Maren Morris Steps Forward With Confidence And Drive On Latest Album 'GIRL' For Morris, creating her sophomore album GIRL meant adjusting to writing on the road, taking on the country music status quo and exploring her confidence.
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Maren Morris Grows Into Her Own: 'I'm A Little Bit Of Everything'

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Maren Morris Grows Into Her Own: 'I'm A Little Bit Of Everything'

Maren Morris Grows Into Her Own: 'I'm A Little Bit Of Everything'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When I first met Maren Morris three years ago at South By Southwest, she told me the story of how she got up the confidence to be a performer. She left Texas for Nashville just a few years out of high school, and when she landed a job as a professional songwriter at one of the city's big music labels, she thought it would be the height of her music career. It wasn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZEDD, MAREN MORRIS AND GREY'S "THE MIDDLE")

MAREN MORRIS: (Singing) I'm losing my mind just a little. So why don't you just meet me in the middle, in the middle? Oh...

CORNISH: Fast forward, and not only was her debut country album critically acclaimed, but she eventually landed on one of the biggest pop singles of last year, "The Middle." I recently caught up with Maren Morris to talk about her second album, "Girl." She told me the biggest challenge with this record was learning to write on the road.

MORRIS: I as a songwriter am so used to writing in my publisher's office or a publishing house on Music Row here in Nashville with my friends. And when you're the artist, you have to go on the road and tour the album. So yeah, I had to learn how to write in the back of a tour bus, and you have to adapt.

CORNISH: Well, the first song off the album is "Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRL")

MORRIS: (Singing) Girl, won't you stop your crying? I know that you're trying. Everything's going to be OK, baby. Girl...

CORNISH: So at first, I wasn't sure if this song was a message to us out there or if this was a message to yourself.

MORRIS: It started as just a message to myself. And it changes perspective a little bit throughout the song. It really was a self-reflective, therapeutic write. And I think it just hit me in a way where I needed to hear it, and that meant maybe some other people would, too.

CORNISH: There's a part about drawing comparisons, and you're saying, I don't want to wear your crown...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRL")

MORRIS: (Singing) I don't want to wear your crown. There's enough to go around. What you feel is natural - natural.

CORNISH: ...Which I think, for someone who's kind of got a pop career going, always feels like a pointed line.

MORRIS: Yeah. And I don't know if it's - it feels like this because I'm a woman in an industry that is very male-dominated, especially in country music. So it's very easy to be competitive with other women because there are so few spots sometimes. And really we should be fighting that status quo instead of upholding it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRL")

MORRIS: (Singing) Everyone's going to be OK, baby girl.

CORNISH: You were writing in the Lenny newsletter about some of the limits you have felt sometimes in that music, and you said at one point, the frustration I felt with the perspective of women in country music is that you either have to sing about being scorned by a lover or sing about thinking a boy is cute and wanting to notice you and that there's pressures basically to be pretty and sexy but not sexual. What's the distinction there? Like, how do you try and play that out on this album?

MORRIS: It's funny because I wrote the Lenny Letter piece before I really had any of these songs written, so that was kind of my preamble to writing this record.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

MORRIS: And a lot's changed in just the two, 2 1/2 years since I wrote that piece. I do embrace my independence and sexuality while also very comfortably saying on the album how in love I am with my husband. It's this dichotomy of not having to choose between your own independence and sexuality and also needing someone. And I just think it's way more fun when you're the woman and you get to be the aggressor.

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS: Instead of putting out the hotness and wanting someone to notice you at a party or a tailgate, I wanted to be the one with the power.

CORNISH: Well, you brought the heat with the song "RSVP."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RSVP")

MORRIS: (Singing) RSVP. Bring your love to me, yeah.

We went there on that one.

CORNISH: Yeah, you went there on that one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RSVP")

MORRIS: (Singing) It's an open invitation to an all-night situation. If I'm where you want to be, RSVP.

CORNISH: This had a very, like, '90s R&B sound to it.

MORRIS: That's my life. So I think when I wrote this song, the lyrics are actually very country structure.

CORNISH: Oh, what do you mean by that?

MORRIS: Just the lyrics. It's like, I'm a glass of good whiskey with your name on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RSVP")

MORRIS: (Singing) I'm a glass of good whiskey with your name on it, looking for your lips and your fingerprints.

The rhyme scheme is very country, Nashville writing structure to me. And then we really got to amplify that sensual R&B quality, and all of my influences as a kid got to come out when I sang that vocal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RSVP")

MORRIS: (Singing) Wake up in my big Cali king. RSVP.

CORNISH: What are your kind of responses when people say, look; I think you're pandering, right? Like, I think you're trying to appeal to a certain audience, or you're not being true to your roots in some way. How have you come to handle that criticism?

MORRIS: I mean, initially I'd get pretty defensive just because no one knows my roots except for me. But I know that when I sing, it's always me that comes out. So I just try to write a good song. I don't try to write a country song because I could write a really country song because that's what fit the vibe in the room that day. And then the next day we would write "RSVP." So I'm not one color.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO HELL & BACK")

MORRIS: (Singing) Smoke was coming off my jacket, and you didn't seem to mind.

CORNISH: The first album is very kind of, like, young, independent woman. And as you talked about in this album, there are, like, love songs, and there are songs about finding partnership with someone. And when I think about a song like "To Hell & Back," that's a song that is really vulnerable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO HELL & BACK")

MORRIS: (Singing) You didn't save me. You didn't think I needed saving. You didn't change me. You didn't think I needed changing.

I cried during this.

CORNISH: You did.

MORRIS: When we wrote it, yeah, I was a big mess crying in the corner. I don't know (laughter). Just the simplicity of that sort of love and that kind of acceptance from someone else where it's like, the skeletons in my closet you liked out in the light. You didn't save me. You didn't think I needed saving. That sentiment is so simple and so pure that, yeah, I get emotional even talking about it because I was so broken the day that we wrote this song, and my - well, then he was just my friend, but now he's my husband. He really wasn't trying to tape me back together (laughter). He was like, I like these pieces however they lay.

CORNISH: The thing I hear the most compared to our last interview is confidence. You sound really confident. It's nice.

MORRIS: Thank you. Aw. I'm, like, terrified to listen to that interview from three years ago.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

MORRIS: I was so emotional that day. I wasn't some, you know, teenager a few years ago when we first spoke, but I definitely was very naive and unaware of the things to come.

CORNISH: Mmm hmm.

MORRIS: (Laughter) And now I feel like I have a little bit better grip on all of this crazy.

CORNISH: Well, Maren Morris, thanks so much for talking with us.

MORRIS: Yeah, I'm such a fan, and I'm glad that I got to talk to you again.

CORNISH: That's Maren Morris. Her new album, "Girl," is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BONES")

MORRIS: (Singing) When the bones are good, the rest don't matter. Yeah, the paint could peel. The glass could shatter.

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