Maren Morris wants Humble Quest to make you feel hopeful
"Don't be an a--hole on the way up, and don't be an a--hole on the way down." Those are the words Maren Morris, who is undoubtedly still on her way up, chooses to live by.
The singer-songwriter, who just released her third studio album, Humble Quest, first broke onto the country music scene six years ago with her single "My Church," a song about finding her sanctuary driving (circles) around town listening to — what else? — country music. It's an idea that'd sat with her since her upbringing.
"In the car my mom would always be blasting Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morissette or Fiona Apple, the Cranberries," Morris tells EW in the latest episode of Bold School, EW's video series celebrating female power players. "It was very formative '90s music for me."
Specifically, Morris can recall the first time she heard women in country music. "It was that era of LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain and the Chicks and Faith Hill," she says. "I think I really immediately saw myself in them, especially the Chicks, being from Texas. They didn't take themselves too seriously, but they were the sharpest songwriters in the game. I definitely saw myself in them. And still do."
As Morris began to make a name for herself, she quickly ventured outside the lines of a straightforward country career. In 2018 she collaborated with Grey and Zedd on the hit song "The Middle," and in 2019 she joined forces with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, and Amanda Shires to create the all-female group the Highwomen. And all along the way, she continued to make her own music. 2019 saw the release of her second studio album, Girl, which won Album of the Year at the CMA Awards.
A few years into her journey now, Morris is still growing as an artist. In 2020 she gave birth to her first child. "Becoming a mom really opened my heart up in a way that it wasn't before," Morris says, noting that she feels more empathetic to others now, something she's sure impacts her music.
But being empathetic doesn't mean she's willing to accept hate. Morris has made headlines more than once with her clapbacks to rude messages on social media. In a world where everyone has thoughts on everything — and social media has provided quite the platform on which to share those thoughts — Morris has managed to do the impossible: She finds power in criticism.
"I've weirdly felt empowered in times where I've gotten the most criticism, like when I did Playboy in 2019," Morris says. "There were a lot of people clutching their pearls over literal side boob, not even the whole boob, like just get over it," she says with a laugh, adding, "Dolly Parton did Playboy in the '70s, so everyone chill out."
Once you can find power in criticism, what's next? For Morris, the answer is simple: hope. With Humble Quest, she wanted to give the world a pick-me-up. "I was really intentional to make these songs feel hopeful because they were pulling me out of a hopeless place and they made me feel hopeful again," she says. "I had my son and I had this huge wave of postpartum depression that was unforeseen, as it often is, and I'd also lost my friend and producer Busbee to cancer and then COVID — it was a lot. I was writing songs at the time that were reflective of that trauma.
"It's been a rough one, but we all survived and we're going to get through it," Morris continues. "And music was such a gift to me during the last few years, as I know it was for many of us. These were just the songs, I felt like if they were helping me, maybe if 10 more people heard it, it would help them too. That's how the whole record came to be."
Now, with the album out and already making waves — Humble Quest broke the global record for most first-day and first-week streams for a country album by a female artist on Amazon Music — all that's left is a return to the road. "The whole touring industry came to a screeching halt, and we were all cut down to size and realized maybe we took some of this for granted, and we never will again," Morris says of the past couple of years.
Morris will kick off a U.S. tour on June 9, an experience she's hoping will feel like a release. "I feel like I'm going to cry through the entire first show on the tour," she says. But hey, at least she's back.