“When you hear great songs, it makes you want to write great songs”, muses Ryan Hurd, pondering over his selections for Cuts The Deepest. A Nashville powerhouse himself, the singer-songwriter certainly knows a thing or two about crafting hits. With co-pen credits on some of Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Lady A’s biggest numbers, Hurd has had a prolific career both as a collaborative writer and artist in his own right.
Amassing an impressive 380 million-plus streams worldwide, Hurd’s latest single ‘Chasing After You’ - a duet with his wife, country megastar Maren Morris – has only added fuel to the fire. Though they’ve frequently featured on each other’s work, the song marks the pair’s first official collaboration; “a full circle moment”, Hurd claims. Telling the story of a couple caught in a cycle of break up reconciliations, the atmospheric ballad became an immediate hit upon its release, climbing up the country charts and securing a world performance premiere spot at this year’s ACMs ceremony. “It’s just such an amazing opportunity and a dream come true”, said Hurd. “I’m so proud of what the song’s already been able to achieve. I don't really know what else there is to accomplish with it after the ACMs, besides chart success. I feel like I’m kind of checking off the last box of country music for myself”.
When reflecting on his career, it becomes clear that Hurd is as grounded as he is ambitious. “I think things really took off for me when I stopped trying to force the songs. You always feel pressure when you're an artist to constantly produce songs that people will love, or that will become massive hits. For ‘Chasing After You’ to take off in the way it has, I feel like I’ve been given freedom - artistically and personally - to make the right decisions and moves for myself. I can't wait to put out more songs that hopefully have a fraction of the success that this one has. But for the most part, we're just really excited and enjoying every day of it.”
As he picks his five favourite records and singles for Cuts The Deepest, Hurd details his admiration for country music’s unique ability to evoke nostalgia, the influence of indie rock on his songwriting and “the perfect storm” that is The Highwomen.
I think my favorite country song of all time is ‘Anything But Mine’ by Kenny Chesney, which was written by a guy named Scooter Carusoe. I often cover it in my sets because I think it's just a perfect country song. It even started its own little sub-genre of beach country music! It’s an amazing storytelling song - it's so universal to the American experience; the whole idea of spring break and the beach. I'm a Midwestern Dude - I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and there's a lyric about this guy going back to Cleveland which is kind of cool, because I grew up four hours from there. So I can just see all these pictures in my head every time I hear that song; it's a sense of sentimentality. I think that nostalgia in country music is one of the things that we do best. No other genre really focuses on it the way that we do, and I've used a lot of it in my music and storytelling. This song is a perfect example of it.
When Southeastern came out I listened to it over and over again. I love the production and the songwriting, and I think ‘Cover Me Up’ is one of the most perfectly written love songs I've ever heard. It comes from a truly desperate place. I'm not a big fan of people using the terms “honesty” and “authenticity” within music - the listener should assume that you're telling them the truth - but with this song, it's such a difficult thing for Jason to have captured the emotion of what he was going through. I remember going to see him at a festival in Florida and he said, “People ask me every day to dedicate this song to somebody”. He started talking about Amanda and said, “This song will only ever be for her.” To hear how much it meant to him made the song even more special to the listeners. I can't believe I get to count that guy as a friend now. We’ve gotten to know them so well through Maren being in The Highwomen. It’s odd to call myself a peer just because he's such a giant in our Nashville community, but he is obviously still a massive inspiration to me.
To me, Futures as an entire album is just really amazing. It’s hard to pick one song off of it because I think you need to experience it as a whole, but ‘Work’ has everything as far as rock n' roll production goes. I don't know if it was their most successful work, but truly it's just a perfect album to me. As a musician, you're so inspired by so many types of genres and sounds. A lot of my earlier music that I put out was very indie rock influenced, very rock and roll forward. Like, it’d be quite a stretch to call songs like ‘City Girl’ country songs. Lyrically it plays on country, but you can definitely hear that rock sound.
I'm going to go across the pond and choose Damien Rice’s ‘The Blower’s Daughter’. I was in Colorado as a kid and it struck me that this was music that people could actually make. The O album floored me – and this was a really influential song, it represents a memorable moment in my life when I found it. The whole process behind them making the record was amazing - his melodies are incredible and his voice is so cool, I think it's just a beautiful piece of music. Together with his whole band, they sound amazing live, so it was great when I got to see it; they’re so theatrical and in his encore he basically drank a bottle of wine at a piano. If you're going to offer an example of a prime singer-songwriter, it's him.
My final pick is the entire Highwomen album. The whole project is just a perfect storm. I am such a massive fan of all four of these women; in college I loved all of Brandi Carlile's music and I’ve written tons of songs with Natalie Hemby, she's always been such an amazingly inspiring songwriter and human. Getting to know Amanda Shires through the project, and the brilliance of what she does as a fiddle player, writer and singer, has been incredible. Obviously I’m married to Maren and I’ve been massively inspired by her creatively since we met. A lot of the songwriting on the record was done in the studio, so I got to watch them create these songs and it felt like a puzzle fitting together; nothing sounds like it. These four women have no business being in a band together because they're all so successful individually! Looking from the outside in, I just witnessed the most incredibly joyful experience in making an album. It’s a magical project.
Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris' latest single 'Chasing After You', is out now. The pair are set to perform the single for the first time at this Sunday's ACM Awards (4/18). Watch the video for the track below.
Photography by Harper Smith.