HARDY’s feeling a little rough. After a week in Key West for an extended bachelor party, the 2022 Academy of Country Music Songwriter of the Year has had a restorative IV, taken care of his friends and is making his way back home.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Michael Wilson Hardy leads a wall-to-wall life. Not only has he written hits for Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line, LoCash, Chris Lane and Jameson Rodgers, he’s penned iconic songs for Blake Shelton (the CMA- and ACM-winning “God’s Country”) and Morgan Wallen (the triple-platinum “More Than My Hometown”) and created his own strain of country embodying many of its classic themes but with the rock thrust Hank Williams Jr. first leaned into in the mid-’80s.

Whether it’s the double-platinum good times of his chart-topping “One Beer” with Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson or Dierks Bentley’s #1 “Beers on Me” with Breland, the anthemic “Give Heaven Some Hell” or the ironic “He Went to Jared” with Wallen, the Middle Tennessee State University grad keeps the focus on authenticity of message. It’s what grounds his rural bona fides even as he pushes the envelope for what country music can be made of.

HARDY is currently on tour with Wallen and a rotating cast of young country acts. The road has refined how he views his mission. It’s also ratified his sense that his hard-rocking approach can work in a genre that’s as wide open as it’s ever been. It’s just a matter of being true to who he is and what he believes music can contain—and surviving the last of the bachelor-party fallout.

How was your bachelor party?
It was great. We flew to Miami, then drove to Key West. All eight of my favorite friends were there. We were fishing, catching tarpons and just being. It was the most naturally euphoric day of my life—other than the day I got engaged. It was the first day we really had nothing to do. The days and nights were great; the mornings were tough. We were in any and every bar that would have us, then ended up at the strip club every night.

Well, it was a bachelor party. Any of the girls dance to your songs?
There was one—“Living the Dream,” a Morgan Wallen song I wrote. The last night, we were out ’til 4, 5 in the morning. The next day was the worst. It was the third-worst hangover of my life. I didn’t know if I could even get through the airport.

You’re living the life. “Sold Out,” the new one, has a rock vibe—somewhere between Hank Williams Jr. getting rowdy, Skynyrd throwing down and maybe Kid Rock, the early years.
That was my attempt to find myself, my voice and the sonic template, before I went down the rock rabbit hole. [Kid Rock’s 1998 album] Devil Without a Cause is sonically one of my favorite records. If you’re gonna compare me to those first few records, I’m okay with that. But there’s more to it. With “Sold Out,” there were no rules. I’m lucky people are getting it without worrying about what it is. I don’t think people think it’s trying to sound like anything else. It’s just good musically —and the people like it. That lets me push the envelope a little further and harder than ever before.

When we wrote “Sold Out,” I knew it was rock—we knew it would be great live—but it’s the same country stuff I’ve always written about. It’s hard, but it’s also me singing about killing a buck and stuff. It all feeds off each other.

So it is rock or is it country?
Do I love rock? Yes, I do. But I can’t believe there isn’t room for this kind of music in country. There’s always been an edge to it, whether it’s Waylon or Hank Jr., and I think there will always be a place for it. That’s what I’m trying to do. In 30 years, it should be, “He changed the sound of country music,” versus “He became a rock act.”

Is it hard walking the line between being the guy who writes all these hit songs and being an artist?
It’s almost harder to write a damn hit song than to put out a record that defines you. Hits have rules; there are things you need to do. Something like a big hard diamond on a four chord, then you do a hard stop at the end of the chorus—that’s song-nerd stuff, but it works. The form works, so you use it.

In the beginning, being an artist was stressful. I was pissed off a lot ’cause some asshole didn’t know who I was, and I had to go do his show anyway. People didn’t care. Now they do, and it’s growing. It’s fun right now. Though I do know this could all go away at any moment.

You’re touring with Wallen. Does that feed you?
When Morgan and I are onstage together, it’s more real and buddy-buddy. We’re up there having fun; it’s not a performance. And his production and his band are super-rock. It’s not just the performance but everything about how his show looks, and that [aesthetic] is a big piece of who I am musically.

You have guys like [songwriters] Ashley Gorley and Ross Copperman saying, “It’s great to be out here seeing shows and seeing what works.” But for me it’s even more so because I’m onstage looking out and feeling the crowd responding to what we’re doing. There’s no denying it.

So the live show does feed the songwriter; through trial and error, you see what people respond to. And when people are digging your shit—fans or artists or the industry—it gives you confidence. You really feel what you’re doing.