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HARDY: A DIFFERENT DEFINITION OF COUNTRY ROCK

Blame it on the sister. When Philadelphia, Mississippi’s Michael Wilson Hardy was getting his degree at Middle Tennessee State University, his sister suggested he drop by Big Loud’s annual block party with her friends. As an aspiring songwriter, he knew random meetings could be magic, so he drove in from Murfreesboro—and met her buddies Florida Georgia Line, who were weeks from releasing their record-shattering “Cruise.”

Nothing came of the moment, but Hardy kept writing. Then, suddenly, he caught fire. Blake Shelton cut “God’s Country,” the CMA and ACM Single of the Year, as well as “Hell Right” with Trace Adkins. Then came “I Don’t Know About You” by Chris Lane, “Some Girls” by Jameson Rodgers, FGL’s “Simple” and “Talk You Out of It” and Morgan Wallen f/FGL’s “Up Down.” Impressed, FGL’s Tyler Hubbard circled back, forging a professional alliance. Uber-producer Joey Moi said, “Let’s make a record.” Hardy wasn’t so sure; yes, he wrote brawny, bulked-up, redneck country with a hip-hop undertow, but did he want to be in the spotlight?

With 2019’s This Ole Boy EP and its single “Rednecker,” Hardy the songwriter became HARDY the artist. His 2019 debut LP, Hixtape, Vol. 1, featuring Keith Urban, Joe Diffie, Hillary Lindsey, Thomas Rhett, Tracy Lawrence and Zakk Wylde, hit #1—while racking up more than 100 million Spotify streams with the stealthy coming of age tune “One Beer” featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson. HARDY’s 2020 sophomore album A Rock distills the same good-ole-boy essence he and Wallen had siphoned into “More Than My Hometown,” the smash lead single from Dangerous: The Double Album.

HARDY recently spoke with HITSHolly Gleason about humidity, trout lines and heavy metal.

You write a lot deeper than standard party country.
With “One Beer,” I didn’t know how hush-hush teenage pregnancies are in small towns. Growing up in Philadelphia, it lets you speak the language and gives you a different perspective on how people live.

Mississippi has a deep literary tradition.
Growing up, every class I had, any chance I had to write, I was excited. Even in grade school, if the teacher said, “We’re going to write a story today,” I was happy. I had this weird obsession with writing. In first grade, I wrote a poem for Mother’s Day, and I cared so much about it—all the words rhymed.

Your writing really works language. Not just brand names, but details people miss, small emotions that change everything.
I care a lot about internal rhymes, those words that rhyme within the line and the phrasing of those lines that are said so they feel natural. The transitions from the verse to the chorus too. I want to get into the chorus in a way that sounds like a sentence; I want it to feel like a conversation. If you take out all the melodies and instruments, it feels like someone talking.

There’s a lot of music in Mississippi.
Marty Stuart’s from Philadelphia, which made the idea that the dream is possible seem real. He made it out, made a great career. Johnny Cash, Country Music Hall of Fame. But I wasn’t really listening to country.

“Hillbilly Rock” was a hit. People say there’s something in the humidity.
This time of year, it was unbearably hot. I thought it was normal. There’d be these silver dollar-sized bits of sweat on the carport just from the humidity. But you don’t know any different. You make it work. At night, me and my buddy Matthew would go to the Pearl River and set trout lines.

Trout lines?
They’re this nylon string that has lines coming out off them. They have hooks on ’em. We’d get up, set those lines at 4am. Cut grass all day, then go back and get all the fish. Clean ’em, take ’em home and our moms would make ’em for dinner.

What were you listening to?
Hardcore stuff, metalcore, deathcore. Under Oath, A Day to Remember, Slayer. The more I listened, the more I fell in love. The heavier it was, the better. I still listen to a lot of metal.

How does country come in?
“Homeboy” by Eric Church. I was dealing with a friend of mine going through some stuff. Part of the reason I was going [to MTSU] was to get away from a situation with a friend who was in prison. If the subject of Eric’s song wasn’t so specific—from a big brother’s perspective to a little brother screwing up—it wouldn’t have hit me, maybe. It had this tension, then the guitars came in—it hit me in the gut. The guitars, the production, the melody—that stuff gets my rocks off.

Is that what you were writing?
[Laughs] I was writing shitty singer/songwriter stuff. I tried to write a few country songs, but they didn’t feel authentic to me, so I just stayed away. Church was my generation, a good ole boy who was talking about shit I was doing and living.

You didn’t want to be an artist?
No. I was in a co-write with a Big Loud writer. He said, “Tyler Hubbard wants you to know he’s seen your name on all these songs we’ve been writing. He wants me to tell you he remembers that conversation.”

He did?
Right? Tyler was in my ear, saying, “You need to be doing the artist thing. You’ve got a real sound.” But I didn’t want to do it.

What happened?
Joey Moi called me. I didn’t know him at all. Just the records. He said, “If you ever want to cut a record, I’d cut one on you tomorrow. I’d love to produce you.”

And?
I didn’t want any of this. I had zero expectations. Seth [England] was like, “Come in. Let’s talk.”

You have a thing. You do know that.
You have to know when it’s your sound—and your thing. Rock ’n’ roll with country lyrics; it’s everything I’ve ever loved musically. Country is the vehicle and the road I’m driving down, but the music and sound is rock.

HixTape mashes that up.
We wanted to establish that brand. It’s a [collaboration with] lot of different people that was very on purpose—a little bit of a statement for sure. We were so proud of that moment, with all those guests.

Including the late Joe Diffie.
When I was growing up, “John Deere Green” and “Pick Up Man” were everywhere. I was at the Jake Owen Keep It Local Golf Tournament, and Joe was the nicest dude. We were all onstage, singing the randomest stuff ever—and I didn’t have a mic. He gave me his and said, “Here! You sing better than I do.” I was like, “Pro, you’re a legend.”

That was fearless. He a brutal singer.
I know. Then I didn’t get to be there when he came in and sang on Hixtape. Never saw him again.

You also covered Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry.”
It’s a very real song—and the sound of where I’m going in a lot of ways. It was challenging, but it’s the perfect thing to let my fans know what I’m all about; that I can do this thing too. I’m not afraid of trying to grow, to go to rock ’n’ roll, because it’s what comes naturally. You can throw anything out there these days and it’s country in ways that aren’t obvious. 

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