In some ways, songwriter-turned-artist Hardy’s “songwriter self” is thriving during the pandemic. Though he’s as frustrated as everyone else at the lack of live music, he’s been able to immerse himself in his first love - writing songs; he’s even embraced the upsides of Zoom co-writing sessions too.
Over the past few years, Hardy has amassed a tidy and growing collection of nominations and accolades. He notched his first No. 1 at country radio with ‘One Beer’, and he’s up for three gongs at the 2021 ACMs, including the yet to be announced Songwriter of The Year award. Meanwhile, he’s continued to be a songwriter for hire; lending his skills as a hitmaker to the likes of Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and many more.
Nevertheless, he’s had to learn to balance time spent songwriting against time spent touring, something that he admits hasn’t been easy. He's also had to watch Morgan Wallen - a close friend, frequent co-writer and musical mentor - take a dramatic fall from stardom, after leaked footage showed him yelling racial slurs at the end of a night of partying.
Now, shortly before he heads into another co-write, Hardy appears from his basement hangout to chat with Holler. Wearing his signature trucker hat, black-rimmed glasses and a Mastodon T-shirt, the singer reflects both on the unforgettable year behind him and what lays ahead, beginning with his new single, ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’.
What made ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’ the right single to follow up ‘One Beer’?
From the second I turned it in to my label, there was never any doubt that it would become a single. Most artists start looking for their next one when their current single is Top 10 or Top 5, so [when ‘One Beer’ started moving toward No.1], it became a decision between ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’ and ‘Boyfriend’. It was such an obvious choice - I could go on my Instagram and hit refresh, and by the end of this call someone will have contacted me and told me a story about how ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’ connected with him., You don’t know how many singles you’re gonna get off a record, I didn’t wanna waste any time and I was ready to give this to anybody that needs to hear it. It was important for me to get that message out, because I know that this song helps people. That’s probably the number one reason why I do this, to make people feel something or to help them.
I know John Prine is one of your favorite songwriters. When he died last spring, did you go back and revisit his catalogue?
Absolutely! Of course I did. You know what’s funny - my dad made me a burnt CD when I was probably 18 years old; it was 20 or 30 of his favorite John Prine songs. I wore that CD out. I actually went back and found it and put every song on a playlist and had it on repeat all day, alll while I was working down here in my basement. So yes, I definitely had a John Prine session. I love him. I could talk about his music forever.
With 2020 being a year of loss in general, do you think that it has colored your songwriting?
No. At the end of the day, I don’t think it's forcing or even inspiring me to write a certain type of song. I’m such a hipster when it comes to pandering. Even if it’s a great idea, I’m like, “I don’t know, it’s gonna seem like we tried to do that.” But I will say this: I have toured my ass off for the last three years. I love songwriting, but I didn’t get to do it [as much]. Just to give you an example; in 2019, I wrote 57 songs. That’s not a lot of songs. In 2018, I wrote 186 songs. So, in 2020, I wrote 107 songs. I kinda feel like I got my groove back last year; I developed a ton of relationships, I started writing with Dierks Bentley and everybody I could’ve imagined, but I never would’ve done any of that if 2020 hadn’t happened. Instead, I would’ve run into them on the road for 30 seconds, and that would have been my only interaction. I got to develop all of these great relationships with my songwriting because of COVID.
Has trading songwriting time for touring felt like a loss, or are you just rebalancing your life?
It definitely felt like a loss. I have such a passion - it sounds so lame - but I just care so much about songs and songwriting. I am very at home and at peace when I get to do that. I don’t think as much about any negative shit I have going on - I don’t have any anxiety; songwriting is just the one place where I’m zoned in and it’s just me. When I didn’t get to do that, it sucked, and I thought about it all the time, to the point where I was like, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so upset? Why am I so anxious?” I really do think it’s because I suffered the loss of my songwriter self. I know that’s deep, but that’s what my therapist told me.
Like you say, you’ve written for a ton of other artists this past year.
Totally. Do you know what else I discovered this past year? The beauty of Zoom writing. As soon as I get off the phone with you, I’m gonna get on another call and write a song. It’s become so streamlined and I’ve gotten so used to it, that now I can do it on the road. Back in the day - and by that, I mean a year ago - you had to bring people out to you. That’s fun, but if it’s people you don’t know really well, you have to be a good host and not sleep in ‘til noon, even if you've got drunk and stayed up ‘til five in the morning. You have to be on it all the time. Now though, I can wake up, grab my computer and go in the back lounge of the bus and write with other people. It’s amazing.
You’ve been nominated for a bunch of songwriting awards recently, but your ACM nomination for New Male Artist of the Year is new territory for you?
Yeah! The whole “artist” thing is getting real now - if it didn’t feel like it already, it does now. You know what’s funny, too, is I kind of compare myself to Morgan [Wallen], just because he was the guy who took me under his wing. I got to watch his trajectory, and I feel like I’m kind of following suit with his path. It’s weird that I feel like I’m doing a lot of the same stuff that he did, but I’m very thankful because he’s had a great career. It’s just really surreal. I know every one of the guys that I’m nominated with and, at the end of the day, I’m rooting for everybody. It’s just an honor to be nominated.
You’re a co-writer on several of the songs on Morgan’s newest album, including ‘Living the Dream’. That’s a tough song about the harder parts of fame, and it’s almost taken on a new meaning after what’s been going on with him these past few months. I feel like if I were writing that song with my friend, I might stop for a second and go, “You okay, buddy?” Was there any of that while writing that song?
No, there wasn’t. We were partying on the road, but it wasn’t a sad day. The thing about songwriters is the darker and sadder they can make something, the more excited they get. Sure, we were pushing the boundary a little bit - but no, the day we wrote that, we were excited. That song didn’t come from a place of hurting or desperation. Truly, we were like, “This song is badass because of how real it is.” I know that it can apply somewhat more now than it has in the past and I hate that, but we wrote it in 2019 - two years ago. It feels like ten now. We all know what’s going on with him right now and that’s a whole different thing, but when we wrote it, everybody was fine. We were feeling great. We were at a casino, we were all sober and just having a good time.
The experience of listening to it is heavy!
I would imagine! I could see how [most fans] could hear that song and go, “Holy shit, is he okay?” I get that, 100 percent.
Do you see a way forward for Morgan in country music?
I would like to think so. I can’t talk a lot about it. But I will say that I think Morgan, from that moment [when the video was posted], has done everything he possibly can to help regain his traction. And really, his traction never went away - but that’s a whole different thing.
You mean that his album was at No.1 on the Billboard 200 for 10 straight weeks.
Yeah. He holds the record for consecutive weeks [spent at the top of the Billboard 200 by a country artist with a just-released album.] I think he will be fine. I just think it’s gonna take a little time. But I know this, and I think the world will find this out fairly soon; he is taking every action he can to rekindle his relationship with the people who chose to excommunicate him, or whatever you wanna call that. There’s a few of those situations that the public doesn’t know about that's a lot better than what it looks or sounds like. But at the end of the day, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world. People make mistakes. I have friends that make mistakes all the time, but they don’t have 3 million followers on Instagram. If you truly love someone, you gotta be there for that person and support them. That’s what I’m here to do for him.
HARDY's latest single, 'Give Heaven Some Hell', is out now via Big Loud Records. HARDY is nominated for three ACM Awards, with the ceremony taking place this Sunday (4/18). Watch the video for his smash hit 'One Beer', featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson, below.
Photography by Tanner Gallagher.