We gather around a long table and split up plates from a Mexican restaurant (named Pancho & Lefty’s Cantina, naturally). The group is buzzing from a trip to see Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour in Atlanta the night before.
“It’s a big show. You know, there’s dancers and explosions, all those things, but at the core of it it’s just her singing her ass off,” Stapleton says, assiduously picking onions off of a taco salad.
“At some point, we hit a wall and it was just like, How is she still going?” Morgane says.
“She was conserving energy,” Stapleton says, in a tone of professional admiration. “You could see when she would recharge—be singing and not doing all the energy stuff, and then go back to doing the high-energy stuff.”
“Let me ask you, as a singer,” Morgane says, “is singing not energy?”
Sensing perhaps that even the appearance of diminishing Beyoncé’s performance will yield nothing good, Stapleton lets it drop. He muses on the video content the show used during Beyoncé’s costume changes. “Maybe we can do that for my show. Just get me nearly naked on a bearskin rug.”
I ask whether he actually makes any costume changes onstage.
“No, not at all,” he says.
“A dry shirt might be nice,” says Morgane, who spends every show standing about five feet from her husband, tambourine in hand.
“Let me tell you, during a hot show I would love a dry shirt,” Stapleton agrees.
The Stapletons met while working at neighboring music-publishing companies on Music Row. She has become, in every way, his creative partner. When he speaks about his career, it is most often in the first-person plural. Of the 14 songs on Higher, she sings background on 10, often following her husband’s vocal so closely that the effect could be double-tracking. She is also a producer on the album and, as has been true throughout his career, had a large hand in choosing which songs from Stapleton’s huge catalog made the cut. “She’s my barometer on songs,” Stapleton says. “Even if your wife wasn’t heavily involved in your career, if you’re happily married and you want to stay that way, you don’t want to sing things that your wife hates.”
The road trip he and I take to Bowling Green lasts about three and a half hours. Later, neither he nor Morgane will be able to remember the last time they were more than a few feet apart for that long.
Most of the people around the table go back to what they still refer to as “the Before Times.” That means before November 4, 2015, the night Traveller scored its upset wins at the CMAs and, perhaps more important, Stapleton performed an epic duet with Justin Timberlake.