Jokes aside, the rising country star tells PEOPLE he's "taking all of this very seriously — I want to be around for a long time"

By Tricia Despres
October 10, 2019 11:05 AM
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This past summer, the rumblings began.

After months in which the Tennessee native had gained impressive traction within the country music genre via certified hits such as “Whiskey Glasses,” Morgan Wallen’s name began to be floated around as a possible best new artist Grammy nominee.

That’s right, the kid with the mullet just might be in the running for a Grammy.

Just don’t tell his mom.

“I haven’t said anything to my parents because basically I don’t want to get their hopes up,” says Wallen, 26, with a laugh during a recent interview with PEOPLE in Chicago. “My parents are avid supporters of me, and just hearing my name and the word ‘Grammy’ in the same sentence would be a dream come true. I mean, that’s something you put on your tombstone.”

Morgan Wallen
Morgan Wallen
| Credit: Sanford Myers/AP/Shutterstock

And while Wallen, his parents and his growing legion of hearty fans will have to wait until the nominees for the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards are announced Nov. 20, he’s got plenty of other things to hang his hat on.

Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t wear a cowboy hat.

God forbid one messes up his ‘do.

“I think my mom is coming around with the mullet,” Wallen jokes from the tour bus he bought from Miranda Lambert a few months back. “There were a lot of people not crazy about the mullet, but I mean, I like it. I’m not getting a haircut anytime soon. It was never intended to be a part of my brand or anything, but now it is. And when I look in the crowd and see these young guys with mullets and shorts on, that’s cool. I can relate to them and they can relate to me.”

And while the mullet certainly continues to work with the fans, it has also periodically been the butt of the joke for some in the country music industry, many of which have never been quite sure what to make of the current CMA new artist of the year nominee.

“I think it takes a little bit of time for people to take you seriously,” says Wallen, who will finish out the year as direct support for Luke CombsBeer Never Broke My Heart Tour. “I didn’t take offense to anyone not taking me serious at first. I know that I have to pay my dues. I know I have to earn it. But I think I’m doing that. I’m taking all of this very seriously — I want to be around for a long time.”

Morgan Wallen
Morgan Wallen
| Credit: David Lehr

Assuring his longevity in an industry that has somewhat had a history of one or two hit wonders is something Wallen is currently combatting thanks to hits such as “The Way I Talk” and “Up Down” with Florida Georgia Line.

“I’ve established this kind of wild persona and these redneck party songs and a live show that’s kind of rowdy, but I don’t want people to think that’s what I’m all about,” says Wallen, who has co-penned hits through the years for artists such as Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, A Thousand Horses and Dustin Lynch. “I want them to realize I’m more than that.”

He’s also proving it with an authenticity that fans can feel.

“I remember taking my quarters to a counting machine at Food City to see if I could get gas,” recalls Wallen, who heads out on tour with Aldean in 2020. “My parents would have helped me if I had asked for it, but let’s just say I know what it’s like to be at that point in my life. I remember those moments when I take my music to the stage every night. Hopefully the fans feel that. I know how much music can mean to someone and I know how it can make a difference. And if this is my way and if this is my platform, that’s the way I’m going to do it.”

But that’s just one side of Wallen. Another side is the one that shines through on his addictive ballad “Chasin’ You.”

“I mean, life is more than just about the party, so I need to write about life and this song came from my heart,” says Wallen of his current single. “I think it was a really good time to show a much more sensitive side and a different vocal side.”

Impressively, “Chasin’ You” is the fourth single to come off his 2018 album If I Know Me.

“Not bad for the first record,” he coyly smiles. “I know that a lot of people don’t get that chance. And technically, I think there is a chance that I can get one more single off this album.”

And while he says he already has “recorded a ton of songs” for his next record and could put out an album right now “if he needed to,” Wallen is in no rush to move too fast.

He’s doing his best to stay in the moment.

“I come from a life so different than this,” admits Wallen, who says he is considering starting some sort of charity foundation somewhere down the line. “It’s still weird to me that I’m here.”

People Magazine ACM Portrait Studio
Morgan Wallen
| Credit: Ben Trivett

And while it might be weird, in a way it was expected, at least in Wallen’s mind.

“I have always believed in myself,” he says quietly. “I never really had much doubt. I don’t know why. I mean, I know how impossible it is but I never felt that I couldn’t do this. I didn’t have any worries. I’m a strong believer in what you put into your head and what you believe in will happen.”

Some people call that faith, including Wallen himself.

“It’s tough with faith,” he continues, twirling in his chair as the gravity of the moment begins to hit him. “I’m by no means the person that I strive to be. I don’t think anyone is the person that we strive to be. But I try. I keep trying. That’s something that’s important to me. That’s the way that I was raised.”