You think you know a guy.
A guy like Hardy, who writes songs like Morgan Wallen's "Up Down," Florida Georgia Line's "Simple" and Blake Shelton's "God's Country." But now, Hardy's not just that guy anymore. He's so much more.
Calling from his home in Joelton, Tennessee -- which Hardy told me was way out in the country, north of Nashville -- Hardy explained why it was time to make the move from songwriter to singer and what he hopes people will discover from his debut solo album A ROCK, due out on Friday (Sept. 4).
CMT.com: First let's talk about the journey from songwriter to singer. I know you got your songwriting degree at M.T.S.U., but did you know you had a voice?
Hardy: Not really. It took me a while to find it. I have some old demos from when I first signed my publishing deal, and my voice sounds completely different. It definitely took me a little bit to figure out I could actually learn how to sing. And that didn't happen until a couple years into my publishing deal. Then I had demos and people would be like, "Who's singing?" And I'd be like, "That's me." They were so surprised.
But were you surprised? To find out that you could do more than write a song?
Well, I wrote a song or two in high school, and then I knew I wanted to go to Nashville and try to get a publishing deal. That was mostly because I was sort of overshadowed by my sister. She has always been a really, really good singer. I'll be honest, she was the golden child growing up and I was the black sheep of the family. One hundred percent. I never knew I had a voice because that was always her thing. Like, "I don't sing. Madison sings." So after I started writing songs and moved here, I started figuring all that out. Everybody's got their own path.
I've had songwriters tell me it's close to impossible to write a song, and others tell me that it comes kind of naturally. Where do you fit in on that spectrum?
It came pretty naturally for me. There were times where, in the moment, it would feel like this song is hard to write. But I have to be honest, it was always something that came naturally. I know I'm really fortunate that it's something I just have in me.
Some of the songs you've written -- for other country singers and for your own album -- make me think they're too good, and like why hasn't that idea been done before? You know? Your "Give Heaven Some Hell" made me feel like that. It's just such a quintessential country picture you've painted.
I don't know, you know? Sometimes I think the titles may have been written, but somehow they just didn't nail that hook. I've been lucky to have written some songs that have never been written before. There is no other feeling than being like, "No that's a song. I think somebody did that in the 90s." But then you look it up and it's nowhere to be found, and you're just like, "Oh my God." But then the pressure's on, knowing we can't screw it up because we have the opportunity to really make something of this. With "Give Heaven Some Hell," I know that it helps people, because I get messages all the time from people saying that the song gives them hope. That's literally what I do this for.
Did you feel like that about your "Rednecker"?
Yes. Because that came up at about 3:00 in morning in Colorado, and we were all sitting around and someone said, "Well, I'm rednecker than you." And we were just like, "That needs to be a song." We looked it up, and it didn't show up anywhere. We wrote the whole song without a guitar, just the lyrics. Like it was a Dr. Seuss poem.
As a songwriter who has songs pitched to other country artists, how does it feel when you get the text/call/email that Blake Shelton will be cutting a song you wrote? And then even better, that he'll be releasing that song as a single, like he did with both your "Hell Right" and your "God's Country"?
I mean, the fact that it happened twice in a row with Blake felt like, "What is my life right now?" To get "God's Country" alone was incredible. It didn't even feel real. He's Blake Shelton. He's the most famous person in the world. I'm just this dude from Mississippi, and I don't even know anybody. It is absolutely crazy.
But eventually, something made you pivot and want to hang onto your songs and take a crack at cutting them yourself. What made the timing right for A ROCK?
Last year, when I made Hixtape, Vol. 1, it was just for fun. It was something I did with my friends, and every song was a lifestyle song. But now, it was just time to make a statement. There's a deeper side to me than just fun-loving Party Hardy, and I was really ready to show people that side. It was just time. I'm ready to show people what goes on in my life and how I feel.
The tracklist from A ROCK:
1. “Truck” (Michael Hardy, Ben Johnson, Hunter Phelps)
2. “Boyfriend” (Hardy, Zach Abend, Andy Albert)
3. “Give Heaven Some Hell” (Hardy, Ashley Gorley, Johnson, Phelps)
4. “Boots” (Hardy, David Garcia, Hillary Lindsey)
5. “Where Ya At” (Hardy, Jessie Jo Dillon, Garcia)
6. “Ain't a Bad Day” (Hardy, Jake Mitchell, Phelps)
7. “One Beer” feat. Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson (Hardy, Lindsey, Mitchell)
8. “So Close” feat. Ashland Craft (Hardy, Mark Holman, Lindsey)
9. “Broke Boy” (Hardy, Garcia, Brett Tyler)
10. “Hate Your Hometown” (Hardy, Garcia, Lindsey)
11. “Unapologetically Country as Hell” (Hardy, Smith Ahnquist, Nick Donley, Mitchell)
12. “A Rock” (Hardy, Ahnquist, Mitchell)