First-round Grammy voting gets underway on September 30th and runs through October 12th. For our 2021 Grammy preview issue, we asked a series of likely contenders for next year’s awards to reflect on their past experiences at the ceremony, look ahead to the future, and discuss the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come January.
Maren Morris became a bona fide crossover star this year with “The Bones,” a country and pop hit that made it to Number 23 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Songs chart in July. Written by Morris with Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins in the early days of her engagement to now-husband Ryan Hurd, it’s an optimistic relationship song about navigating whatever life throws your way, good or bad. In March of this year, it was decidedly the former for Morris, who gave birth to a son, Hayes. She has just now begun returning to songwriting while at home. “For so many weeks, I had no other priority than Hayes, even an idea for a song,” Morris says, “so it feels like it’s finally coming back.”
“The Bones” was not only a hit with country audiences, but with pop fans too. What was it about this song that you think made it resonate across genres?
That song has so many layers that I didn’t even recognize, even as the writer, that pertain to this time we’re living in: “The house don’t fall when the bones are good.” It has a message of resilience about this country, not just this relationship. The day I wrote it, that was not the intention behind it. But I love that it’s taken on an even deeper meaning.
How did you negotiate having personal success during a time of existential crisis in our country? Was it difficult to celebrate a win, so to speak?
I remember back in February when “The Bones” went Number One at country [radio] and it was Number One for two weeks, which had been almost nine years since a woman had done that. I was very pregnant and I thought, “Oh my God, if we have a party for it, I hope we have it after I’ve given birth so I can drink.” And obviously so much has changed since then. Now, I just feel so fortunate to have career success at a time when I can’t tour. None of us can tour. We’re all home steeping in our self-reflection. And I have this little baby at home, which has been a really miraculous, wonderful distraction. But I feel really fortunate that music has still been able to buoy me in this time of uncertainty.
The Highwomen — your group with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, and Amanda Shires — made their live debut last year at the Newport Folk Festival. How has the band evolved since then?
It’s been this gateway to a lot of fans that maybe thought we were one thing and then we ended up being what we are. When you listen to our album, there’s so many genres present. I love that we sing in unison. It’s not totally distinguishable who is taking a lead. We set it up that way; it’s a very equal [frontwoman] project. It’s a really comforting record to listen to, even by myself. What [producer] Dave Cobb did sonically is such a warm blanket. When we played the Newport Folk Festival with Dolly [Parton], that was probably one of my top three performances I’ll ever be a part of.
Has there been any talk of continuing on, or doing a second album?
I think the first thing in our minds is we would love to play another show. We had been scheduled to open for Chris Stapleton at Wrigley Field [this summer], which has been rescheduled to next year. We made this sort of timeless record that we haven’t been able to play live very often. But I think the time will come. Natalie Hemby and I wrote hundreds of songs before the Highwomen formed, so I always will have that writing relationship with her. But I would definitely love to continue with Amanda and Brandi. I just think we created such magic with that record, and I got to work with Dave Cobb on a deeper level. I’d love to give it a Round 2.
How about yourself? Are you working on new material?
I’m actually writing for the first time since having Hayes. Ryan, my husband, has continued writing in all of this. Everyone’s writing via Zoom; I don’t know if I’m super-psyched to do that, but I definitely want to get creative again.
You recently asked fans on Twitter to forget any political differences and share the last concert that made them cry. Why was that important to you?
It’s been so draining to look at Twitter and read the news. Everything is so toxic right now that I was like, “Can we remember a time when we would go stand in a crowd with a bunch of strangers and all have the same collective emotional resonance?” Let’s get out of the negative sphere for just a moment. I just miss so much being able to be onstage — and also be a fan in the crowd at shows.
You’re a massive fan of Hamilton. How does that musical inspire you?
I took musical theater in high school, and I was Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Ever since I watched The Wizard of Oz as a kid, I’ve been obsessed with musicals. I know that artists like Carrie [Underwood] and Jennifer Nettles have done Broadway — I would love to. I had the lucky pleasure to see Hamilton with the original cast back in 2016, and, oh, my God, I was just completely blown away that night. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. I read that he spent a year on the song “My Shot.” I remember thinking, as a songwriter, “Holy shit! Who would do that?”