By Heather Stas and Brian Ives
Maren Morris is one of the most exciting new voices in country music, and today she releases her new album, Hero. If you’re a country fan (and, perhaps, even if you aren’t), you’ve probably heard her smash single, “My Church.” Although she’s young, her road to her breakthrough has been a long one.
After putting out a few independent label albums in Texas, she moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. And when she wrote “My Church,” she realized that she wanted to start recording again. She’d written songs for Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson, but in her mind, “My Church” was earmarked for a Maren Morris record.
“When I wrote that song I just knew I had to be really protective of it,” she tells Radio.com. “Because it was exactly what I wanted to say in one song.”
The song was born on a writing session in Los Angeles. “I didn’t have any ideas to go in [to the session] with, and usually I try to come in with something, the title or a melody. But the well was dry this particular day.”
But the song hit her while she was driving near the beach. “I just remember my windows were rolled down, and I saw the ocean come into view, and I remember whatever song was on the radio really moved me emotionally, and I just thought to myself, ‘This is like church to me.’ And I thought it would be a great song title, because it just sort of encapsulated all those feelings you get when you’re really emotional over music.”
The experience provided an important moment of clarity. “‘My Church’ happened very quickly, and I brought it in the next day, and we wrote it in under an hour because the concept was so simple, and it was about a feeling more than trying to be particularly poetic. So it was one of the moments where I knew that I needed to get back into the artist’s game, because this song is really special, and I wanna be the one that sings it.”
She’d written lots of songs by that point in her career, but she knew that “My Church” stood out. “You definitely get a high when you finish a song that you love, and you get another high when you get the recording back and it’s actually good. Because you don’t quite know all the time, because as a working songwriter in Nashville you write songs every day, you get over a hundred in a year. So when you get that gut feeling about one, it’s very rare, at least for me.”
From there, she started thinking about a full album. “A lot of the other songs had already been written. I wrote ‘My Church,’ and then the next week I wrote ’80’s Mercedes,’ which is also on the EP and full record, I felt like I had such a solid set of songs, it just needed to sort of be rounded out with a few other elements. And so that was sort of the battle: going into a co-write and having people wondering, ‘Is this gonna be for your record, or are we just writing to write today?'”
“That’s a new thing for me, because I don’t always want to go in and write for myself. I still wanna be able to write, just to write a good song, whether it’s for me or some other artist.”
She recently performed “My Church,” among other songs, at Nashville’s most historic venue: the Ryman Auditorium.
“When you’re on the stage right in the middle where the microphone is, it’s this sweet spot, and there are these stained glass windows, and it feels like a church because people are sitting in actual church pews. I’ve just seen some incredible concerts there. I played there back in March I believe it was, I opened for Chris Stapleton. It was my first time ever playing the Ryman, and I was figuring out my set list because I usually end shows with ‘My Church,’ and it’s such a moment because it’s been on the radio now for a few months, and people know the words.”
“And I have this one song that is the last song on my record, and I had never played it live. But for some reason I thought to myself, ‘I hope this doesn’t happen, but if I only get to play the Ryman once, I have got to do this song there.’ So I didn’t end on ‘My Church,’ I ended on this song called ‘Once,’ and it’s a very brutally honest song about this breakup I went through last year. And it’s the last song on the record, and it’s the last song we did at the Ryman, and it just became this very cathartic moment for me as a writer and as the artist.”
“It’s one of the hardest songs for me to sing, just because the range is so wide on it. I’m belting the entire time, just in desperation over this relationship that’s crumbled. And doing that at the Ryman was such an amazing experience, and you could hear a pin drop in that place. And I remember getting a standing ovation after that song. And then getting that response; I remember after the first chorus I could hear people start to applaud, and that’s a feeling that you don’t forget.”
Catch Maren Morris on tour opening for Keith Urban and playing some festivals this summer. See her list of dates at her official website.