. No one ever talked to me about that. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.”
You look people like Demi Lovato and Billie Eilish; all these people talking about mental health and taking a stand on it. I think we need therapy that’s more affordable for folks. I’ve started therapy; I obviously have had to do it virtually, but it’s super expensive. I’m fortunate to be able to afford that, but people that are already stressed out and can’t always afford things – the single mother, whomever it may be – we need therapy to be more affordable for folks.
Over the past couple of years as you’ve begun getting out of the South more, do you think things are different in other parts of the country or do you see people struggling with the same things everywhere?
I used to just focus on where I was at and how things were there. But after putting “The Night” out – and “Don’t Cry” – I heard from people all over that had experienced that. It’s a universal issue, for sure. I think we deal with things a little differently. Maybe people talk about things more in other places. To me, I think it’s the same all over.
What is the most important thing that you’ve learned as you’ve begun to see more of the world?
I think I appreciate home a lot more. A thing that I’ve realized since the pandemic is that I was super lucky to be in an area where while everything was shut down, I could still go outside and take that in. I have a friend up in Baltimore, and she was just stuck in her apartment the whole time. She couldn’t go out. So I wasn’t going to sit there and complain. I’m able to go outside; to go walk on the trail. I have a yard. I appreciate the simplicity of things that you take for granted; things that you see every day. Now when I’m away from home, I come back, and I really appreciate that a lot more.
Morgan Wade has three performances scheduled at this year’s Mile 0 Fest. She’ll be at Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater on Thursday, April 29 at 4 p.m., The Zyn Stage at Sunset Green on Friday, April 30 at 1:40 p.m. and back at the amphitheater Friday night as part of the “Duets” collaboration. Reckless is out everywhere now.