It doesn’t usually happen this fast.
You hear the stories, from screen and stage, of the “overnight success,” and how it comes to be. No matter the type of artist, the plot remains the same. There’s hustle, struggle, pain and doubt. There’s hard work—and harder hours—and the grueling uncertainty of whether the day the artist dreamed of, and endured for, will actually come to pass. And, just when all hope is lost, the miraculous occurs.
It happens so often that it’s almost clichéd. George Clooney was an extra for years. J.K. Rowling got rejection after rejection. Bob Dylan’s first band lost a talent competition to a tap dancer. We call it an overnight success, knowing that it’s anything but.
But it doesn’t usually happen as fast as it’s happening to young Texan Maren Morris.
The 26-year-old’s story is moving so fast, it’ll make your head spin. It certainly has had the same effect on her. Asked about the pronunciation of her name, whether it is Mah-ren or Mare-in, she answers quickly and then corrects herself (it’s ‘Mare-in,’ so you know).
“I didn’t know my own name for a second!” the country phenom says. She’s got just enough time for us to catch up with her, and then it’s on to the promotion of a debut album and the gas pedal of her career firmly fixed to the floor.
The past year saw Morris move from the hardworking stages and open mics of Nashville to sharing a stage with superstar Keith Urban, and touring the world while promoting a smash hit single that all but defines the Arlington-born belle of the country music ball. “My Church” is one of those songs that finds a home in your memory and immediately evokes open roads, classic tunes and a wide blue sky that could only have been inspired by a youth spent in Texas.
“You can’t get out of Dodge, when you’re from Texas. It’s always going to be a part of you,” Morris says.
After starting her life and career in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, her singing and songwriting talents eventually saw her record a couple of albums for smaller labels. The stage and studio were her primary focus, and Texans could catch her act at any stage that would have her within driving range of the Lone Star State. And, in a move that had art continue to imitate life, Morris took her successes and her dreams to Nashville.
“When I moved to Nashville, it was definitely a little bit scary,” she admits. Having only known Texas, there was a lot of adjustment for then 20-year-old Morris, who undertook the entire endeavor alone. Taking her ‘never quit’ attitude to the bars and clubs of Music City, she did her best to make a name for herself, finding the same struggles that all aspiring artists find. Not every aspect was a challenge, however. Texas might have been a long way in the rearview mirror, but Morris still found reflections in her new home. “Nashville is similar in a way. It’s still the South, so the people are really kind, hospitable and genuine. Because of that, it wasn’t a hard transition.”
Her kindness and charm also made short work of what is usually a much longer transition. “I fell into a really great group of friends pretty soon after I got here,” Morris explains.
Nashville didn’t take long to notice her. It was her songwriting, however, not her stage presence, that got her noticed. She was penning lyrics for her heroes; and the world heard both Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson sing her songs. But, though the industry was taking note that Morris was the heart behind the work of country music’s finest, the stage continued to call to her.
“I’ll always be a songwriter. But, I missed being on stage. So, that’s what sparked this whole album being made.”
Morris made her way back into the studio, armed with the connections and maturity that her journey provided, and “My Church” was born alongside the rest of her June 2016 release, “Hero.” The confluence of all these developments is creating a triumphant story, worthy of the album’s title.
The single catapulted her life into uncharted waters, and dreams that were only a few years old were coming true. The country music world hasn’t witnessed a rise to stardom this fast in some time. That’s not lost on Morris, nor is it taken for granted.
“When I was offered the slot on the Keith [Urban] tour, that was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment,” she reflects. “Having a gold-certified record, playing the Grand Ole Opry, there have been so many countless moments that have been unbelievable to me, especially this early on. It’s been a fun year, so far.”
And, as they say, the hits just keep on coming. She’s played sold-out arenas, made multiple national television appearances and found out, first-hand, just how much her lyrics resonate with audiences of all nationalities. “Playing the O2 Arena in London to 20,000 people was a huge moment,” she explains. “I’d never really been overseas with this particular song, so I didn’t know what I was getting into. But, when we started getting into the breakdown chorus of “My Church,” almost every corner of that arena was singing the words. In London!”
Morris’ enthusiasm and authenticity are anything but a polished act. She shares the joy of this journey in every expression, maintaining her humility in the process. “It gave me chills watching the video back. It was like this dream I had, where I was going to get to play in an arena, and it happened! In London, of all places – and they knew the words!”
Success has given birth to more aspirations and she now has the notoriety to turn even those dreams into reality.
“You obviously try to keep some sort of plan in your head going. For myself, I have a lot of things I want to accomplish. Making this record was a huge check [on the to-do list]. But I want to keep making albums that I’m proud of and that I love, fully, and the audience loves and connects to. I want to headline my own tour someday. I want to play Red Rocks. I want to play Madison Square Garden. I want to tour the world. I would love to tour in France and Spain and Japan. I have many bucket list dreams that I’ll hopefully get to check off in the next couple of years.”
Maren may have found fame and fortune in such rapid succession as to make your head spin, but it was never “overnight.” Rather, it was just accelerated. Now, with the fog of dreams somewhat settled, she looks back to the girl with all the hopes and offers counsel to those that listen to her and may seek to follow her.
“If I were talking to my 13- or 14-year-old self, I would say that patience is a virtue,” Morris advises. “Don’t let anyone try to narrate your story for you. You’re the starring role in your own life, don’t let anyone try to tell you different. Stay honest and stay humble.”
Adhering to those maxims, it’s no wonder that this Texan is creating a legend as big as her home state. It sounds a lot like a country song, but one with a tempo best suited for a car, barreling down The Highway, perhaps more than just a few miles per hour over the speed limit.
Catch Maren Morris at ACL Fest. She plays the first weekend, appearing Friday, September 30th.