Country music superstar Maren Morris rocks Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland on Thursday night. She joined WTOP to preview her “Humble Quest” tour.
“I am playing a lot of the new record because we’re touring this record, but I’ve got a lot of songs from my previous albums,” Morris told WTOP. “We play a good mix of everything,”
Born in Arlington, Texas in 1990, she grew up listening to all the country greats.
“It was late ’90s before I started getting into modern country,” Morris said. “I grew up listening to Dolly [Parton], Loretta [Lynn], Hank Williams, Patsy Cline. Late ’90s was more The Chicks, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Martina [McBride]. … I decided these are my people!”
How old was she when she started writing her own songs?
“I wrote my first song on guitar at 12,” Morris said. “That kickstarted my love of songwriting and I haven’t slowed down since. … It was called ‘Living in the Moment,’ that was the first song. I actually entered it into a songwriting competition at my elementary school and won first place, so maybe that gave me the confidence to continue doing this as a profession.”
She moved to Nashville around 2012, toiling away at her songwriting craft.
“I didn’t really know anyone, I just wanted to write with whoever would write with me,” Morris said. “I was hustling, trying to get into writers’ rooms and learn as much as I could. I had written a bunch of songs prior to moving to Nashville, but Nashville is such a different game. You co-write a lot, it’s all about collaboration, that’s how I met most of my friends.”
Her breakthrough album “Hero” (2016) skyrocketed her to fame with a handful of hit singles, starting with “My Church” about finding salvation on her highway FM radio.
“I still get really emotional when I sing it,” Morris said. “If you strip away all the touring, flash, glam, I really feel like just driving around in my car listening to whatever’s on the radio and feeling insignificant, you just feel so anonymous in your car, no one’s watching you, that’s such a freeing feeling. My spiritual place is driving and listening to music.”
She followed up with “80s Mercedes,” declaring herself a “’90s baby in my ‘80s Mercedes.”
“I didn’t think that was a very worldly, ubiquitous feeling, I just personally liked the Mercedes in the ’80s,” Morris said. “I’m not gonna lie, sometimes we just do it because it rhymes. To this day, it’s such a fun song to sing and generationally there’s a lot of ’90s babies the crowd, so it’s just funny to have a song so silly mean something to people.”
She went from silly to heartbreaking with “I Could Use a Love Song.”
“I was jaded when I wrote that song,” Morris said. “I was going through a really painful breakup. … That song was borne out of me going through this really bitter end but having this glimmer of hope that maybe I could find some love in a relationship again and trust someone again. That’s why that song is so heart-wrenching. We’ve all been there.”
For sheer fun, it’s hard to top “Rich” with its “la, ah, de, da” ditty punctuated by profanity.
“My calling card is that the word ‘sh*t’ is in several of my songs,” Morris said. “It feels really good off the tongue, just screaming, ‘Sh*t’ at a crowd and them screaming it back.”
While cranking out country hits, she began to notice Nashville evolving.
“The best songwriters in the world live in Nashville, Tennessee,” Morris said. “Whether you’re writing country music or any [genre], it’s a lot more than just country in Nashville. It’s a really rich music culture, so it’s an amazing place to put your roots down.”
In 2018, she found crossover success with “The Middle” featuring Zedd and Grey.
“It went into the stratosphere and was everywhere overnight,” Morris said. “We were touring in South America and Australia and would hear ‘The Middle’ on the radio in Brazil and Argentina. I was like, ‘Holy sh*t, this song is so much bigger than country music! … I think it did open my music up to a new fanbase for those who hadn’t heard of me.”
Those new fans bought her next album “Girl,” including a hit title track and “The Bones.”
“I definitely had a little bit more credibility going into album 2,” Morris said. “Everything that happened with my first record with ‘My Church,’ ’80s Mercedes,’ even ‘The Middle,’ was such a whirlwind, and I feel like ‘Girl’ was just continuing that process. We never really slowed down honestly until COVID. I was going very hard for many years.”
Her newest album “Humble Quest” (2022) was written during the pandemic.
“When I started writing ‘Humble Quest,’ it was in the thick of us not being able to tour, so that was the first record I could write in a really unstressful place and not have to rush because there was no expectation or deadline. I feel like of all of my records, ‘Humble Quest’ is definitely the most calming because it came from a place of self reflection.”
The album included the hit single “Circles Around This Town,” co-written by her musician husband Ryan Hurd, as well as “Hummingbird” about being a new mother.
“I had my son at the beginning of 2020, so I was also grappling with this new motherhood going into this record, so it was a lot of self-growth,” Morris said. “It’s some of my favorite music I’ve written thus far. … My son is 2 now, he’s on the road with me, he’s actually at the zoo now, but yeah, it does feel very different from previous tours, I’ve got my son out.”
How does her band pass the time backstage? Two words: pickle ball.
“It just feels really special to be able to bond with not just my band, who I’ve been close with for years, but also the crew,” Morris said. “Pickle ball has been good team bonding.”