Sitting at a small workstation at his Nashville home, alt-pop artist Morgxn holds up a piece of white poster board. On it, he’s drawn a large circle, with scribbled words that have been crossed out, rewritten and crossed out again adorning the wheel’s outer edges. “You can see how chaotic it is,” he tells Billboard over Zoom, chuckling at his frenzied handwriting.
In contrast, the center of the drawn circle is calm, with three words featured front and center: “The Hero’s Journey.” Points surrounding the interior show a variety of steps, like “supernatural aid,” “abyss” and “atonement,” while a large line through the upper half of the circle separates these points into what is “known” and what is “unknown.”
The illustration Morgxn drew shows the cyclical structure of the monomyth, a blueprint for storytelling popularized by Joseph Campbell in which an archetypal protagonist sets out on a transformative journey, succeeds in a moment of climactic catastrophe, and returns home a changed person. The scrawling words outside of the structure, meanwhile, are Morgxn’s own songs, placed strategically to explain his own journey.
“I’ve thought a lot about how my music has always been about tracing the path of my own story,” he explains, to the the myriad titles he’s crossed out and replaced on the outer rim of the diagram. “Writing this out into my own hero’s journey just felt right.”
All that plotting resulted in Beacon, Morgxn’s latest album (due out Friday Feb. 2 via Nettwerk Music Group) that sees the singer-songwriter claiming his history for himself, and looking for a path forward. With a bombastic pop sound to accompany the lyrics’ unabashed self-assurance, Beacon stands out immediately when compared against the singer’s past work — much like its title would suggest.
Each of the albums 10 tracks — which were culled from “over 100 songs” written for the project, he says — emblematize a different step in the hero’s journey. Where album opener “Beacon” serves as a classic “call to adventure,” later tracks like “What We Could Be” examine the “challenges and tempations” faced throughout the trek, while “My Revival” takes the story to its turning point of “death & rebirth.”
Yet it’s the song immediately following that turning point, the poignant “To Be Human,” that Morgxn points to as an example of the album’s importance — at the moment of “transformation” in his own journey, the songwriter placed a song about what happens when your life collapses around you. “There’s no journey that that doesn’t hit a peak, and then fall apart,” he says. “That is what happened to me in making music, in the music industry.”
That falling apart came shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down in early 2020, when Morgxn learned that he had been dropped from Hollywood Records. No longer working with the label that served as his home through the release of his breakthrough single “Home” and his debut album Vital, the singer faced the prospect of continuing his music career on his own. “I remember the feeling where I asked myself, ‘I wonder if anyone will hear this. I wonder if I’ll go broke trying to keep on going,’” he says. “Spoiler alert; that didn’t happen.”
Morgxn did what songwriters do best and put those fears to good use. Releasing his single “Wonder” as an independent artist in July 2020, the singer didn’t expect much — but within a few months, the song picked up significant traction on TikTok, leading to a series of remixes and reimaginings, including a duet version of the track with Sara Bareilles that landed him a spot singing the track with her on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
“I kind of felt like Keanu in The Matrix; like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is not real,’” he recalls. “The things about the music industry that I had been taught were not happening the way [I was told] they would. I made six figures from my music independently, because I owned every part of the process for the first time ever. I was discovering this whole new side of the music industry, which changed the way that I that I went about doing deals. It changed everything, to be honest.”
In this time of rediscovery, Morgxn was approached by Marshall Altman, a producer and A&R representative from Nashville working with Nettwerk Music Group. He’d listened to the singer’s work, and noticed a pattern among his songs; “I’d been singing about home for a very long time, but the idea of moving back home was the most terrifying thing I had ever faced, because all of my trauma exists because of this town,” Morgxn says, referring to Nashville. “Marshall listened to my music and said, ‘I want to do this.’ Because of Marshall and Eric [Robinson, another A&R rep with Nettwerk], I said, ‘I’m going to make this album in Nashville.’”
In facing his fear of returning home, Morgxn also decided to change his approach to recording. Where past albums saw Morgxn primarily using digital recreations of instruments, Beacon incorporates a live band and chorus throughout the project, creating maximalist soundscapes wherever possible to amplify the underlying message of growth on the LP.
“We stripped everything down to the piano at the beginning, and decided if it didn’t make me and my dog sing, we wouldn’t put it on the record,” he says, scratching his boxer mix Stevie behind her ears. “Once we put the rhythm section on the songs, I think we could just feel it. You can tell the difference between my last record and this record because I put a lot of actual humanity into making this album.”
Part of returning home to Nashville also involved “getting loud,” as he puts it, when things got dire for the queer community. After Gov. Bill Lee passed a batch of anti-LGBTQ laws criminalizing drag performances and gender-affirming care for minors in 2023, Morgxn regularly attended protests against the rise of transphobia and promoted politicians fighting against the wave of bigotry faced by Tennesseans. When progressive candidate Freddie O’Connell won his bid to become Nashville’s next mayor, the politician walked on stage to Morgxn’s track “My Revival.”
As he reflects on his last year in his hometown, Morgxn says that there was never any question that he would push back against the state’s anti-LGBTQ policies. “If you’re trans and you’re looking for trans healthcare, it’s a state that is genuinely scary to live in,” he says. “So, if you’re a white gay person, you should be loud and fighting for all of these people who need your help, and who deserve their rights. It’s not enough to celebrate gay pride if you’re not also standing up for the other marginalized communities that need your voice.”
The final stage of the monomyth is the “return,” where our hero, victorious after his trials in an unfamiliar world, comes back home a changed man. For Morgxn, that return came in the form of “Where I’m From,” a triumphant power-pop anthem that sees him not only accept Nashville as his home, but embrace it in all its vast complexity. “I’m livin’ on the edge, but I still know where I’m from,” he proudly declares on the closer.
Just as the singer’s voice fades away on the final track, listeners hear one final message; Morgxn’s father, leaving his son a voicemail before a show. “I love you, good luck tonight,” his voice says. “Break a leg, I hope it goes great.” It’s the last message he received before his father’s unexpected death eight years ago.
Closing the album on such a poignant note was important to his own healing, Morgxn says — after spending most of his career writing about his relationship with his dad’s death, he’s ready to end this particular chapter. “I wish so much that he could see every part of the journey I’ve been on,” he says, tears welling in his eyes. “I held on to that voicemail for so long, and it kind of feels like when you make an album and you release it; it’s no longer yours. So, for anyone who’s lost somebody, they’re still a part of your journey. And they helped shape who you are, for good and bad.””
Even in releasing Beacon and letting his audience finally take ownership of the music, Morgxn acknowledges that the beauty of the hero’s journey lies in its shape; the circle ensures that reaching the end of one story means arriving at the beginning of another. And even without knowing exactly what it holds, Morgxn knows that his next chapter will be glorious. “I’m breaking my whole idea of what it means to make music in the recording industry in 2024,” he says. “And I’m doing it successfully.”