Concert Spotlight: Maren Morris

Country Breakout Hits The Garden with Sam Hunt

Texas native Maren Morris is in the fast lane to superstardom. She was the most- nominated country artist at the Grammys earlier this year (four nods included a win for Best Country Solo Performance for “My Church”) following her breakout debut album Hero, which topped numerous Best of 2016 lists. The sassy 27-year-old singer- songwriter whose sound wavers between country, soul, and pop joins fellow country hybrid Sam Hunt on his “15 in a 30 Tour” this summer, stopping at Madison Square Garden for a sold-out show on September 14.

Morris has become a media darling, appearing on most every imaginable talk show and even scored a Saturday Night Live slot, a rare feat for a country artist. Her sassy, unapologetic attitude and songs like the infectious “80s Mercedes” and ballad “I Could Use a Love Song” showcase relatable lyrics, not to mention the pipes and style of a diva set with the perfect package to become one of the next great female vocalists in country music and beyond. Maren spoke with NYC Monthly about her upcoming duet with Niall Horan, her favorite restaurant in Harlem, and what it’s been like touring with Sam Hunt…

You’ve played Saturday Night Live, GMA, Today, CBS Sunday Morning, ELLEN, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the list goes on. Of all your big televised moments, many of which were in New York, which one really felt super special to you and why?

It’s hard to kind of lock down on one because it was all a first for me ‘cause it was my debut album. I think Jimmy Fallon ’cause it was the first week my album came out and it was my first time playing “My Church,” and I looked to my left and there were The Roots and looked to my right and there is Jimmy. Saturday Night Live was a bucket list moment for me.

According to recent news, you are recording a duet for Niall Horan’s upcoming solo debut. How did you decide you wanted to work with him and what’s the experience been like stepping outside of country?

He reached out to me over e-mail and was just down-to-earth and sweet and asked if I wanted to hear this song that he wrote. I really took to it and thought it had a real rootsy vibe and it’s very him. I thought it was in my wheelhouse and I was excited about it. I don’t know how much I can talk about. I was just so excited to be a part of something ’cause I’ve done some country collaborations over the years – I think Niall, even in One Direction, was really rootsy and always a songwriter. Whether it’s pop or country, that’s what I gravitate toward is the song.

New York is such a melting pot of music and culture, and your music blends country with R&B, soul, pop, and more effortlessly. Coming from Texas and Nashville, what’s been most exciting to you about visiting New York?

I’ve been there probably more than anywhere else in the U.S., doing all the media and shows. Like I kicked off my headline tour at the Bowery [Ballroom]. We did two back- to-back shows there. It’s one of those venues where people say, “I saw this person five years ago and they changed my life and now they’re huge.” I work with Bose speakers a lot and they were doing this video content piece, and they paired me up with Chef Marcus Samuelsson who has this restaurant called Red Rooster Harlem. And I had never been to Harlem, and to go there and feel the energy of the streets and taste the food and I have this newfound respect for New York and how big it is, there really is no city like it.

What’s it been like touring with Sam Hunt and what is something you have learned from him while on the road together?

Naturally, my country sound has mirrored a lot of the paths that his career took as far as not being boxed in genre-wise and utilizing services like Spotify really early on. I think he has really opened the floodgates of the genre and it’s made me feel courageous enough to put out a record that is not just straight and narrow and not just one facet.

When he asked me to come on for his first headline tour, I just knew how big it was going to be with all the venues. I knew he was going to be selling out all these major amphitheaters – The Greek in LA and Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater and Madison Square Garden. I’ve never played there before; I’m really looking forward to that one.

Two songs that are not singles but should be are the sexy “How It’s Done” and the empowering “Second Wind.” Aside from these and your other album cuts, you have some new songs on the deluxe version of your album, “Bummin’ Cigarettes,” “Space,” and “Company You Keep.” Have you been testing these out playing them live, and can fans in New York expect to hear any of these?

I don’t play any of the bonus tracks during the Sam set, but we certainly have worked up really cool arrangements like “Second Wind” and “Rich.” There’s a lot going on that expands upon the recorded version. I was so excited to build that. When I did the Keith Urban tour last year, my album was brand new. It is a little daunting since I have the same record out, but they can translate to the production we have now so it was really fun to tweak and emphasize certain moments. I’ve got a little more experience under my belt so it’s cool to play around with the songs a bit. You haven’t heard the songs like this.