'You always have that fear of pissing off half your fan base, but I'm not here to water down my personality'
Maren Morris’ star is on the rise. Her major label debut album, Hero, reached number five on the US Billboard 200 chart and the album’s debut single, My Church, won her a Grammy award for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017. She performed that night with music legend Alicia Keys, and is about to embark on her first UK tour. Oh, and she also has a duet, Seeing Blind, with One Direction‘s Niall Horan on his new album. (Not a big deal at all then).
Music writers have already compared her career to that of a young Taylor Swift, tracing the latter’s success story from country music to pop and citing Maren Morris as a potential heir to the Swift country music throne.
We caught up with Maren to find out what’s next – and how she feels about those Swift comparisons…
Congratulations on winning a Grammy, how did it feel when they announced your name?
‘It’s so surreal to be up on that stage, I think the first thing that pops into your head is “don’t fall walking up the stairs!” It was so gratifying to get that validation as a songwriter. Then performing with Alicia Keys right after I won, and the fact that she won best new artist ten years ago – I was just on an adrenaline high all night.’
Are you and Alicia good friends now, do you text each other?
‘Yeah, we text back and forth. She’s easy to sing with because she’s so inclusive and soulful. She was very respectful of the fact that it was my song we were singing. She was like, “I want to come in when it feels right for you.” She’s very collaborative in that way.’
How do you feel about the Taylor Swift comparisons?
‘I look at her career as a very powerful statement. She was so involved in country and when she moved into pop there was a clear line that she crossed, but she was respectful with the way she did it. She actually wrote a statement to country radio [about it] at the time. I talk to country radio directors and they say that she still gives them tickets to her shows. For me, I don’t know… I look at her career and it’s so inspiring, but it’s also… like I played the O2 last night, I went off stage and I felt very confident and connected to a crowd of that scale. But at this moment sitting here with you, the Taylor Swift comments seems so gigantic and sort of daunting to me. I think there is something in me that wants to perform to a crowd of that magnitude, but who knows? I write for myself and if lots of people connect with it then I’m doing something right.’
You grew up in Texas, was it always going to be country music for you?
‘It felt natural to start in country music, and I think that’s where my vocal naturally fit. It’s such a soulful place for me: there’s this really blunt honesty and beauty to it. Alicia and I were joking that country and soul are cousins ’cause they both come from that deep rooted honesty.’
What’s been the reaction from friends and family back home to President Trump?
‘I come from a conservative state, but I think that most of the country is scratching their heads. I think even Trump didn’t realise he was going to win. I posted a picture of the Obamas on Instagram the day before Trump’s inauguration, as a thank you for their years of service, and I got so many hateful comments and people saying “Oh I thought you were country.” It’s so confusing how small-minded people can be. I would do the same for George Bush or Trump in a couple of years. You always have that fear of pissing off half your fan base, but I’m not here to water down my personality.’
Country music has historically been quite male dominated. Do you think that it’s opening up more to women?
‘It has been male dominated, especially in the States. On country radio you’d hear nine or ten guys and maybe one girl in an hour. And they’d be heavyweights like Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, there were no new female artists being showcased. That really frustrated me as a songwriter in Nashville. Over the last year or two I do think it’s changed for the better. [Country singer] Kelsea Ballerini and I were both nominated for best new artist at the Grammys, and historically there’s never really been two new, female, country artists in that category. They’re usually from pop, RnB, and hip-hop, so I think things are changing.’
Are you glad your success hasn’t come from a talent show?
‘I’m so glad. I remember being devastated when I didn’t make it onto them as a teenager. I was 18 or 19 when I went for American Idol and The Voice, but I think although those shows are a fast track to the top, you don’t have enough time to really lay the groundwork for your personality and your art. As positive as it’s been for people like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, the odds of success are low. And I think there is a stigma attached to reality shows. I have friends who’ve been on those shows and done really well, sometimes even won, and they’re still trying to shake that image. I think people respect you a little bit more when you busted your ass and and played all the shitty clubs and bars and worked your way up slowly.’
You’ve spoken about your love for the ’90s – which artists really inspired you?
‘I was a kid in the ’90s and I grew up with a lot of Hanson and Spice Girls and N’Sync. But I also loved Nirvana and The Cardigans. They’re still a huge influence on my records. My favourite Spice Girl vocally was probably Mel C but I think fashion-wise Posh, I mean, she still is.’
Maren Morris’ Hero Tour begins in the UK on 13th November