Maren Morris’ New Album Will Show How ‘Woke’ She Is
Maren Morris isn't fearless, but she's not afraid, either. As the calendar year flips all eyes will be on the 28-year-old as she prepares to drop new music for the first time in nearly three years. Much has changed for her, both personally and professionally. A few things about the world around her haven't, and in her own way Morris plans to talk about all of it on "MM2," V2.0 of her life in song.
The "Rich" singer talked to Taste of Country prior to the 2018 CMA Awards and shared a few hard facts about her definitely finished, label approved follow-up to 2016's Hero. New husband Ryan Hurd co-wrote two songs on the album, and she's very excited about two very different collaborators that she says are friends. Morris promises diversity. She says her record label, Columbia Nashville, left her alone to create, which is great because she's a perfectionist and wouldn't have wanted to share a thing before it was time.
Having music that plays well in concert is important to every artist, and Morris is an artist whose concerts are getting bigger with each season. She's notched five radio hits (including "The Middle," a pop collaboration with Zedd), but anyone who has seen her is struck by the audiences' zest for album cuts like "Drunk Girls Don't Cry" and "Sugar." It's as if these were generational staples, and they probably will be with time.
It's tempting to predict that in another three years, Morris will have a half-dozen more "hits" and be able to carry promotion for major country music festivals, if that's what she wants. If there's anything to be learned from this conversation, it's that she's doing her best to shake external pressures in an effort to present her best, most inspiring self. Only a fool would continue to heap them on her.
You tweeted that a pearl without pressure wouldn't be a pearl at all. Is that applicable to this new album making process?
I think there was some pressure to somehow recreate the success of "My Church," but I quickly came to realize there’s not gonna be a "My Church" 2. Like you can’t try to recreate that moment again. You have to let it be its moment and let it move on and try to outdo it. I've shaken off that pressure now that I've had a few more years of some life and life lessons and put it into perspective for me. But I think there's a good motivation and anxiety that comes with making an album. You want to do a great job and be honest and push the envelope a little bit, and I feel like I've done all of that.
"When I first met with Sony and Columbia Records I said, 'I want to do it all.' I want to be critically-acclaimed because I want to make music that is meaningful and I want to have lyrics that say something, but I also don’t want to abandon radio."
Hero was a great artistic album, but it also had commercial hits. Is it more pressure to create commercial hits, or to keep the same artistic integrity?
Sometimes both. I feel like, writing a hit — I've never really sought out to do that. You just have to get in the room and let the song happen and then you decide afterward if you love it and are obsessed with it and you can't really get it out of your head. Some writers are much better at getting in and writing hits than I am. They know what they want. They know what the radio sounds like. I've never written songs that way. All of my hits have been by surprise.
On Twitter, you're pretty socially aware —
Woke? (Laughs) I can't believe I just said "woke." I try to be socially aware.
Did that leak into your songwriting for the new album?
A little bit, and kind of unintentionally. I think you just write what’s going on around you, whether that’s love or the lack thereof. I like that people are putting things outside of relationships into the music now. So yeah, there’s a few songs on the record that will kind of address the chaos that is the world at the moment — but in a human way. Not like an American idiot way — no disrespect to Green Day (laughs). I love that people like Jason Isbell and Brothers Osborne, Willie Nelson, they're not afraid of the backlash when they share their beliefs, and most of the time it's not even politics.
Are you good at brushing off the criticism that comes with it?
Sometimes it's easy to shake it off just because I have a thicker skin now. Politics or no politics — or whatever you call it — there’s always going to be someone that hates what you’re doing in your music, or an interview about your dog. There's going to be a critic no matter what. I feel like you can't really win if you're looking at those trolls and comments. I did this thing last weekend, a march to the polls show here in Nashville, and I wasn't playing the concert portion but Sheryl Crow asked me to get up and sing with her. But I remember posting about it, like "Go vote!" And I even got backlash for saying to go vote. I didn't make any sort of political stance in that post, but there are people who apparently think that you're like a Hollywood elite if you say "go vote."
If you were the mayor of country music, what would be your first priority?
I would put more girls on the radio if I had that power. If that's the only wrong I'm correcting, it's a big one.
What about the women in country music conversation do most people not understand?
I don't know. I don't know the answer to why there aren't women on the radio. I could get logistical and say that the research is saying people change the channel when a girl's voice comes out. I don't know if that's necessarily the case. And then you hear some people try to perpetuate the rumor that women fans are not interested in hearing women artists. Like there's a cattiness or a jealously there, and I just do not think that's the case because I look out at my shows and it's a ton of women. And women are probably the biggest buyers of country music. To not have their views represented on the radio when they turn it on is confusing to me. Sometimes I’ll hear other crap about, "Girls aren't, at the moment, putting out exciting music, or commercial music." I just think that’s also untrue.
Do you feel more pressure on you with this album because of some of these things?
There are definitely songs on this album that I knew were gonna be worked well at radio. I think that's a balance I've always wanted to strike. When I first met with Sony and Columbia Records I said, "I want to do it all." I want to be critically-acclaimed because I want to make music that is meaningful and I want to have lyrics that say something, but I also don’t want to abandon radio. I want to blend art and commerce and I feel like somehow I've been able to do that in a very huge drought of women on the radio. I do want to continue to inspire the new artists around me, the women especially, to be bold. Don't be trying to sound like the guys!
So often the year-end Best Albums lists are half women or more, and I think it could be a response to the lack of airplay. The Ashley McByrde album is an example of that. There are not a lot of obvious radio hits on that.
Same with Kacey Musgraves. She made the best album of the year and it's a body of work. It's not just one or two songs that you just download off iTunes and the rest can be filler. She made a story. She made a book. I love that women are bringing out the albums, and obviously Miranda put that double album out ... Carrie Underwood just put out I think one of her best records to date. It's like, 'Hey, if we're not gonna get played on radio, I'm gonna make the best album of the year and it's gonna be nominated and it's gonna bring tons of fans into the genre.'
Who in country music really excites you?
I think right now I'm really excited about Kassi Ashton. I think she is a badass and I love that kind of no-frills, no apologies bravery.
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