Interview: Last Year Just a Fan, Maren Morris Prepares for a Big CMAs Night
In 2015, Maren Morris was sitting in a bar across the street from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, watching the CMA Awards on television; she got all dressed up, watched country music's biggest stars take the stage and wondered what it would be like to be in that room. One year later, she'll not only find out what it's like to be in that room, she may very well dominate that room.
With seven nods to her name -- more than any other artist -- Morris is the queen of the 2016 CMA Awards nominees. She's not just nominated for New Artist of the Year, but for Female Vocalist of the Year as well; not just for Song of the Year, but for Album of the Year, too. In almost every big CMAs category, you'll see Morris' name.
"I feel like if I had to narrow in on one [category that I really want to win,] it would probably be Album [of the Year], just because there's just something about a body of work that is so influential, and you're validated in that way if its won," Morris tells The Boot, quickly adding that she's pretty flabbergasted by all of her nominations, and isn't taking a single thing for granted. "Just to be nominated, and especially as a new artist and a female artist, is a feat. Winning anything is just a bonus."
Morris explains that she's especially excited about Album of the Year because she loves the experience of listening to an entire record, front to back.
"It's such a changing industry, and I realize that it's become more digital- and singles-driven, but I still love listening to a full record," she admits. "It's the artist's story captured in 12 or 15 songs. I always go back to old vinyl albums I loved, and that's sort of the aim I had with Hero -- just to make it look classic and feel like me, but also timeless in a way."
Morris' debut studio album is at the heart of her acclaim in 2016. The 11-track LP was released in June and instantly loved by fans and praised by critics for its smart hooks, sharp writing and overall sound that's rooted in today's popular music but looks to the country's future in the same breath. In a genre that sometimes feels a bit cookie-cutter, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter is blazing a new path, and country music fans are running to follow her down it.
Just to be nominated, and especially as a new artist and a female artist, is a feat. Winning anything is just a bonus.
Of course, Morris knows that her music hasn't been solely a product of her own doing (although with writing credits on every song on Hero, that's kind of hard to believe). The singer's humble awareness of the greats is all too apparent, in that she can't even talk about her own nomination without paying homage to those with whom she shares the Album of the Year category. Her enthusiasm for records by her musical heroes is effusive and authentic; Morris is as much of a fan as she is a performer.
"I love the Keith [Urban] record; I feel like it totally blasted every genre wall," she says of Ripcord. "He always puts out great albums, but that one was particularly great because -- I mean not to compare it to mine, because they're so different, but it remained me of my record, because I feel like it's sort of genre-less in a way, but it's still rooted in a really country landscape."
Morris also nods to Black by Dierks Bentley as well as Eric Church's Mr. Misunderstood in such specific ways that you can tell she's not just trying to pay lip service.
"It's such a turn for him, too," she says about Bentley's Black. "I mean he's always recorded amazing songs and really deep material, but this particular record, it's just so beautifully done ... And Eric Church's "Record Year" -- that's one of the best songs. Mr. Misunderstood, that whole album is incredible and just has amazing songwriting."
Lest fans begin to think that Morris is somehow undeserving of a win in a category where every other nominee is a seasoned vet, let's not forget that the young artist has already been invited to perform with two of her fellow Album of the Year nominees: She spent her summer on tour with Urban and teamed up with Bentley for a track on Black, even joining him onstage at Red Rocks Amphitheater in September.
Morris will also be performing at the 2016 CMA Awards -- what, exactly, she couldn't say, but the "'80s Mercedes" singer hinted that her time onstage will celebrate the legacy of country music, "incorporating the past but modernizing it in a way, but it's also gonna fit with my music in a really flow way." Of course she's nervous, but Morris also knows that those pre-show jitters are more exciting then anything else.
"I always get less nervous when we get into rehearsals, because it just gives me a better idea of how it's gonna go," she admits. "I would definitely say I'm nervous right now, but in an excited way ... We have a really cool thing planned, and I think it's gonna be so fun."
The 2016 CMA Awards will air live from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday (Nov. 2); the show will be broadcast on ABC beginning at 8PM ET.
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