There aren’t many names as sizzling in country music these days as the one-word moniker: Hardy. Whether he’s country-crooning his heart out about what “one beer” can do to the rest of a life, or how he will out “redneck” you any day of the week, Hardy is a catchy, memorable, and prolific songwriter.
He’s also the musical papa to the Hixtape series, which is now amidst celebrating its second installment. The first volume featured a number of standout artists (hello: Keith Urban) and volume 2, which is out today (Dec. 10) in full, after Hardy began releasing it track-by-track in September, has even more big names and even more tracks than the first.
American Songwriter caught up with the songwriter, performer, and now A&R man for the Hixtape series to ask Hardy about his origins in music, what he loves most about the craft of songwriting, and how Hixtape will continue to grow in the future.
American Songwriter: When did you first find music, when did it enter your life in a significant way as a young person?
Hardy: When I was about 5 years old, my dad played me—he had a cassette and he played me Pearl Jam. The record that had “Alive” on it, Ten. And it was like something out of a movie. I heard it and at that moment, I fell in love with music. Really, growing up, I became obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll. And when I got older, and I became a teenager, I started listening to Eric Church, Brad Paisley, and guys who had really great songs that resonated with me as a person and as a small-town kid. That’s kind of when I fell in love with songwriting and the craft of lyrics. From an early age, I was obsessed, to a fault almost, with music.
AS: How did you get better at that craft? I know you have a degree in songwriting today from Middle Tennessee State. But even before then and through then, how did you get good?
Hardy: You know, truly, practice makes perfect. Honestly, listening to songs that my heroes have written. Songs on the radio. It just takes time. There are people—you look at some people and the first song they ever wrote was this and that and it’s beautiful and it’s great. But it took a little time for me. The more life you live, the more life you’ve experienced, I think allows you to get deeper within yourself when you’re writing a song. But it just took a lot of time and a lot of practice.
AS: I like how you just said go deeper within yourself because it does seem that the best songs, the ones that have the widest appeal, are often the ones that are most personal.
AS: You’re from Mississippi and you moved to Nashville. I’m sure you could write a book about both, but what would you like to say here about how either or both have influenced you and your songwriting sensibilities?
Hardy: As far as influences, my hometown is my biggest influence. Every time—if I’m writing a lifestyle song or even if it’s the bro-country riding around in a truck with a girl, you know, all that stuff, man, I grew up doing all of that. So, I owe everything to my hometown for the way that I write songs and the pictures that I paint. I just decided one day, more or less, to move to Nashville and do the thing and I guess in a way Nashville has influenced me through hearing other songwriters.
Even going to—in Nashville, there are things called a Writer’s Round, which I’m sure you’re probably familiar with. Where four or five guys, hit songwriters, will sit in a row and play the hits that they’ve written. I went to a lot of those when I first came to town. I heard a lot of amazing songs. I heard a lot of ways that songs were written. So that really influenced me a lot, more than anything, being in Nashville. Not even hearing the artist singing songs as much as just hearing songwriter songs and learning how to write songs.
AS: You’ve earned a lot of success along the way and especially recently—and you’ve done it embracing the idea of the “redneck,” which feels funny to say. But it’s also great because it resonates and it’s singular. So, I can only imagine the success generally good, but what would you like to say about it now?
Hardy: I’m just very thankful. This town [Nashville] is relentless at times. It’s hard and it’s competitive. And I’m very thankful that it’s happening to me right now. That’s all I have to say. I know hard work pays off and I have worked very hard. But there are a lot of people that work really hard and they don’t have maybe the run that I’m having right now. So, I’m just very grateful that this town has given me the opportunity to make a little run.
AS: What was the genesis of Hixtape: Vol 1? I believe it started small but then grew into something more major, but how did it all happen?
Hardy: Yeah, you nailed it. We originally were supposed to do an EP of four songs and each song was going to have a feature on it. And just over the course of that year, before we actually cut the songs or wrote the songs for that EP, I just developed a lot of relationships with artists that I didn’t know before. And I also wrote a lot of cool songs that nobody had ever cut, that never found their home. And it turned into six songs and I got six or eight buddies.
Then it turned into eight [songs] and then it turned into ten. We just cut the songs and hoped for the best. We just asked and asked and literally 90% of the people we asked to be on it said yes, even Keith Urban and Trace Adkins, Tracy Lawrence, Jake Owen, they just all said yes. They all wanted to be a part of it.
AS: Okay how about vol. 2? it’s a bigger album than vol 1 and I know you’re less involved in the forefront and more hands-on on the backend. But what was the genesis of vol 2?
Hardy: Again, nailed it! I’m not as involved on the—I’m not on every song, bluntly. But I feel like I was even more involved with the process this time, even more than I was on the last one. Hixtape is like my baby and I just want to be a part of every bit of it. So I helped A&R the record. I even brought in some songs I didn’t write. I made a few calls to ask if people would be on this song—you know, yadda-yadda-yadda. I just did what I can. Even if I wasn’t on every song, I wanted it to be great and I wanted to be responsible for it being great if I could. So, here we are and I hope it continues and continues to grow and just takes a life of its own.
AS: Speaking about the future, how are you thinking about the future? It looks bright in many ways, but what specifically comes to mind when you consider it?
Hardy: I want to continue to grow as an artist. I want my songs to get better. I want them to indefinitely get better, I guess if that’s the right word. I want to continue to find—”stability” is not the right word because I don’t think I’m mentally “unstable.” But a big part of when I think about the future is that I want to make sure that I’m happy and that my fiancée-and-future-wife is happy. And I want to have a normal life amidst all the craziness. I’m always keeping that in mind and I’m always trying to stay one step ahead of that, as well.
AS: Final question. What do you love most about music?
Hardy: That it makes—no matter what language you speak, no matter what race you are, no matter whatever—it can truly bring people together and it makes people feel something that nothing else on this planet can make you feel. It is truly a gift from God in the grandest scheme of things. I couldn’t imagine a world without it because it makes people feel something. It changes people’s lives. I think it’s the most powerful form of communication on this planet.
Photo courtesy Sweet Talk PR