“It used to hurt my feelings when people said ‘She’s not country,'” explains cross-genre crossover singer-songwriter Maren Morris. “I guess for some people I’m not country enough and for others I’m too country.”
As one of the most successful new artists of all genres in recent years, Morris has more than proven her skills. However, she still draws regular criticism from country purists and pop pessimists alike when she goes from guest vocals on the country style of Thomas Rhett’s 2017 hit “Craving You” to the cold, cutting electronic of Zedd and Grey’s “The Middle.” “ skips. in 2018.
But much like her home state of Texas, the unflinching singer refuses to commit to a box, style or anyone’s opinion. With their sixth album humble quest, out March 25, she brings the same don’t mess with Maren mentality into her latest chapter. “After a few years of feeling insecure about it or hurting my pride, I realized, no, I’ll always be me,” she says. “And I’m not even trying to be that rebellious. I’m just trying to write a damn song here!”
There’s more. Never one to shy away from collaborations, 31-year-old Morris has also sung with former boy band elite Niall Horan and megastar Taylor Swift, and is in the league of country-it girls The Highwomen with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires occurred. It’s her serious solo chops, however, that first landed her fame, with Morris’ unique R&B-tinged twang and homemade sound dominating talks in Nashville since 2016’s hits “My Church” and “80s Mercedes.”
Granted, it wasn’t an overnight success. Faced with rejection early on, it took several years and three independently recorded albums – starting with the debut in 2005 move onShe was released when she was just 15 – before that first breakthrough. She even auditioned as a teenager american idol and The voice. She was rejected by both of them. But once she was introduced to the world of Nashville songwriting by longtime friend and Texan Kacey Musgraves, there was no turning back.
“I didn’t do everything right, but I did enough right to get where I am. I don’t think I would tell her anything else,” she explains. As the title of her new, stripped-back album in celebration of life suggests, Morris’s career has been a big one humble quest.
In the lead single, “Circles Around This Town,” Morris looks back at how far she’s come. “In the beginning, I just felt so vulnerable and vulnerable out there,” she says of her “crappy grind” when she first arrived in Nashville. Deeply nostalgic, it shows the city through the bright eyes of a teenager with big dreams. “I rediscovered my love for Nashville because I was finally home and off the road,” she says of writing the song, which like the rest of the record was made during lockdown.
From an introverted “shy kid” to an award-winning, record-breaking musician, Morris was at the top of her game in early 2020. She swept the CMAs with her fifth album girl Winner of Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year. She had also just finished a world tour and given birth to her first child. However, it wasn’t long before the pandemic forced her to take a break.
In the end it was a blessing in disguise. “I didn’t have a lot of breathing room to really process my emotions,” Morris says of writing 2019 girl while on the road. “While I’m really proud of it, I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety and stress as a new artist.” Despite all her terrors, she says the only thing the pandemic has given musicians is time. “For the first time I was able to write songs without a schedule and without pressure. It felt really liberating to be writing just for myself and not for the industrial machinery.”
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In the beginning she had to work remotely with her producer and find new ways to create, figuring out what worked and what didn’t during a very isolated time. The making of humble quest was a steep learning curve, but one she welcomed. “I think I’ve learned to let go of a lot of my neuroses and control freak issues that make me feel safe,” she says. “All of that was taken away.”
The result is a deeply personal, deeply vulnerable album in which she explores love, loss, life and the changes that come with it. “Anytime I release music, it’s something that I’ve lived with for a long time and feel comfortable sharing with the world,” explains Morris.
humble quest is also Morris’ first album without the guiding hand of producer, songwriter and friend Michael Busbee, who died of cancer in 2019 at the age of 43. She honors his life with the tender “What would this world do?”. “It was such a cleansing and healing process for me to even put these songs on the site,” she admits.
Not long after Busbee’s death, Morris became a mother. “Having my son at the beginning of the pandemic has definitely shaped my perspective on a different way of being creative with it,” she says. She eagerly delved into new subjects, writing songs like “Hummingbird,” a stripped down and intimate song about her son Hayes. “I never would have been able to go there before,” she says. “It’s one of my most prized.”
Morris married fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd in 2018 and as the soft aura of her newlywed glow faded during lockdown, her love songs became a little less about giddiness and butterflies and more about illustrating a lived kind of love. As Morris puts it, “It’s definitely a settling-in, we’ve-seen-some-shit-about-each-other record!”
“But we still chose each other,” she adds of Hurd, who accompanies her on The Furthest Thing album. Her husband is on a lot of these songs, whether he’s helping to write them or it’s about him. “Certain songs on the project couldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone through our quarantine tearing each other’s faces off,” she chuckles. “At the end of the day, we’re still driving ourselves crazy. It was just a really fun project to do together… It felt like we had to be Tim [McGraw] and faith [Hill] for a song.”
A 40-date tour of US amphitheaters and arenas begins in June, and after the challenges of the past two years, Morris is approaching her upcoming dates with a gung-ho attitude. With her son on the ride, she “feels more like a badass to be able to come back and do that with him by my side.”
“The women I know are taking their kids out onto the streets and they’re still rock stars, who I have the utmost respect for,” she adds. When she first found out she was pregnant, she reached out to Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow, who offered their advice on touring motherhood. “You can bring the bacon home and they’ll still remember you’re a mom at the end of the day,” was her key takeaway from her famous friends.
As for the chances that the crossover star will ever choose sides — country or pop — she says it’s unlikely. “I don’t know what the future will look like,” she says. “When opportunities come and it feels right, I say ‘yes’ and I don’t know what’s going to come next.”
The next thing might just be a tender rendition of “Wheels on the Bus” as the singer deals with raising a toddler. “I would like to make a children’s record that he would listen to,” she laughs. “I’ve heard some really terrible children’s music. I want to help make some of it better!”
Humble Quest will be released on March 25th
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/maren-morris-interview-humble-quest-b2043375.html Maren Morris: “I’m just trying to write a damn song here!”