We talk with Ryan Hurd about touring, songwriting, and his latest single, “To a T.”
Shelton and Monroe both took the Hurd-penned song “Lonely Tonight” to No. 1. Hurd, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, met his future wife, Maren Morris, while writing “Last Turn Home” for McGraw.
Morris would seem to be the muse for the steamy lyrics to his Hurd’s new “To a T.” A sexy country-pop follow-up to his last two singles — “Love in a Bar” and “We Do Us” — the track features romantic harmonies by Morris. With booming bass, sonic guitars, and swoon-worthy lyrics, it’s proving a most enjoyable way to close out the summer and head into fall singing.
Recently, we talked with Hurd about his songwriting, working with his wife, and a possible upcoming album.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve recently released a new single, “To a T,” which features lovely harmonies by your wife, Maren Morris. What do you hope that your fans will get out of the track?
Ryan Hurd: Well, it’s the second single I’ve released this year, and it’s been really fun to see the excitement around my music build throughout the year, even though I haven’t been touring. I really think the song is super-relatable and that people react to it just because it’s said in such a different way that people haven’t really heard before and, honestly, in a way that I haven’t heard before. It’s a love song but it’s a really interesting love song and the melodies are all really catchy. I think it all comes together in a really neat way.
C&I: What inspired the song?
Hurd: First of all, I’m a songwriter in Nashville, so a lot of times we sit down and just try to write something. That day, I was writing with my friend Laura Veltz, and she presented that idea as a challenging song to write. It took a couple sessions to finish it, but it was really neat to know that it was an idea worth chasing, just because we had had so many cool elements already written. The inspiration, I think, is more just in chasing down a really melodic and sexy song that we thought could be a hit.
C&I: What was it like working with your wife on the track? Any fun stories?
Hurd: Our label really wanted us to do a duet so she would be more featured in the track. I don’t think either of us were really pumped on that being that kind of moment, but we sing together all the time live and we’ve written together. We got to know each other writing songs, so I think both of us are really involved in each other’s creative process. Maren was the first one to love this song. She showed it to our manager, and she was the one who got everybody behind it. It just felt really natural for her to sing Laura’s part on the master. She’s obviously my muse when it comes to creating music and writing lyrics, so having her on a track like this, a love song, just felt really natural.
C&I: You’re a seasoned songwriter and have written for many people, including Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton. Do you approach your music differently when you’re writing for yourself as opposed to when you’re writing for somebody else?
Hurd: That’s a really good question. I don’t write songs, really, with an end game in mind. I’ve always written from the heart, so I just write whatever’s coming out that day and whatever’s on my heart and the songs find their own home. Some of them we keep for ourselves because I’ll know, after it’s done, I would love to sing that song myself. A lot of them either get heard by somebody else before I have a chance to claim them, or they’re great songs that, maybe, I can’t see myself singing, so they just make their way elsewhere. That process is not cut in stone the way that we do it. After they’re written, they go into one camp or the other, I think, is the way that ends up happening.
C&I: What do you think helps a song resonate with an audience, or what do you think creates a hit song? Any specific techniques?
Hurd: That’s a really good question. We think about that every single day when we’re trying to write because a hit song is something that you can’t really put a finger on what about it is a hit. You just know it when you hear it. I think that when we wrote “To a T” [we] sort of looked at each other like, This feels like a hit song. There’s no real reason that “Body Like a Back Road” is a hit song, other than the fact that whenever everybody heard it, they all freaked out because it was amazing. There’s elements of melody stuff that really catch your ear. That might be the first thing that people gravitate toward, but as far as the answer to writing a hit song, that’s something we try to solve every single day.
C&I: Your debut single, “We Do Us,” generated major buzz online in 2016. Since then, you’ve released a self-titled EP and several more singles, including “To a T.” How do you feel like you’ve evolved as an artist since the release of your first single?
Hurd: I tour a lot and that has really taught me how to be better at reaching fans, musically. I think I’ve relaxed a lot, too. When I started as an artist and had just been known as a songwriter, I expected my success as a writer to cross over into being an artist. The fact is, you really have to create a whole brand-new self when you do that. I think I’ve done a good job of relaxing as a human and an artist and really enjoying the musicmaking process, really enjoying the people part of this, and letting people discover my songs on their own — doing our best to put it in front of them as much as we can, but also just letting them like it or not like it. I think that’s a really great way for people to accept you as an artist. You can’t force somebody to love your songs, but if you put as much heart as you can into it and as much honesty and you’re publicly as real and as honest to yourself as you can be, then I think that’s a great way to start an artist career. I think most of the development as an artist has been personal.
C&I: You’ve toured with notable acts like Thomas Rhett. What have those experiences been like? Did you learn any valuable lessons?
Hurd: Oh, yeah. It’s amazing to get to tour with people that are great at this job and who are iconic in our genre. You learn ways to connect with people from the stage, but also you learn how to, behind the scenes, act as an artist and as a professional. I watched Thomas Rhett, Tyler Hubbard, Dustin Lynch, and Chase Rice be pros at their job and when they’re on the road — acting a certain way and having a schedule and having a routine that puts them in a successful spot. Really, the thing about touring that’s hardest is being away from home but then finding a way to make the road feel like home — that was one thing that I really learned from those guys, too.
C&I: Do you have any special tour traditions to make the time pass or to make it seem more like home?
Hurd: We usually had a lot of workout equipment on the road, and so we’ll do that a lot during the day, just because there’s not much else to do. The other thing that I like to do when we’re in other cities is [check out] whatever their regional food is — like we get cheesesteaks in Philadelphia and we get wings in Buffalo and pizza in New York just to make it feel like we’re actually in the city that we’re touring. Anything to make it a little bit more exciting, because there’s a lot of time on the road. It’s really great and playing the show is a super-huge rush, but it’s a lot of work. So anything that you can do to make it more fun is something that we try to make happen.
C&I: Can we expect you on tour anytime soon?
Hurd: I really hope so. I think we’re definitely going to have some cool announcements here in the next month or so about playing some shows here in the wintertime. Once that gets finalized, we’re definitely going to make sure that we get that out to all of our fans.
C&I: What about a full album sometime soon?
Hurd: Oh, man, that would be a dream come true. We’re still working on that. In country music, it’s sort of dependent on your single at terrestrial radio, as far as when you put out a full-length album, but we are working on it and really excited about it. I have people asking me every single day when that’s going to come out, so that makes me feel at least like people want it, which is great.
C&I: You live in Nashville. What are your favorite places to perform in the city?
Hurd: I got to play at Ascend Amphitheater downtown, which I think might be the best amphitheater in the country right now, just from its location and the way that it’s set up — how comfortable it is backstage and the size of the venue. That’s really amazing. As far as a small setting, you can catch a great show at The Basement East or at Exit/In in Nashville. One is an iconic rock ’n’ roll club from the ’70s and ’80s that’s just continued to operate in a great way. The Basement East is a newer. It’s in East Nashville, where we live, and so I catch shows there all the time. I think it’s a great spot to see music.
C&I: What’s something fans might not know about you?
Hurd: They know that I love coffee. They know that I love beer. I think one thing that I don’t talk a lot about is just a lot of outdoor stuff that we love to do. We love to fish offshore. In the fall and the winter, love to deer hunt in the South. Most of what we do is music, and so what you see is what you get. All of us are so wrapped up in making songs and records that any off time we get is generally spent at our house, just me and Maren, but we do love what we do so much.
For more information on Ryan Hurd, visit his website.