Maren Morris was terrified when she won the Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance at the awards ceremony in February.
Terrified that she would trip on her dress.
The singer-songwriter hadn’t planned on getting up from her seat, because her expectations for winning the trophy were nil. In fact, Morris was so certain the victory wouldn’t be hers that a sense of calm befell her earlier in the day. She didn’t even have a speech prepared (yeah, they all say that, but she really didn’t).
Prior to winning the award for the certified-Platinum “My Church”—the first single from her critically lauded major-label debut, Hero—Morris had only attended genre award shows, like the Country Music Awards (where she nabbed New Artist of the Year honors last year). To take the spotlight in a room filled with rockers, rappers and record-label executives validated her status as more than just another Nashville artist.
Granted, Morris was the featured musical guest on Saturday Night Live in December of last year. And her June release Hero had hit No. 5 on the Billboard 200—in addition to receiving a nomination for Best Country Album at the Grammys. But in that moment, the artist finally felt accepted among her peers.
Fast-forward a month later, and Morris is about to finish up an exhausting tour supporting her June 2016 album for Columbia Nashville. In between recent gigs in Texas, the 26-year-old wunderkind spoke for a spell with Music Connection about where she’s been, where she’s at and where she’s going as an artist.
Music Connection: Congratulations on the recent release of your third single from Hero, “I Could Use a Love Song.” How is the road treating you amid what must feel like a never-ending tour?
Maren Morris: It’s good. We just drove from Nashville to San Antonio, so I’m back in Texas, where I’m from. [Morris was born in Arlington.] I’ll be playing Texas all this week; I’m home.
MC: Last year you opened for Keith Urban on the RipCORD World Tour. Meanwhile, your first headlining tour—“The Hero Tour 2017,” which you kicked off in early February—sold out. Have you felt more pressure performing onstage as a headliner or an opener?
Morris: Definitely as an opener, because you’re trying to win over the crowd. As a headliner, the hard part’s over, because the people are there to see you.
MC: As a headliner, you’re obviously playing longer sets. Is the road burning you out at all?
Morris: This year is actually a lot less hectic than last year, because life took off a lot quicker than we all thought it was going to, after Hero came out [in June 2016]. This year we’re busy, but I have a better grip on it.
I’m definitely looking forward to having next month off to write, though. I enjoy touring, but am eager to write. I have some titles and concepts saved, but most of the time––if I’m on the road writing—it’s tough to do. Instead, I process what I’m going through. I’ve gotten a lot of ideas in the last month or so that I thought were good enough to write down on my phone.
MC: Do you simply get distracted on the road, or is it the practical aspects of touring—moving from hotel room to hotel room, being on the bus, doing soundchecks and interviews and signing autographs—that block you from writing?
Morris: Well, once you’re able to put the antenna up, the inspiration does come to you. Once you start creating space in your mind, you eventually become creative again. I’m in work mode right now. Some people consider writing songs to be work, but I don’t. Writing is such an escape for me. If I’m doing interviews, and meet and greets, it’s hard to lock into that headspace. Maybe I’ve had the antenna up lately because I knew I’d have a month to write coming up. We’ll see if any good ideas actually come out, though. [laughs] It’s always a crapshoot.
MC: You wrote a number of songs performed by other major artists, like Tim McGraw (“Last Turn Home”) and Kelly Clarkson (“Second Wind”). What’s it like performing songs that, in your case, are sometimes co-written with other songwriters?
Morris: I love writing with other people. Since I moved to Nashville [at age 20], it’s been a new thing. I’ve been writing since I was 12. But in Nashville, co-writing is prevalent. I actually prefer it—I like picking other people’s brains and having them walk in my shoes and vice versa, and getting lines you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. It’s an exercise in empathy.
MC: Would you ever perform a song written entirely by someone else?
Morris: I’m not opposed to recording songs that are other people’s, but when I was putting Hero together, I felt it was important that I was the writer. I had so many songs saved in my little bank, including some of my favorites, that I had co-written over the last few years. The songs were presenting a theme; it didn’t seem logical to have someone else’s song on it.
MC: How would you describe that theme? Love, loss, heartbreak?
Morris: The songs are really honest accounts of a 20-something. A lot of it has to do with being a girl, but a lot of it is applicable to a guy too. A lot of my audience is around my age, but there are 50- and 60-year-olds in the crowd at my shows who are mouthing the words to my songs.
There’s certainly heartbreak on the album, and self-reflection too. Some of it is just plain silly and goofy and drunk. It’s actually all over the place, which is where people my age are. We’re taking ownership of transgressions but not ready to get married or have kids yet. We like to have fun but we’re not as naive as we used to be. It’s a middle ground.
MC: Do tell us more about the times you were “goofy and drunk.”
Morris: Well, “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry” isn’t personally about me. It’s from my perspective of giving advice to a friend who kept going back to this jerk of a boyfriend she had, and trying to reason with her. My new single, we wrote it after drinking. Drinking sometimes gets rid of your filter and sometimes you get a good line and don’t second-guess it. “I Could Use a Love Song” was written out of heartbreak, but I needed a couple of drinks to get the stones to say it.