HARDY is a breakthrough artist who successfully made the leap from songwriter to top-selling act with his own hits and his songs recorded by others gracing the same charts. Despite working with some of the biggest names in country music like Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell, and Thomas Rhett, it becomes obvious that fame hasn’t changed him. His down-to-earth nature comes through right away, and he speaks about his hometown with distinct pride and admiration. Prior to sitting down with me, he spent 8 weeks hunting with his family in Mississippi, going into detail about the game he was able to get, and the allusive “big guy” he stalked for over a month but wasn’t able to track down. Rest assured, “I’ll get him next year,” he promises, with a laugh.
Music has been a strong thread for HARDY, weaving throughout the chapters of his life. He attended Middle Tennessee State University for songwriting, and soon after got his first big break as a writing partner for Florida Georgia Line. After becoming one of the most sought-after songwriters in country music, he was signed to Big Loud in 2018 and released his first EP, THIS OLE BOY soon after. Since then, HARDY has seen prolific success as both a songwriter and performer, collecting accolades including ACM’s Songwriter of the Year, BMI Country Songwriter of the Year, and AIMP Songwriter of the Year. Flash forward to now, HARDY is gearing up for 2023 to be his year. His newest album, the mockingbird & THE CROW, comes out on January 20th, with single “wait in the truck” ft. Lainey Wilson, which has already rocked the industry, topping the Best of 2022 lists. Ahead of the release of his new album, we discussed his creative process, performing live, and his plans to prepare for his upcoming sold-out tours.
Considering that your new album ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’ leans more towards country rock than your previous albums, did you approach the creation of this one differently?
Yeah! I knew about eight songs into the record that this one would be different. Before you start recording, there’s the holding process so, I had about 8 songs on hold that I wanted on the album, and my producer and I realized that half of those songs were rock songs and half were country songs. Before that, I wasn’t writing with a purpose but once we realized that I was like, “man let’s do a split record!”. After that, I knew I had to write 10 or so more songs, so I began approaching it with the mindset of “I need to write a country song, then I need to write a rock song” and I just went back and forth from there. This idea kind of came to be about halfway through the process.
The album title represents the duality of country and rock. In that song, you use the analogy of a mockingbird and a crow to illustrate your refusal to be defined as one thing. Tell me more about that.
The most important line in the song is where I sing that the mockingbird is singing songs that are like other songs you’ve heard. And that’s what a mockingbird does, right? So in that song, I’m battling with wanting to put songs out there that are good for the radio or are on the pulse. But ultimately, that means that often you’re singing songs that sound like other things you’ve heard before. As a songwriter, I’ve done a lot of that so in a way I’m just part of the problem, writing songs because I know that they’ll be hits. So it represents the struggle of breaking away from that and becoming my own artist. Sometimes that means being a little heavier, and screaming in songs that are represented by the crow. Like when it says “I fly the line, I choose to brother”. It’s about the dichotomy and the struggle to decide which to be. At the end of the song, I sing about how I can’t escape it and that I’m both the mockingbird and the crow. I’m both and that’s just how I’m gonna be—me.
Of the 17 tracks on the album, is there one that you’re most excited for people to hear?
“Happy” is my favorite. It’s the first song I’ve written by myself in 10 years and I’m just really proud of it. I love what it says and the message is cool. I’ve wanted to write by myself again for a long time, and I just hadn’t been able to.
“Wait in the truck” has become a smash hit. It’s a very cinematic, dark song that feels like it was made to be a music video because it tells such an interesting, complex story. Can you walk me through the process of creating a song like that and where you drew inspiration from?
Hunter [Phelps] and I came up with the idea while we were in Atlanta. The original idea was pretty different—we thought it’d be the story of someone roughing up an abuser at the bar or something like that. When we got into the writer’s room with Jordan Schmidt, it was one of those rainy days where none of us had anything to do. We started talking about the concept and we were like “what if we make this an awesome story and maybe have the main character be a good guy that kills the person as opposed to just going and kicking his ass”. Then we ran with that idea, and creatively it was just a blur. Everybody was on fire and throwing awesome lines. There was never a dull moment throughout that whole session. It was one of the most inspirational nights I’ve had, truly a beautiful experience.
The music video was also conceptualized by you. Did you have the idea in your head as you were writing the song, or did it come to you afterward?
I wrote that treatment the day we wrote the song, which was about a year and a half before we shot the music video. After Hunter and I left the writing session, Jordan went to town on his computer and created a masterpiece and once he sent it back that night I knew it was going to be a big song for me. I was so inspired by the demo that I just sat down and wrote the whole music video concept, like the courtroom, prison – everything. And I guess it stood the test of time! When it came time to talk about the music video, I sent my label my original treatment and luckily they were on board, and the rest is history.
How was working with Lainey Wilson on this project?
She’s the best. She and I are like brother and sister. And she’s the hardest worker. I’m not sure if you know this, but her dad was going through some health issues when we shot the video. So this girl—she’d come from Houston and fly into Nashville to shoot all day for the video, then turn around and fly back. And she didn’t have to do that. I told her we could put it on hold but she kept going and she crushed it. Not only are her acting chops great, but she’s the most authentic person I know. She hasn’t changed a bit since moving here from Louisiana. She’s just awesome. I could sing her praises all day.
Recently, you and Lainey performed at the CMAs, and then on Jimmy Kimmel. Is there a difference in how you prepare for a live TV performance versus a performance with an audience?
On live TV, you don’t have a crowd to work with, so it feels a lot different. There are more nerves for sure, and you’re way more conscious of not forgetting lyrics. At a live show, if I forget a lyric I just stick the mic out to the crowd for them to sing until I catch back up. But there’s more pressure with live TV. For me, it’s not as much fun as when I sing to a crowd. But it’s still an amazing experience and it’s cool to know that a lot of people are watching you.
You’ve won awards and have been recognized for both your performance and songwriting. Is there one that comes more naturally to you?
It changes depending on what I’m focusing on, but for the most part, writing songs comes more naturally to me. When I’m playing my live shows – I wouldn’t say I’m putting an act on per se – but it’s my time to act a fool and get everything out of my system. But I’m more aware of what I’m doing when I’m performing, but not so much when I write songs.
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