Ryan Hurd is no newbie in the world of country music. As a songwriter, the Michigan native has written hits for the best in the business, including Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley and Tim McGraw, just to name a few.
So what could be next for a guy who’s already celebrated a No. 1 single and is dating country music’s hottest leading lady? An album of his own, of course.
“I love writing songs for other people and it’s an honor when someone records your songs,” Hurd, 32, told PEOPLE. “But I’ve done a lot that you can do with songwriting — I’ve had singles and a No. 1 song. So I had the desire to go make my own album. But I didn’t put too much pressure on it. When you’re a songwriter you don’t have control over which songs get heard and which ones don’t. Right now I enjoy deciding which songs I put my name and voice on. Being curious and having a control on the creative part is very attractive.”
Hurd, who began writing after finishing college in Nashville, explains that it was the allure of Music Row as an outsider that initially drew him into songwriting. And now, as an artist, he’s combining his influences, inspiration and life experiences into what he hopes will be a standout debut album.
“There are kind of three different colors on this album,” Hurd said of his new music. “Authentic rock and roll is a sound that I’ve always been drawn to with bands like Brand New and Jimmy Eat World. In the middle, I go into a more pop-country sound — it’s the sugar in the middle — like ‘We Do Us.’ And then the back half has some real darkness to it.”
“One thing I’m proud of is that it has an interesting narrative to it. All the songs point to a new relationship and all the stages of that. I put a lot of thought into the whole album. I’m not just looking for hits. It really is a lot more than that.”
On his single, “Love In a Bar,” Hurd explained that it’s a story with poetic license about the path he took to falling in love with fellow country star Maren Morris.
“[‘Love In a Bar’] is very much an autobiographical song about my relationship with Maren,” Hurd said. “I met Maren writing songs and I met her when I was starting to have success. We wrote ‘Last Turn Home,’ that Tim McGraw recorded, and we would write and then after we’d go over to a bar in midtown and have a couple beers. That’s when we started making a real connection, beyond a creative partnership.
“The imagery in ‘Love In a Bar’ — the cigarettes and a Corona — those are vivid pictures in my head and I’m giving the listener a version of that in their head. It’s such an expression sonically. That’s who I was at 28 years old and that’s the thing my heart was chasing and the thing my music was gravitating toward.”
The pair, who celebrated their 1-year anniversary in December, have proved to be more than romantic partners, encouraging each other as they simultaneously pursue their dreams of becoming successful country musicians.
“There’s really nothing that can replace someone who knows what you’re going through,” Hurd said of Morris’ impact on his career. “It’s another thing to be supportive and know why this is difficult and what it means to make an album and put your whole self into it. We have really difficult calendars and if one of us wasn’t supportive, it would be really easy to give up on that… This is a hard thing to do and it’s not glamorous. Every time I want to quit, she tells me how close I am. She does my career with me and I do mine with her. In chasing my career, I feel like it’s part hers.”
Hurd and Morris will take the stage together on the last leg of Morris’ Hero tour in Europe. And despite the recent tragedy in Manchester and growing fear that more concerts and performances will be targeted, Hurd explains that he and Morris are determined that the show must go on.
“We talked after it happened, all day, about why and there’s definitely an aspect of fear; it makes you nervous to go to the source of that,” Hurd revealed. “There’s a lot of adrenaline though, and we can go be one more Band-Aid in a way. We’ll give them one more night that is special and hopefully cathartic for them and victorious over that tragedy.
“It’s exciting to get to go over there and there’s another layer now to why it’s special. We’re both committed to going and excited about sharing that time with [the people of England]. It’s more than a show now. It’s a night where they continue to get comfortable going to shows again and can sing without fear.”