In her macramé halter and round hippie shades at Bonnaroo, Maren Morris looked like one more hipster rocking with her band in the relentless Sunday heat. None of the Bonnaroovians would suspect that the next morning, the 26-year old Texan would be awakened with the news that Hero, her Sony Nashville debut, was the #1 Country Album in America. Throwing down “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry,” “80s Mercedes” and her smash debut single, “My Church,” she was defiant, triumphant and there to make music.

Morris’ Bonnaroo set came at the tail end of a two-week promo slam that included Fallon; Today; a performance slot on the CMT Awards; and two stops at the Country Music Association’s annual CMA Music Fest: a set at the Riverfront Stage, on the shores of the Cumberland, that was so jammed people had to be turned away, as well as a walk-on with Rascal Flatts at Nissan Stadium.

Though she’d released a few indie EPs, Morris was set on being a songwriter, not a star. For her, it was the creative expression that mattered. Only sometimes, the singular can strike a nerve and become a bona fide sensation. Before Hero was done, she was booked to support Keith Urban on his ripCord Tour—and was working with pop-fusion producer Busbee.

You’ve had a helluva couple weeks.
We had so many amazing moments. It was two weeks of nonstop everything. We had the time of our lives!

Three best things?
Playing Riverfront Stage, because it was at capacity for me, and I’ve never come close to anything like that before. Playing Nissan Stadium, because I’d never played to that many people. 60,000—that’s intense.

Bonnaroo, because it was at the end of our promo tour run, and a great way to celebrate all the hard work we’d just done. And we got to see some great music: The Dead & Co. and Lord Huron, who I didn’t know, but had some friends who’d driven up from Texas for their first Bonnaroo, who did.

What’s the difference between CMA Music Fest and Bonnaroo?
Our set length was the same at both, and it’s really just me being me. I don’t think that changes. But at Bonnaroo, the crowd was a little different. I could smell the marijuana in the air, and there were penis balloons in the crowd.

Did you know you were debuting at #1 when you were at Bonnaroo on Sunday?
They didn’t tell me till the next day. It’s crazy to end two weeks of total work with something like Bonnaroo! Then to wake up to the news you’ve got the #1 album? It’s crazy. I haven’t been on this side that long.

And yet, with “My Church” blowing up, it’s quickening the fame curve.
My friends Kacey Musgraves, Kree Harrison, Lucy Silva, the Brothers Osborne, none of us can be compared to any of the others—and we support each other. But we don’t care about fame. It’s weird.

I don’t really consider myself “famous.” But I was at a karaoke bar the other night, and somebody put on my song. Hearing “My Church” like that? The weight of that moment was heavy to me—the idea somebody was taking my song as their own, even for karaoke.

It can get so competitive. Who’s #1? Who’s selling what?
I try not to get caught up in numbers and the giant competition people try to make it. If there’s competition, it’s within me: How can I be better? Do more? Write better songs?

When they told me Hero was #1, it felt amazing. Know that. But it’s really about raising your own bar.

You’ve also, whether you intended to or not, become the voice of girls of a certain age.
When you listen [to what’s out there], it’s disingenuous and exhausting to think about the gap in the market and the kinds of songs that don’t exist. Look, I’m not married yet, don’t have kids, am not looking! You only get to be this age once, and you should have fun.

It infuriates me that guys can say this stuff 24/7 however they want—and it makes no sense, nor does it represent me! A song like “Sugar,” which is forward and fun and not earnest at all, is flirtatious and putting it out there about pursuing the guy! Why not?

What do guys think of all this?
When I look in the crowd, it’s a pretty even split, actually. I have a lot of guys who tell me “80s Mercedes” is their favorite song, which is hilarious. And they’re all singing along to “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry.”

Well, it’s kind of an anthem—like a lot of these songs—and it’s actually pretty much the truth.
I think it’s crazy, and it certainly isn’t something I expected to turn into this big thing. When I was writing it, I didn’t think I was throwing up this big battle cry for my sex, but it’s sure evolved that way. And I think it’s great.

During “Drunk Girls,” I see a lot of people in the audience laughing. You know, they’ve either been the drunk girl or they know the drunk girl. But no matter what, it’s validating as a songwriter to see it being responded to like that.

You’ve said your publisher would tell you when you turned in songs they heard a little too much of you in them to ever pitch them to someone else. Do you think it’s because you were writing too candidly for what girls were cutting?
I don’t know if it was the lyric content so much or the way I sang demos because it’s, well, the way I sing—with attitude. I never really thought about it before, because the songs I write are how I feel, but that could be it.

That’s gotta feel good, though.

Well, you want people to want to cut your songs, to like them. But it’s certainly validating to see them being responded to like this. Maybe a songwriter can be a little bit braver in the songwriting room. You don’t have to proselytize or preach. You just have to be honest. 

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