HARDY continues to prove himself an in-demand songwriter and genre-bending artist. Within the past five years, the singer/songwriter has amassed 12 No. 1 singles as a writer, including “ONE BEER” featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson and “Beers on Me,” his collaboration with Dierks Bentley and Breland.
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The reigning ACM, BMI, and AIMP Songwriter of the Year enters new territory with his second full-length LP, the mockingbird & THE CROW, out now via Big Loud Records. The 17-track project blends HARDY’s love of the country and rock genres with vivid storylines and honest lyrics alongside memorable vocals and ear-grabbing production.
HARDY never intended to combine both genres into one project. The first song he turned into his label was the gritty, rock-leaning “Jack.” The next song he sent in was a country track. He says he had four songs that embodied each genre before he decided to record an album that embraced both influences.
Tracks like “Radio Song,” featuring A Day To Remember frontman Jeremy McKinnon, showcases HARDY’s foray into both these worlds. In the song, HARDY sings of the struggles of staying honest in his songwriting while writing a country radio hit. I wish I could tell it like it is, but the cold hard fact is I can’t, he sings.
“I’ve noticed since I’ve been in town that there are so many rules to radio, and it’s so tough,” he tells American Songwriter. “I’ve seen people really struggle with radio and radio songs, whether the label is telling certain artists that a certain song has got to be this, and it’s got to be that.
“This is my take on feeling like, ‘Okay, fine. If you want a hit chorus, here it is.’ And then taking it all back in the post-chorus and just saying, ‘Never mind, this isn’t a radio song.’ It’s a little bit of my honesty, knowing that there are rules in country music, or, somewhat a radio formula, but also the honesty [of] just saying, ‘Sometimes it’s frustrating, that there are so many rules, and I just want to ruin the song right now by saying a cuss word and playing a heavy metal riff.’”
While HARDY has built a strong foundation at country radio, penning hits for Morgan Wallen (“Up Down,” “More Than My Hometown,” “Sand in My Boots”), Blake Shelton (“God’s Country”) and Florida Georgia Line (“Simple”), he says the transition to rock radio has been easy and that the genre has been accepting of his music. “Jack” is currently in the top 15 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart while “Wait in the Truck,” his country murder ballad with Lainey Wilson, also sits in the top 15 on the publication’s Country Airplay chart.
“I feel like I’m spoiled because I know how tough it is to work a song up the chart on both charts and to have two different songs doing it at the same time, it’s the coolest thing ever,” he says. “The rock world has made it very easy on me because they’ve been so accepting and really been willing to work with us.”
HARDY teamed with producer Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Nickelback) for the project. “He and I were both a kid in a candy store,” HARDY says of channeling their rock influences in the studio. “I got to live in real-time of my favorite producer and watch him cut a rock record like he did with Nickelback … but I got to be the dude that he was cutting on. He and I were both absolutely excited. Every time we would cut a rock song in the studio we were both giddy.”
HARDY serves as co-producer on the project alongside Derek Wells. He also is a co-writer on each of the 17 tracks. The album features additional co-production from David Garcia, Jordan Schmidt, Ben Johnson, Andrew Wade, McKinnon, and Cody Quistad.
The singer/songwriter says the title track best describes where he is in his life right now. He explains that “the mockingbird & THE CROW” accurately portrays how he’s still figuring out how to work in two separate genres and how to navigate two separate lives as both an artist and a songwriter.
“There’s always a struggle between do I do the full-on rock thing, or do I keep writing country songs and do the country thing?” he admits. “Even from a songwriter’s perspective, I’ve struggled a lot because I love writing songs for other people. I treat it as [if] I have two career jobs.
“When I’m in town, I love to go in every day and write songs for people and when I’m on the road, I’m a touring artist. That’s a struggle a lot of times to realize which one is more important and which one I should invest more time in and that’s just me being completely honest and that song has a lot of that struggle in there.”
I found myself a contract down on Sixteenth Avenue
Writing songs for anyone about anything I knew
And I’ve come a long long way
But one thing hasn’t changed
I’m a mockingbird
Singing songs that sound like other songs you’ve heard
Like Friday nights and headlights on some backroad red dirt
And how Mississippi’s home
I’ve always been a mockingbird but
Now I’m a mockingbird with a microphone
The singer pushed himself both musically and creatively on the mockingbird & THE CROW. The project includes “Happy,” the only song he wrote by himself, and his first solo write in nine years. It’s a song he says he’s proud of writing by himself.
The idea for “Happy” came to HARDY while driving to the golf course. The singer says he wanted to personify the word and turn happy into a human and the person that we all want to be.
Happy don’t have lies to tell
He doesn’t want nothing from no one else
And he never does concern himself
With who’s right or wrong
“I hope that that song reaches people and helps people realize, including myself, what’s important and what it really means to be happy,” he explains. “It’s not material things and it’s not drugs, and it’s not alcohol. It’s about just being a good person. What you put out into the world is what you get back and hopefully, that can help people navigate their own happiness. … I’m proud of what it stands for.”
HARDY says he’s grown “tremendously” as a songwriter since he signed his first publishing deal in 2014. He’s grateful for the people he’s been placed in the writing room with who are better than him and challenge him as a songwriter.
One of those writers is Craig Wiseman, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer and owner and partner at Big Loud Publishing. HARDY says despite having countless hits as a songwriter and being the head of a company, Wiseman is always the last person to leave Big Loud Publishing every day.
“Seeing his work ethic but knowing that he could retire right now and be completely fine … the dude has done everything that anybody could ever dream to do in Nashville, and he still works eight, nine hours a day writing songs,” HARDY says. “[He] doesn’t leave until he thinks that it’s perfect and that it’s truly done and that’s really inspiring. For me, I’ve always felt that that was really badass.”
Just like Wiseman, HARDY keeps his schedule packed every day between co-writes and touring. Most weeks he’s on the road Thursday through Saturday and when he’s back in Nashville, he’ll be in the writing room Monday through Wednesday. He says he saves Sunday to “do my laundry, refresh and chug a gallon of water.”
“I hope that my songwriter brain will be forever growing,” he says. “It’s like a muscle and I will constantly be in the gym, if you will, and getting better and better. … Hopefully, I’m not as good as I’m going to get yet. I hope I continue to get better and challenge myself and know that there’s always somebody out there to learn from and to take advantage of that.”
Photo Credit: Ryan Smith/ Big Loud Records