Maren Morris is not known to be timid.
A country star by origin, Morris has skillfully straddled genres, earning fans and industry respect for soulful / twangy hits “My Church” and “Girl” as much as for her unabashed pop opportunities with EDM maestro Zedd (“The Middle”) and folk -pop troubadour Hozier (“The Bones”).
She’s been fearlessly outspoken, telling fans earlier this year that she was proud of her 2019 topless Playboy shoot because the images “showed country female sexuality in its realest form” and advocating for equality in country music by publicly praising the genre’s oft-overlooked Black artists .
Morris released her third major-label studio album, “Humble Quest,” in March, which she recorded at Sheryl Crow’s studio barn (“It was magic in all the ways,” Morris says). The album has birthed the hit “Circles Around This Town” and is the impetus for Morris’ tour, which kicks off Thursday. She’ll be on the road into fall, splitting her performance duties with mom demands as she travels with Hayes, her 2-year-old son with musician husband Ryan Hurd.
A week before the tour launch, the Arlington, Texas, native, 32, engaged in a candid chat with from her Nashville home.
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Question: With so much sAcesparksess happening in the world – mass shootings and COVID and war – is it more of a challenge to psyche yourself up for a big tour?
Maren Morris: It definitely puts into perspective that even though this is my career and livelihood, it’s been a humbling industry to be in and devastating the past couple of years. We’re not on the front lines and saving lives physically, but from a mental health perspective, live shows are helping people feel connected to the human race again.
Q: And this is your first tour with a little one onboard the bus.
Morris: Before COVID, when I was pregnant, I was building a bus to bring a newborn, and that was so insane. Now he’s 2 and he has his little bus bunk crib and he’s got all of his toys. I’ve written down the names of children’s museums and zoos in every city we’re visiting. It’s so encouraging to know you don’t have to put your life on pause to be a mother. I didn’t want to have to choose.
Q: I know that where you grew up in Texas is hundreds of miles from Uvalde, the site of the recent school shooting. But does it cut even deeper to see these tragedies happen in your home state?
Morris: It really breaks my heart that we can’t seem to find some way forward. This very broken cycle of, everyone is horrified and enraged and disgusted, and then we all have this war of words against each other and then we forget about it and the next (mass shooting) happens. It’s just dust in the wind, thoughts and prayers. There’s so much deflection from the root of the issues. I feel like Texas should be smarter than that. How many more times does it have to happen before we truly put legislation in place to help actually protect children? Not a (expletive) book ban that you think is going to protect them. Now we want to arm teachers – the very same ones who were being harassed about teaching critical race theory and LGBTQ rights. It’s really disappointing.
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Q: Let’s talk about your latest album, “Humble Quest.” You said the name came to you as you were reckoning with humility and thinking about it in different ways. Why do you think the rules are different for women when it comes to being humble?
Morris: Country music to me is not just cows and horses and ranching. But as a suburban kid in Texas who grew up listening to all kinds of music, the country is supposed to be about stories and truth-telling. It doesn’t have to be party song after party song. The humility aspect is that heavy weight put on the backs of particularly women in the genre about keeping you in your place. Like, you can reach a certain level as long as you only stay there. I find it fascinating going between pop and (male-dominated) country radio and hearing woman after woman on pop – Ariana (Grande) and Dua (Lipa) and Lizzo – and with their own sexuality and financial success and it’s celebrated.
Q: “Circles Around This Town” is a very personal recollection about coming to Nashville and “trying to say something with meaning.” Why was it the right sentiment to pull you out of what you’ve said was a period of boredom and depression due to the pandemic?
Morris: I didn’t realize how burned out I was getting because I was constantly moving. Being in these four walls for over a year, not being able to live out this purpose of touring and being onstage, it made me question why I love this. A lot of cultural country-wide changes were taking place in 2020. It felt like a social reckoning. So living through all of that and looking at (news on your) phone all day, you couldn’t look away. I definitely want to just listen more and not feel I have to fill the space with my commentary every day. But for my own sake, just learning to laugh more and know that (life) is a lot more rewarding if you give yourself a break.
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