Originally published at phasermagazine.com
HARDY started out as a songwriter for some of the biggest names in Country music, before stepping into his own spotlight with his recent Hixtape Vol. 1 project. Having scored four number one hits as a writer, and with his debut single ‘REDNECKER’ tallying over 113 million streams to date, he is one of Country’s hottest prospects. Maxim Mower sat down to talk to him about the songwriting process, small town life, and his upcoming tour.
Thank you for taking the time out to talk today! Firstly, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the concept behind your star-studded Hixtape Vol. 1. You have 17 features on the 10-track record, and having lots of guest spots is generally something more associated with Hip Hop/Rap music, as is the Mixtape form as a whole. What was the thinking behind this?
You kinda nailed it. I’m a fan of Hip Hop and I like the way they do that, it’s seems more carefree. I don’t know, man, it’s just a combo of that and me wanting to do something that no-one has done in a long time in Country music. I have a lot of friends that I’ve wanted to do a project with, and it’s generally just me and my buddies on there. I was sitting on a pile of songs, and I didn’t know who was gonna sing them. For the most part people on it are people I’ve written with and worked with in the past, and it just came together like a dream. I really wanted to do something different, so we just kinda went for it!
There’s been an increase in genre-blurring over the past decade, particularly involving Country music, with FGL doing the pop crossover ‘Meant To Be’ with Bebe Rexha, Zac Brown Band doing ‘Broken Arrows’ with Avicii, and of course, ‘Old Town Road’. There are tinges of Rock, Hip Hop, and R&B in your music. Do you think this genre-blurring is something that we will see more of in the 2020s, and will we even have genres by 2030?
Yeah I definitely do think we’ll see more of that, and that’s interesting to say we won’t really have genres, because I think Country is such a huge, wide format. It is very interesting that a Country song today could have been a Pop hit five years ago. The idea of a ‘genre’ in general is so subjective, which I think is totally fun and totally cool. I can’t predict the future but I definitely think more collaborations will come, and I look forward to it! As a songwriter, I see a lot of LA writers coming over to write with Nashville writers, because we have a gift with lyrics that you don’t really hear in different genres.
You can tell a project is special when the first time you listen to it, you think ‘This song is definitely my favourite’, and then the next time you hear it you think ‘No, actually this song is my favourite’, and each time you hear it you fall in love with another one of the tracks. Do you have a personal favourite off the Hixtape?
I like ‘Boy from the South’, ‘My Kinda Livin’’, ‘Turn You Down’, I like 'He Went to Jared’…I don’t know, its hard man! It’s hard to pick. Right now my favourite to perform is ‘Boy from the South’, we open the show on tour with that one.
‘One Beer’ is interesting because it goes from this scary, daunting thing happening in an unplanned pregnancy, but ends up on a note of gratitude and happiness that life turned out the way it did. Is the story based on a real life event?
No, it wasn’t based on a real life event. I just had this idea and I’ve had the title ‘One Beer’ for a really long time, and I just thought it would be cool to write a song about how one beer can literally end up changing someone’s life. I woke up one day with that melody in my head and the whole first line of the chorus. I sat down with my collaborators and I said, 'I have to get this out right now’. I feel like ‘One Beer’ sounds like such a generic Country title, but it was nice to give it a deeper meaning.
On songs like ‘Nothin’ Out Here’, you sing about how outsiders will see a small town and think it’s so quiet and there’s so few people, that it must be boring to live there - and being from the countryside myself I’m quite familiar with that assumption! With the tone of ‘Nothin’ Out Here’, and I think this is shared across many Country songs, do you ever feel like you often find yourself having to defend the country lifestyle and the beauty of small town life?
Yeah, I think so. In this fast paced world, that’s something that’s overlooked and shamed for maybe being behind the times and ignorant. For some reason I just feel like country people and that way of life doesn’t really fit the format of the rest of the world, and it’s definitely not praised in today’s society, and I think that it should be. If you live that life you should be very proud of it, and I say that in the song you mentioned - we’re making something out of nothing out here. These people don’t really have anything, but they develop an entire life out of very little.
Your discography has a great mix of laid-back anthems and deeper cuts, such as ‘One Beer’ and ‘Signed, Sober You’. Do you prefer writing the more light-hearted songs, such as ‘Redneck Tendencies’, or are the deeper ones more satisfying to create?
It’s tough man, I like them both. I love writing a big old light-hearted song that just feels good, but the songwriter in me loves to write a sad-ass song that makes you really feel something. I think there’s a skill level required, because it’s kinda hard to write both. With a light-hearted song, it’s hard to say nothing but still make somebody feel something, and on the other hand, it’s hard to write a song that’ll make someone cry.
I’d be really interested to learn more about the creative process behind writing for other artists, having written for Country heavyweights such as Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and Morgan Wallen. Do you sit down and start writing a song with a particular artist in mind, or do you just write something you like and then see who takes it?
I’ve never liked to try to write for a specific artist, unless I’m in the room with that artist, just because it puts me in a creative box. You could have a great line and think, ‘well, that person would never sing that’. I just wanna write the best song. Me and Morgan [Wallen], we just write and we both wanna make the best song. If I’m in the room with Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan, I’m gonna try to stick to their language.
Of course, songwriting usually entails a collaborative effort from a handful of artists. What aspect is your speciality, is it the lyrics, the melody, the composition, or does everyone involved tend to work on each aspect of the song?
Usually in Nashville these days you have a producer-writer in the room handling the composition, and they come in either with some stuff already prepared, or they quickly catch on to someone playing around on a guitar, and then work on that. In Nashville, the lyrics and melody come at the same time. I’d say ‘what if the line went like this’, and I’d sing it. Very few people these days do just one or the other. But producer-writers do streamline the process of songs getting recorded, and by the end of the studio session, you end up having a song that sounds like it will on the radio. I’m all for it!
You’ve penned a number of smash hit songs, such as FGL’s ‘Simple’, Wallen’s ‘Up Down', and more recently Blake’s ‘God’s Country’, to name just a few. What’s your favourite song that you’ve written for someone else?
I think probably ‘Up Down' would be my favourite. I love ‘God’s Country’, and to be honest man and it’s probably gonna make me more money than any other song in my career, and I’m grateful for that. But ‘Up Down’ was a big Country hit, it was my first number one, my first real single, and Morgan is one of my best friends in the whole world. So I think because of the story behind it, and the sentimental value, that one’s always gonna be one of my favourites.
You’re about to embark on another massive tour with Thomas Rhett, who’s featured on Hixtape. Are you planning on coming out to the UK to perform anytime soon? We’d sure love to see you out here!
I don’t know if I’m gonna be there with Thomas Rhett, but I’m hearing rumours that I’ll be coming out there. I haven’t confirmed anything yet, but there are rumblings that it might be happening soon!
Finally, often artists will be going through something, and they pen lyrics that can really help the listeners who are going through that same struggle, but perhaps shed new light on it or shift the perspective in a really helpful way. I actually featured on my blog one of the songs you wrote for FGL, ‘People Are Different’, which I love because it’s all about unity and not judging people. Which of the lyrics in either this song, or any of the songs that you’ve written, would you say you would want listeners to pay especially close attention to, that you feel can help people the most?
Man, 'People Are Different’ is a good one dude. That’s a song that I wish the world had gotten to hear, and I wish it had been introduced to the world as a single. ‘Signed, Sober You’, man, I’ve had a lot of people send me messages on social media and say that that song has helped them get through a break-up. That song gives hope to people, and I would want everybody to hear it because I know for a fact that it helps people. That’s the main reason I do this, to give people hope. Even 'One Beer' too, it’s something that you think is a big mistake, but it turns out to be a wonderful blessing.
Stream HARDY’s Hixtape Vol. 1, featuring the likes of Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Morgan Wallen and Dustin Lynch, on all platforms.
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?