Country Singer Maren Morris on Her Hit 'My Church' and Country's Changing Landscape -- 'It Has Come to a Fever Pitch'

Maren Morris
Robby Klein

The 25-year-old Texan hits the top 10 on Country Airplay with her debut single.

Maren Morris has reason to sing praises -- the 25-year-old Texan hits the top 10 on Country Airplay with her debut single, “My Church,” which is in its eighth week on the Hot 100. The single’s rise marks a potential sea change for female country artists: for comparison, Kelsea Ballerini’s 2014 “Love Me Like You Mean It" took 34 weeks to reach Country Airplay’s top echelon. Ballerini broke the ground, though, with the chart’s first solo female no. 1 debut single since Carrie Underwood in 2006.

"It’s always been like that, but this is the first time in decades that more than two or three women have had any radio success,” Morris tells Billboard. "So it’s nice to see that changing finally.” Below, she talks about her breakout hit, hearing herself on the radio, and how she feels country is evolving.

Maren Morris Mixes Cash, Christ and Marconi In 'My Church'

Did you know right away that “My Church” would be a hit?
Hearing the demo for the first time, it felt like the earth shook for a second. When I thought of the title, I knew it would work: It was simple, but universal. It’s not just that it’s fun to sing along to -- it’s about finding that feeling of inspiration and peace.

Who’s your co-writer on the single? I didn’t recognize the name.
His name is busbee. He is based out of L.A., but he also has a studio in Nashville, so he’s got a foot in both waters, pop and country. For me, as an artist, he always got where I was coming from, because I didn’t want to choose between those worlds, and you don’t really have to.

Do you remember when you first heard “My Church” on the radio?
It was snowing, and I was driving to Walmart in Nashville to get contacts. Luckily, I was parked -- I don’t know what would have happened if I was driving! It was very emotional. You work your whole life as a songwriter for one three-minute moment.

What do you enjoy about driving?
I feel like I get a lot of my ideas that way. You can clear your mind; you’re by yourself; you don’t have to communicate with anyone. You can just unplug your brain for a second. I mean, still focus on the road, but listen to music and get out of your head. I’ll just drive around if I’m stuck on something or have a case of writer’s block.

Are Women Finally Getting a Fair Shake on Country Radio? A Billboard Analysis

Have you always been an avid listener to all kinds of radio?
As a songwriter, I feel like just for inspiration and research purposes I have to listen to everything. Nashville over the last few years has become this hot spot not just for country music -- the Kings Of Leon are from here, Paramore, Jack White. The walls of genres are really falling down, so it’s a fun time to be in that city as an artist. As a touring musician over the last 15 years, before streaming and iPods, you had to listen to terrestrial radio wherever you were. That’s always been my way of connecting to a location. Turn on the radio, search through the dial.

A lot has been written about the tough climate for women in country radio. What is your take?
I’m definitely in conversations about the lack of diversity -- not just for women, but in the genre itself. For the past few years, we’ve only been hearing one thing. Now, with artists like Chris Stapleton, you hear more when you turn on the radio. There has been a hum of change under the surface for a long time; now it has come to a fever pitch. There’s room for everyone.

--Additional reporting by Jim Asker

A version of this story originally appeared in the March 25 issue of Billboard.

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