“Making America cry again,” says Andress sarcastically. “That’s my motto.”
She knows the song’s topic well, and not just from watching Meet the Parents. She was thinking last summer that it was about time to bring her current boyfriend back to Minnesota for an introduction to the family, an event that signifies a level of commitment.
“You’re not going to meet my parents unless I think you’re really cool,” says Andress.
But that brought up old baggage, too. She had seen her family disappointed before, and it wasn’t an event she cared to repeat.
“The only guy I’ve ever brought to meet my parents was a guy in college who was like my first love,” she recalls. “They loved him, and when I broke up with him, they were so devastated.” In fact, they continued to bring him up through the years, even when she had moved on to other paramours.
All of this weighed on Andress when she showed up on Aug. 8, 2018, at the Universal Music Publishing Nashville office of songwriter Sam Ellis (“What If I Never Get Over You”) for a co-writing session with Derrick Southerland, who has previously landed cuts with Carrie Underwood and High Valley. She brought up the topic, though she wasn’t entirely convinced she wanted to share her dilemma with the world. As men who had gone through that experience themselves, Ellis and Southerland provided a male counterbalance to the story, and they encouraged her to chase down the idea.
“The vulnerability it took on Ingrid’s behalf to go there that day was crucial, and she did it,” says Ellis. “It was a good reminder for the three of us the impact and depth lyrics can have if they are pulled directly from real life.”
Ellis and Andress periodically traded a seat at the keyboard as they built the plot. It opens with a conversation between the couple as they prepare for the trip: She warns that they’ll end up sleeping in separate bedrooms and that he should pack a shirt that’s appropriate for church. It is, much like Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” a mix of routine chatter and the occasional bombshell.
“I wanted it to sound as casual as possible because the idea is so heavy,” explains Andress. “I didn’t want it to be like this poem of multiple hearts because that’s not how you would discuss it with somebody. And honestly, I just put myself in my own brain: ‘OK, what would you say to this guy you’re dating? What would you tell him?’ ”
The chorus anticipates her parents’ reaction: Mom will love him instantly; Dad will bond over guy things -- drinking and fishing -- but pretend he dislikes his potential son-in-law. And the stanza closes with a warning: “If we break up, I’ll be fine/ But you’ll be breaking more hearts than mine.”
“It suddenly becomes not about the two people in the relationship -- it’s about everybody else, too,” says Southerland. “It’s kind of this compound interest that love has, you know, so suddenly it’s not just one of those two people that’s going to get really hurt. It’s a lot of collateral damage.”
A sister appears in the second verse, doing her best to embarrass the new guy. And there’s a party with several of the girl’s high school friends, who confirm some of her stories and add a few more crazy tales she hasn’t yet told him. “I wanted to get my siblings into the chorus, too, but that’s a lot of people, and that would be really confusing,” says Andress. “Mom and Dad are enough, and then we’ll throw the siblings into the verse.”
In the final verse, she flips the outlook just a bit. Suddenly, it’s not about Mom’s quick embrace of boyfriends; it’s about how much she feels her children’s heartaches. Dad isn’t pouring whiskey for a round of guy talk; he’s pouring a drink to commiserate with his daughter. Those changes ever so slightly shift the responsibility from the man breaking hearts to the woman who brought him home and set the stage for all that pain.
“You’re all of a sudden not just gambling with your own heart,” says Southerland. “You’ve got everybody else’s on the table, and you feel the pressure of that.”
Ellis played piano for the demo at the end of the appointment, but Andress struggled with the vocal. The character in the song needed to sound bravely vulnerable. Andress, it turns out, went through emotions in front of Ellis and Southerland that mirrored “More Hearts Than Mine.”
“That was the first song I had written that really got super personal, and it was hard for me to disconnect from it,” she says. “Derrick and Sam were so excited. They were like, ‘Yes, yes, cry. It’ll make it better!’ I’m like, ‘No.’ I kept having to step out and gather myself because I just hate crying in front of other people. I just could not help it.”
Ellis produced the rest of the track around the piano and vocal from the writing session. Devin Malone, Ellis’ touring mate when they both played in Hunter Hayes’ road band, played baritone guitar and steel. Ellis handled every other part. The piano never veers into melodic interludes, instead pulsing throughout the performance, gradually building the tension. The drums took a week or two to master; Ellis finally hit on an almost militaristic tone, as if the couple is marching into a dangerous future.
“The snare drum is actually my wife’s clutch bag that I took from the kitchen table and mic’d up and blended in with some splashier, wider samples,” reveals Ellis. “I was just trying to be random about it.”
The song’s real-life drama is still unresolved. Eleven months after she wrote it, Andress’ boyfriend still hasn’t met the folks. “They live in a cabin in the middle of the woods in Minnesota, like four hours outside of Minneapolis,” she says. “Visiting is very difficult, so that’s part of the reason why.”
“More Hearts Than Mine” likely adds to the pressure when that meeting finally happens. It could be a song of the year contender if it does well: It’s currently No. 50 in its second week on Country Airplay. “The reason why I got into country music is because of the storytelling, and I just hadn’t heard a song like that in country for a while,” she says.
She’ll know it’s working if she makes America cry again.
This article first appeared in the Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to sign up for free.