Editor’s Note: CMT Hot 20 Countdown takes a look back on 10 years of incredible music with Decade, a weekly segment that features a modern country classic that made its greatest impact between 2010 and 2019. This week, Maren Morris talks about her 2016 single, “My Church.” CMT Hot 20 Countdown airs at 9/8c Saturday and Sunday mornings.
CMT: Tell me a little bit about the origins of “My Church.”
MM: I was out in Los Angeles, driving around trying to find the ocean. I was on the PCH and I was just listening to music. It was so nice out and I just love being in the car and listening to music. It’s how I de-stress and I thought to myself, “This is like church to me. This is where I feel really spiritual and just free.” So I wrote in my phone, immediately, “My Church” would be such a great song title.
The next day, I went over to my friend Busbee’s house. We were writing that day and I told him the idea — it’s about your version of spirituality — and we wrote it in, like, 45 minutes. I knew that “My Church” was a really, really special song and if I ever put a single out – this was before I had ever signed a record deal or decided to be an artist – I knew that song would be the song that really opened doors for me.
What was it like to have the single out there as an artist?
With every show, I would see more and more people know the words and that was always really emotional. I definitely still get choked up when I sing “My Church” because I get so sentimental and think how much of my career started, and is here, because of that song. I never thought people would be singing it back to me, like a sold-out show in Madison Square Garden or overseas. It’s a really big deal and that song is in so many people’s memories because it’s just one of those songs — when you hear it, you can immediately see yourself in it. And those are always the best songs.
Some would say that song was “make or break” for you early on.
I knew if I had only one shot to put a single on the radio, this was the hill I would die on, because “My Church” says everything about me as an artist in three and a half minutes. Whether it succeeded or failed, I would do it my own way and I would be proud of it regardless because it meant so much to me to write that song. It was my first single and it brought so many fans into my life. It really hasn’t slowed down so you can really see the power of it starting with a song.
What was it like performing “My Church” at the 2016 CMA Awards, the year you won the New Artist award?
I’ll never forget the CMAs because it was my first time performing on an award show — and that’s the big one, so I was really nervous. But I knew that I was with my band and I got the Preservation Hall Band to be, like, the jazz section. And then, [we had] the McCrary Sisters who have sung on everything from my song to Johnny Cash — they actually sang on the album version of “My Church.” So to have them sing in the award show for the CMAs was really iconic.
The song had been out for a year at that point so it was pretty familiar but I didn’t realize all these huge artists in the crowd would be singing along and clapping and dancing to it. So that was just crazy to me and I felt like I was floating when I did that performance.
What do you remember about this song winning a Grammy?
Yeah, “My Church” won for Country Solo Performance and I was really honored to just be going to the Grammys for the first time and be nominated. But I didn’t think I was gonna walk away with anything, because I was just so new. It was all happening in the first year so it really meant a lot to me to walk away with that because it was such validation. I just felt really welcomed by my peers that voted on it.
How do you think people will look back on you in this decade?
You know, I’ve only been around for a few years and think about how much country music has changed and will continue to change — and I think for the better. I think there’s a lot of traditionalists out there that like the traditional classic country, and I love classic country as well. … I just think that country music will always evolve. I think that there will always be the love of the craft of songwriting. One of my favorite things about living in Nashville is the best songwriters in the world live there and I’ve learned so much from them over the last six years.
Country music is always gonna be rooted in those real-life stories and I think that no matter what instrument you put on a song, whether it has a fiddle or a banjo or an electric synth, these are songs about real life and I think that’s what I write. I write things that I’ve gone through and I love dabbling in other genres. Ultimately, you know, I’m a girl from Texas that is obsessed with Dolly Parton songs and Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline. I think all those people were trailblazers and had a lot of criticism in their day because they were different — and they were. It’s because they were changing something.