2019 is the year of Ryan Hurd. Whether it’s the recent radio release of his sweet and sultry love song “To a T,” which hit No. 1 on the SiriusXM The Highway’s Hot 30 Countdown, or his sold-out headlining tour, which opens tonight, Jan. 17 at the famed Troubadour in Los Angeles, Hurd is coming into his artistic own right before our eyes and ears. After years of cutting his teeth as an uber-successful songwriter with two No. 1 singles under his belt (Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight” and Luke Bryan’s anthemic “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset”) and opening for acts including his wife Maren Morris, Hurd is embarking on his first headlining tour. Before hitting the road, Hurd sat down with us to chat about life as a singer/songwriter, what it’s like to work with your spouse (and use her as a muse) and the thrill of what’s ahead.
Whether it’s a song like “To a T” which features Maren on background vocals, or “Love in a Bar” which tells your own love story, you’ve written some seriously romantic odes to your wife. Is it easier to write a love song when you’re in love?
I think a lot of times in Nashville we write so many songs that inspiration is not necessarily a key ingredient, because a lot of it is just going to work—finding a good idea and figuring out the angle to write it. But the joke on Music Row is that if you’re writing a song with Ryan you’re writing a song about Maren. There were so many songs that I was writing when we were getting together that were so blatantly obviously about her that people were just kind of laughing. Like in a fun way. I remember when we wrote “You Look Good” for Lady Antebellum. I’m writing with busbee and he’s just reading down all these references I was writing and he’s turning around and he’s like, ‘I know what we’re talking about…’
You really put a lot of your own life and love into your songs.
I’ve put out a lot of really personal songs and I didn’t really do that on purpose. [In fact] Sony picked “Love in a Bar” as a single and that is a super personal song. That one’s a true one. They’re all real, but that one’s true. With “Diamonds or Twine,” I just wanted that to be a moment. I didn’t want that to be a single necessarily and it had a really cool moment. People really love it and now, “To a T.” I haven’t purposefully put out three love songs in a row, it just so happens that that’s the way that the cards have been dealt.
You earned your second No. 1 as a songwriter with Luke Bryan’s “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset.” What was it like to reach that milestone?
I’ve had a lot of cuts by artists and a lot of records and a lot of radio singles, but this is only my second one that’s rung the bell, been a No. 1 song, and it really makes you thankful. When you’ve had a lot of songs go to the radio and you’ve had some that have absolutely not done well and some that have done okay, and then I have top five that didn’t go to No. 1. Now I have a couple No. 1s. I think you realize that in no way is any of that easy. I thought it was really important to do it twice because I feel like, this sounds disingenuous but I feel like doing it once is something that can happen almost by accident. But doing it twice kind of puts a stamp on Music Row in a cool way.
Have there been any songs you wrote for other artists that you wish you’d kept for yourself?
The one that I kind of keep coming back to is “I’ll be the Moon” that Dierks recorded with Maren. I wouldn’t trade that story, but I also really feel like that one had another life. I recorded “Last Turn Home” for my record. Tim McGraw recorded it first. That was Maren’s first cut as a songwriter. It’s always been such a special song that I wanted my own version. That’ll definitely be on whatever album we put out. “You Look Good,” a lot of people…My first single had just gone to the radio and people were confused why I would let that be a Lady A song because it was a hit song. Well, truthfully, I feel like Charles and Dave and Hillary can do more with it than I can right now and just sort of deserved the song. You kind of let it go.
I’ve never regretted another artist recording my song. That is truly the highest honor. They’re songs I wrote that the artist is not a part of writing and yet they’ve fallen so in love with it and could potentially sing it for the rest of their career. They like it that much that they want to record it, so, I’ve always been really respectful of that relationship and that process. I talk about being the writer of those songs, but I try to do it in a way to where I’m not taking the attention away from the artist in any way. It’s their song now.
And now those people are supporting your career as an artist.
I talk about that, like the duality of that, as like wearing one pair of shoes, but you need two of them. I feel like writing songs in Nashville feels like my left foot, and being an artist is my right foot. I can’t imagine being one without the other at this point. I’ve had a lot of really cool opportunities because I’ve been an artist and I’ve gotten to tour with all these people. I’ve gotten to know a lot of these artists in a way that’s really supported my songwriting. They want to write with me now because we’re friends. And they already respect some of the songs that I’ve recorded and written. So they’ve sort of informed each other in a great way. I get a lot of credibility as an artist because of my songwriting career and it’s been just a really cool thing to look around and realize that I have a really unique career. I love getting to do both of those things. I feel really lucky to do that. That’s not something that everybody gets to do.
Everything I have in my life is because of Nashville and because of songs. My best friends are all songwriters. My wife, I met through writing songs. The living that I make is because of songs.
Is it a blessing or a curse to work in the same field as your spouse?
It is 100 percent a blessing. I don’t compete with Maren and she doesn’t really compete with me. We’ve seen every single step of each other’s creative lives. She is such a part of my artistry and my career, my artist career, and I am sort of woven into the same fabric with her. I feel like I’m in the band. I’m out there all the time. Her band and her crew are some of my very best friends. We just love what we do and that’s the coolest thing. Whether she was an accountant or a singer, being with somebody who is true to their own calling in that way, is such a huge blessing. That makes it so much easier.Would ever do a Soul2Soul/Tim and Faith-style tour?We toured last year. It was fun. I opened for her and it was great. I thinkI’ve gotta catch up first. Nobody’s buying tickets for Ryan Hurd’s Soul2Soul. We’re new to this, too. We just got married. She’s a new artist still. I think people forget that.
How did you select “To a T” as the single you would send to radio?
I was going to put out a different song and then, truthfully, Maren kind of discovered this song in my catalog and it’s like, what? It’s this! And got everybody excited on my team about it. Then Sony ended up getting really excited about it and that was the single.
You also recently released “Michigan for the Winter” to streaming services. You’ve played it at your live shows for a while now. Why was this the time to release it?
I wrote this song a couple years ago and it might be my favorite thing I’ve ever done. I’m not sure why it took so long to get out there, but I’m really happy that it finally did. I’m from Michigan, and I think it’s really cool to have a country song that represents Michigan and the Midwest. One of the reasons we decided to put this one out over other tunes is that fans who heard it live kept asking for it, which is really fun and takes some of the nervous energy out of putting out a new song.
Any hints as to when we can expect a full album?
I have so many songs. The truth of it is when you’re working with a major label, you just need some radio success to get on the map so you could hit that critical mass. You could put out an album and it really make an impact. We’re just waiting on that. I actually am really blessed to have a lot of actual fans out there that I didn’t know about until recently. I probably get asked four or five times a day, “When are you putting an album out? When are you putting an album out? Need that album.”
That must feel good.
It does feel good. I’ve given people snippets of my demos and some other master stuff, like on Instagram here and there, and try not to give them too much, but I like having a little bit of a buffer where people are like, ‘What is that guy up to?’ I don’t overshare, but I’ve enjoyed showing people snippets of my music and letting it build excitement. I thought we’d have an album out by now, but it’s coming and it’s going to be really fun when it’s done. I think we’ll go back in one more time and cut a couple things that are really special and see what happens.
You’re hitting the road on tour. When you perform such personal songs live do you ever feel like you’re sharing your journal in front of a room of strangers?
The more that I have conceptualized what I want my live show to be, I’m really excited about having a more of an emotional experience attached to what we’re doing because a lot of times you’re just opening for somebody and truly that is like play the song they know and you don’t really have an opportunity in that amount of time to truly connect with the crowd. I’ve watched Maren perform a lot over the last three years and she’s first of all, fabulous at every part of her job, but as a live performer, she’s gotten so great at really connecting with the fans and the crowd. A lot of that has to do with the preparation that goes on beforehand. Like, how do we make this song which we’ve played for two years a more emotional moment? What I’ve learned is, as far as performing them and having those more connected experiences, a lot of that has to do with the preparation.
What’s most exciting about planning your own tour?
I think I’m most excited about putting the set list together. It’s a lot of dreaming and such a different feeling when people are coming to see me at the top of the ticket. This is the first time that it feels like I don’t have to convince an audience to like me, I just get to do my thing knowing that everyone there is already a fan. I think we’ve done enough with “Diamonds” and with “To a T,” that we kind of have enough eyeballs on us right now. That’s what I’m really excited about. Conceptualizing and figuring out who’s going to open. I’ve never gotten to do any of that.
How does it feel to know every stop of the tour sold out?
I never imagined having my name next to the words “sold out” but it feels really good! We’re already planning more dates, and whether or not those sell as well as these have it’s still exciting to have the opportunity to bring our show on the road. This year is already so fun and it feels like my artist project is starting to snowball, and the people around me are starting to feel that energy too. I think once I stopped trying to control every aspect of me as an artist, great things started to percolate to the top. So getting to play more shows in markets that we feel like are already on board makes it easier to gain traction at radio, which helps us sell more tickets to shows…everything just feels right right now.