Maren Morris’ Humble Quest, currently nominated for the Country Music Association’s album of the year, is full of plot lines and small details that emanate directly from her life, her friendships and her marriage to fellow artist Ryan Hurd.
First single “Circles Around This Town” is an autobiographical recap of her ascent in Nashville’s music community, “Nervous” reveals psychosexual passion and sensitivity, and a handful of songs — “Background Music,” the title track and closer “What Would This World?” — grapple collectively with the meaning of life in all its temporal, elusive mystery.
“I definitely made some personal choices on this record, particularly that I was more vulnerable than I maybe had been previously,” Morris says. “Maybe it’s just time and a little bit more wisdom, but I definitely feel like I allowed myself to share a little bit more behind the curtain.”
The project’s second single, “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” is a breezy celebration of making up. Heard on its own merits separate from Humble Quest, that might not be entirely evident — it references hard times and conflict, but there’s no sense that any sort of bitterness might have been in the mix when Morris and Hurd wrote it in January 2021.
But, in fact, the cheeriness in the three-minute jaunt reflects a post-tiff rebound while they visited the Hawaiian home of co-writer/producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Kelly Clarkson).
“Ryan and I were bickering about something — I can’t even remember what, it was so stupid,” she says. “But we were kind of arguing that morning, and then going into the write, Ryan threw that title out and it just sort of lightened the mood: ‘I can’t love you any more than I do now.’ So the song ended up becoming couples therapy for us.”
That little window in a relationship, when the cloud of negativity has lifted after a spat and the couple reasserts its commitment, is one of the joys in the process, and the positivity of the moment is reflected in both the song’s effortlessly happy melody and its unencumbered lyrics. Morris, Hurd and Kurstin wrote the chorus first, turning out an easy singalong by repeating the I-can’t-love-you-anymore hook six times in a row.
“It’s a very simple one, and yet repetitive,” she says of the chorus. “It just felt good to sing the same hook over and over again. But then I felt like for the verses — because the chorus, lyrically, was so simple, I wanted to really get colorful with the language on the verses. So that’s why there’s a lot of imagery and opposites. And we could really get a little more edgy with the verse.”
That aspect starts right at the song’s opening as she kicks it off with an unlikely rhyme scheme: “Shoulda known what I was gettin’ in/Fallin’ for a boy from Michigan.” It identifies up front that she’s singing about Hurd, who spent his formative years in Kalamazoo.
A follow-up thought, “You like drivin’ to Texas/ You put up with all my exes,” similarly pinpoints Morris’ roots in Arlington, though her exes inhabit their marriage because of her and Hurd’s occupations — not because she keeps them in her day-to-day orbit.
“They’re not in my life, but they are in my songs,” she says with a laugh. “It’s part and parcel of being married to a songwriter who’s had a past. You do have these relationships internalized in songs. I have songs about previous relationships, and so does he. It’s just something we accept about each other.
“But honestly, I was going for the rhyme, and it felt like a cool ode to George Strait. ‘Texas’ and ‘exes’ just go together so perfectly.”
Verse two took some additional edgy steps. Morris sings about the times “when I’ve been a bitch” (the single version blanks out the profanity), and it closes with her singing, “You’re so good-lookin’, it kinda makes me sick” — it’s amusing to consider Hurd helping write a song that lets his wife cast him as a sex symbol.
“We just don’t get awkward anymore,” she says. “I think because we’ve written so many songs together, we’ve been able to tap into this very intimate role with each other in the room and not feel cringey.”
Following the second chorus, they opted for a vocal interlude that ultimately featured Morris in triple harmony with herself, in a spot that would typically support a guitar solo. Appropriate for a song about a rebounding relationship moment, the final verse has Morris self-effacingly calling herself “an acquired taste,” while looking forward to many more years of bliss… and occasional bickering.
“I think that it takes a very strong person to be with someone like me or, really, any artist,” she says. “Maybe it’s my Texas upbringing, but I’m very stubborn and like things done my way. Being in a relationship takes a lot of balance and compromise, which I’ve learned the hard way.”
Kurstin attended to the musical track as the writing session progressed, laying down a light drum foundation and strummed acoustic guitar playing four basic country chords. When the song was completed and the visit to Hawaii was over, Kurstin continued building the instrumental support at his No Expectations Studio in California. Morris, meanwhile, had time to live with the recording from the writing session and wanted to lean heavily on the country component. Kurstin brought in Rich Hinman to overdub steel guitar in L.A., and he captured Bennett Lewis (of Morris’ road band) on Dobro during additional overdubs at Sheryl’s Barn, the recording studio owned by Sheryl Crow in Tennessee.
Morris ultimately decided the chorus was too repetitive and rewrote the fourth and fifth occurrences when she did her final vocal at the studio, nailing it in a single take. Hurd applied harmony to the choruses, underscoring their relationship’s centrality in the narrative. “I wanted it to feel like we were facing each other and just singing it at each other,” she says.
Columbia Nashville released “I Can’t Love You Anymore” to country radio via PlayMPE on Sept. 13. It has slipped on and off Country Airplay a couple of times while it finds its initial footing, but it ultimately feels well-timed for a fan base that craves authenticity but also could use an emotional break.
“I truly listened to my fans’ reaction to what could be potential singles,” Morris says. “It just felt like people don’t want to stew in depressing, heavy shit right now. They want to hum something over and over again that just feels good. We’ve faced heavy truths plenty. So let’s just dance.”