Nashville - GRAMMY U Off The Record With Maren Morris

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  • Photo: The Recording Academy
  • Photo: The Recording Academy

By: Garrett Lee, GRAMMY U Nashville Representative

66 lucky Nashville GRAMMY U students gathered at the iconic Bluebird Café to participate in a conversation with Maren Morris and a few of her collaborators from her debut album, Hero. She was joined onstage by Big Machine Music/ Warner/Chappell writer Laura Veltz, Creative Nation writer Natalie Hemby, and BMG writer busbee, who also played a large part in the overall production of the record. Joseph Hudak, senior editor at Rolling Stone Country moderated this discussion, which began with asking everyone’s role in this album.

Veltz discussed her part in the opening title, “Sugar.” She commented that once they began penning the song and it began to take flight, they knew they were onto something good. Veltz remarked, “It’s really just a sexy song. It’s really fun. When you know you’re onto something good, you just know.” Longtime songwriter Natalie Hemby echoed that same sentiment for “How It’s Done,” co-written by herself, Maren, and busbee. Natalie stated the songwriting process behind “How It’s Done” began as a piano melody she liked, then Maren and herself wrote a verse and chorus before she brought it to busbee for completion. “Something clicked [with the song] and we just started high-fiving!” said Natalie. She went on to discuss her respect for Maren’s artistry, stating, “I’ve missed music that feels. I really have. Which is why I’m so drawn to Maren. That melody [in “How It’s Done”] – that melody was all Maren. I wouldn’t have done it like that. That’s all her.”

Maren said this album started with “I Wish I Was,” (penned by Maren, Ryan Hurd, and Natalie) stating that it “narrated my life at the time.” She then went on to explore the rest of the titles. “Sugar” and “My Church” both spoke to Maren’s love for music. “My Church” (written by Maren and busbee) was inspired by a trip to Los Angeles, where Maren remarked that it was nice to be elsewhere writing: “’My Church’ is about being in the car, with no plans, and some great music playing. That’s my church. I was always comforted by Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline’s music growing up, so that opening chorus verse felt like Cash was leading the choir.” Moderator Joseph Hudak asked busbee about the songwriting and producing aspect of “My Church.” This anthem and gospelly-tinged track was built by busbee. “It was one of those moments where we were quick on getting it written down and tracked because we didn’t want to lose it,” busbee stated.

Commenting on the variation and openness that comes with being a songwriter, Maren said crowd-favorite “Rich” was originally supposed to be a ballad. Written with Laura Veltz and Jessie Jo Dillon, “Rich” ended up turning into one of the pop hits off the album. “I think it was a Friday, so we were all feeling good, so eventually [“Rich”] just became dirty. We were just having a good time,” Maren stated.

Next, Hudak asked busbee to discuss the genre influences on the production of the album. Busbee noted, “Nothing was overthought or reactionary. The production is cohesive – we didn’t try and make a reggae song sound country or a country song sound pop. We let the songs be themselves.” Maren then informed the students that “albums lose their hearts because of overthinking and over-structuring. I knew this album was done when I could picture it being done. I could picture the track listing. When “Once” was written, I knew that was going to be the period at the end of the sentence.” Continuing on that notion, Maren commented on the overall outcome of Hero: “This album just feels like a gigantic mixtape, honestly,” Maren stated. “It took a village of friends, writers, and artists to make this record.”

Students were invited to ask a few questions following the moderated Q&A. One student asked about Maren’s “different female country sound” on the album. Maren remarked that she doesn’t like slick vocals and always tries to “dirty it up.” Busbee joked that one of the only comments Maren would have in the studio is “more slapback!” She was also asked about life on the road, since things rapidly shifted in her life from writing sessions everyday to touring around the world on the Keith Urban: Ripcord Tour. “I’m not a pro yet,” she states. “Maybe in a year or two I will have better advice on that one, but right now I’m just trying to take care of myself and enjoy the time on the road.

Before Maren made the big move to Nashville, she was inspired by a video she saw of Natalie Hemby singing “The Bees” at The Bluebird Cafe, which made this event that much more special!  Hemby then spoke on Maren’s move to Nashville, saying “there’s always room in the world for good music.” Closing out the event, Maren played a few songs, joined by her collaborators and fellow panelists, including “Rich,” “80s Mercedes,” and “My Church.” Students joined in to take a group picture with Maren, Laura, Natalie, busbee, and Joe and exited the historic Bluebird Café after witnessing a virtuous, light-hearted, and revealing look into key components that made Hero a success. 

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