At this time last year, Maren Morris was maybe a familiar name to some country radio listeners, as her dynamic debut single “My Church” was released in January 2016. Just 14 months later, Morris has a chart-topping album (her debut LP, Hero, hit No. 1 on Top Country Albums last June), two Billboard Hot 100-crashing singles, and even a Grammy Award. To top it all off, she completely sold out her first-ever headlining tour.
The Hero Tour 2017 comes to a close with three shows in Morris’ native state of Texas from March 23 through March 25, hitting Dallas, Houston and Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall located in New Braunfels. She’ll officially finish out the trek with two final performances at Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom on April 4 and 5.
Ahead of the weekend, which Morris sees as a “positive and powerful” homecoming, Billboard chatted with the rising country star about her whirlwind success, what she’s taken away from it, and how it feels to be a Grammy winner — and taking that title back home.
How does it feel to be able to say you’re a Grammy winner?
I think just being nominated, getting to go for the first time and having the chance to perform as a new artist on the show is already so many amazing things packed into that week. But getting to accept my first Grammy, and my mom being my date, ever since then I feel… I mean, I was already validated just being nominated, but when you walk away with some hardware, I think you stand a little taller.
You’ve called “My Church” your little cub, and said that you felt like mama bear to it. What was it like to have that song be what won you your first Grammy?
I think, at the time, I was referring to when I first wrote “My Church,” and that I didn’t want anyone else hearing it and feeling like it was their song to record. I was really protective of it, because I just couldn’t picture someone else’s voice on it other than my own. I stuck to my guns — maybe it felt overprotective at the time, but I think winning a Grammy and the performance of that song, I felt really validated in my decision to move forward and keep it as my first single. I think I just knew in my head there was something special about “My Church” and getting to accept a Grammy for it was just proof that I made the right decision.
I haven’t received it yet in the mail, but I think the day I open that package and it’s the award with my name on it, I’m going to be bowled over. I don’t know when it’s coming!
You performed “Once” on the Grammys, which seemed like a hint that it’d be the next single. What made you feel like “I Could Use A Love Song” it was the right choice for your next single instead?
We were going back and forth with a few songs as the third single, but I think after “My Church” and “80s Mercedes,” those songs were so forward-moving — “My Church” is really anthemic and gospel-tinged, and “80s Mercedes” is this really neon-colored sing-along, going out type of song to sing at the top of your lungs. I felt like we couldn’t do another powerful ballad or another high-energy song, because if we did, it was just hammering on the same note over and over again. I didn’t want to keep chipping away at that boisterous, confident, sassy character.
I think that the story I’m sort of unfolding for the country radio listener audience — they’ve seen a certain side of me and I wanted them to see a different side that they haven’t heard before. Which is a really vulnerable, but insightful look into a heartbreak. It’s not a poor, pitiful me type of song, it’s my personality and it’s really self-reflective… It’s sort of owning up to your faults and hoping that you’re not playing to that “heartbroken girl going through a breakup” cliché. I wanted to write a song that was from the perspective of a real human being going through something traumatic, trying to chip their way through to the other side and not be so cynical.
But the Grammys, that performance — I feel like the Grammys are the one show that you don’t have to go on and promote your single. You can do whatever song you want that feels artistically sound to you. And for me, performing a song like “Once” — which I don’t think will be a single, it just doesn’t have that feel to it — I was like, if I’m ever going to perform this on a major stage… when I wrote this song even, I was like “I could picture singing this at the Grammys.” So, I was kind of making that dream come true.
You’re wrapping up your Hero Tour with some home state shows this weekend — has it lived up to your hopes and expectations?
That’s certainly putting it lightly. I don’t think I knew what to expect at the time. We opened it in New York, and that was the first time I was ever seeing my fans in that kind of capacity. I’d been opening for people, but I’ve never seen, in one place, just my fans. That was so cool. And coming back to Texas is really emotional, because I toured around Texas for 10 years when I was a kid and people didn’t really show up. So I went away, kind of went through my 20s, was just a songwriter and now I feel like I’m coming back on my own terms. It’s a really full circle, emotional week to be going back to Dallas where a lot of my family and friends live, doing Houston and then [legendary Texas dance hall] Gruene Hall, which has always been on my bucket list to sell out, and now I can say that I did.
I’m just so excited to go back in terms of being a Grammy winner. I don’t think I ever thought that I’d be able to end my tour as a Grammy winner, and now I can say that I am. It feels like you’re going home to your high school reunion and you’re like “Yeah, I have a Grammy!” Just stroll in with my fur coat and pearls. [Laughs.] It’s gonna be like a homecoming, if anything. All these people that have watched me go from the girl that was the background music at a bar at a honky tonk in middle-of-nowhere Texas to coming back on a sold-out tour and finishing out the right way. It’s the continuation of a really long relationship I’ve had with Texas.
What have you learned on the road and what you’ve experienced in this last year, and what are you going to take with you going into the next steps of your career?
I think I’ve learned how to be a better boss. I’m the one running the show now, and in the past I’ve always kind of been looking at other people to make the decisions. I feel more confident to run not just my show, but behind the scenes too. It’s been crazy to see my team grow in the last couple of years, making sure everyone’s happy, that their ideas are getting heard and they’re getting to be creative.
I’ve learned how to be a better performer on stage and interact with the fans, make it feel like a collective experience more than just me singing songs on a stage and feeling really detached. I feel like I have more fun on stage now than I did a couple of years back — I think a lot of that is loving the music that you’re putting out, but also getting comfortable on stages where you’re performing to gigantic crowds and not feeling intimidated by them, but feeling uplifted by them.
I’m excited to continue touring the rest of this year and start writing a lot more, just sort of seeing what comes through the filters. I haven’t written a song in a long time, so we’ll see if it’s still working. [Laughs.] You never know until you clear the cobwebs and get the first one out. I’ve learned so much, and I feel like this headline tour has given me so many tools for the future, because I got to see my fan base for the first time. It was a really intimate experience in these clubs to see each and every one of their faces and really connect with everyone, feel that energy in the room. Now playing an arena isn’t scary, I feel like I have a handle on it.
After the years of hard work you’ve put in, do you feel like you’re right where you’re supposed to be?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s taken a long time to get to that feeling of confidence. I’ve paved this road myself, and no one else has walked it the same exact way that I have. There are people that helped kick the door in, but it’s really satisfying to be in a place where you know who you are and you’ve figured yourself out. People are connecting with words that I’ve written down with pen and paper in a bigger way than they ever did before — now it’s on the world stage.
I feel like every month I grow more confident on stage and more sure of myself. A lot of that is just time going by and scaring the s–t out of yourself, and accomplishing things that you never thought you’d have the guts to even sign up for. Also I think it’s the fans that have fallen in love with the music and feel like they’re a part of it, they’re watching this grow and they’re growing with it, with me. I’m really happy, and I can’t believe this is all sort of on the first swing of the hammer. You release one album at this level, and you just hope people like it. Now that I can say people like it, I can focus on the next one.
I definitely have a lot more to write about this go around. When I sit down and start writing for album two, it’s like, I’ve seen so much in the last two years of my life than I have in the last 25 years of it. So I’m excited to get back to work and reflect on how insanely amazing the last couple years of my life have been and how lucky I am. I feel like I’ve lived a little, and I’m just kind of waiting to see what comes out in the writing room.