“A lot of record labels in town didn’t really think I was committed to being an artist because I said for so long I was a songwriter.”
Like many artists that emerge from Nashville, Ryan Hurd prides himself in the songwriting craft, first. After all, that was who he was to many industry folks in town: “Ryan Hurd, the songwriter.”
Besides writing the Grammy and CMA-nominated song that Blake Shelton recorded with Ashley Monroe (“Lonely Tonight”), the Sociology major- who graduated from Belmont University- has had many other tunes recorded by country hit-makers like Tim McGraw (“Last Turn Home”), Dierks Bentley (“I’ll Be The Moon”) and Jake Owen (“Surefire Feeling”). So, after carving a name for himself in the songwriting world over the last few years, Hurd is finally ready to take a step out into the limelight as an artist with his RCA Records/Sony Nashville debut single, “Love In A Bar.”
I talked to Hurd last week about his catalog of songs, songwriting, landing a record deal with Sony, his opinion on country music and more. He’s also got a word or two about female singers on country radio, or lack thereof.
The “Ryan Hurd” sound
I would say it’s a very country lyric, but we do a lot of different things that don’t quite sound like anything else on the radio. We do some very anthemic rock-and-roll-sounding songs, and there’s brightness, and darkness too in the back half of my album. So I’m really proud of how it all ties together and how the narrative of the lyrics looks.
I grew up on everything. I’m the first genre-less generation where (it was a time when) we didn’t have to be a rock kid or country kid. I grew up listening to Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley and Willie Nelson. My dad had a bunch of Beatles records too. And I remember when John Mayer first came out, it made me excited about being a songwriter. Damien Rice made me excited about being a songwriter too. And the Jimmy Eat World one is a giant rock and roll album. So it’s very cool to be part of that genre-less generation man.
On getting into the songwriting community after graduating from Belmont University
I’ve always been around music. I had friends who were getting out of school and they were trying to write songs and to be a songwriter in Nashville. So I literally just started writing with guys who were at my same level, and we all came up at the same time. When one of us would get a meeting, the other one would. When Joey (Hyde) signed his publishing, the publishers were like, “who did you write all these songs with?”, and then I got a publishing deal, and then Aaron (Eshuis) got a publishing deal. So we all went through this together, and that’s a really fun thing to have- like a really cool group of friends. When it’s hard, you have somebody else that gets it, somebody you can lean on. And when it’s great, the parties are amazing!
On the pre-Sony self-released EP, “Panorama”
Well, I put that out as a songwriter and I didn’t really focus on the artist stuff as much. I mean, I wanted to and had a manager and all that but, I just wanted to make an album, man. I started making an album about a year ago with my friend Aaron Eshuis whom I grew up with and I didn’t really know what it was going to be, but I just started recording songs and we kinda found a little bit of a direction. RCA Records and Sony jumped on board halfway through and helped me finish it. I’m really proud to be on RCA and Sony. Man, it’s Elvis’ and Waylon Jennings’ label, you know what I mean? And it’s a really cool thing for me. I don’t take that for granted, because there are thousands of people that would take my spot there if they had the opportunity. I’m just thankful for the label, what they’ve done for me so far, and what they’re continuing to do every day.
On signing with Sony Nashville instead of other record labels
Well, I’ll say this. A lot of record labels in town didn’t really think I was committed to being an artist because I said for so long I was a songwriter. (But) when the new executives at Sony came in, they weren’t very familiar with who I was, so I kinda got a clean slate with them, and they had really fallen in love with my music after hearing it. I’ve been around them for a little bit last year (just in the background) through Maren because she’s also on Sony, so they’d see me with her. But you know, I think it was a combination of a little bit of familiarity and also having somebody give me a chance. It’s been really, really amazing so far.
The one-song-a-month Spotify releases
Well, we just didn’t want to release an EP right off the bat (since) it felt like everyone was putting out 4/5-song EPs. So I wanted to release one song a month so that each song got its moment. And it’s interesting to see other people doing the same thing now. It’s a really cool way to release music because your fans kinda get a taste every couple of weeks. I honestly think it’s going to be how we start releasing music in the future. But it’s cool, and I like having each song get its own moment.
Selecting “Love In A Bar” as the debut single
Well, it was between a couple songs and that’s the one that Sony felt strongest about. And the more that I sell myself through these songs to radio people and country music listeners, the more I love this as the first step into the country market place. It’s just so unique as far as the storyline goes, and I think it’s really familiar and the sentiment of it is something universal. It’s just about putting yourself out there, you know? It cuts sonically at radio too. It’s really been a cool first step. It wasn’t what I was expecting to be at first but I’m glad (we went with it). It’s been really cool and amazing. Just hearing people sing it back is really awesome.
On the idea behind the “Ryan Hurd” Vol 1 and 2 introductory videos
I just wanted people to get to know me. I think the best artists are the ones with fans who buy into the person (that they are), and not just their songs. We filmed those videos at my house, on my boat, at my place in Michigan. That’s just who I am, and I thought it was a really cool way to get a little bit deeper than “OK this is what I think.”
His rendition of “Last Turn Home”
Yeah, I recorded that for my album. It’s a really special recording and I’m excited for everyone to hear it.
The debut record’s release date
It’s dependent on the single and Sony. The thing that’s cool about being with a record label is they’ve released a lot more records than I ever have, so they know what they’re doing, and I’m excited about the way we’re rolling it out. The album will come in its own time whether it’s sooner or later. But I’m excited about it.
The biggest misconception people may have of country music
That there’s a problem with it. I think country music right now has something for everybody and I’m tired of people telling others what they’re supposed to like. I think that we’re in a really, really, really cool time in country music. I wish we could get more girls in the top 20, but other than that, I think it’s a really special time for country music. Just (looking at) the amount of artists that are both in the more traditional and more progressive-sounding (aspects) of the genre. There’s something for everybody in country music, and that’s why it’s grown to be such a huge genre. So I think the biggest misconception is that there’s some underlying problem when in fact, it’s a really awesome time to be in country music, especially in Nashville.
One thing he would change about country music or music industry
It’s still harder for female country acts to get on the radio, and I think that needs to change. There are some really amazing female acts out there that really deserve to be heard and (who) I think will sell a lot of radio commercial. Lucie Silvas, Caitlyn Smith, Jillian Jacqueline, I mean there’s just so many. Raelynn! I don’t know how she does not have a top 10 hit right now, like that just blows my mind. There’s just so much great stuff right now, and it’s an amazing time to be a part of country music. It really is.
Advice for people wanting to enter the country music business
Get to Nashville, put your head down and be nice to people.
One male country singer he’d drag along to skydive
Brad Tursi of Old Dominion! I’d make him skydive with me. Oh actually, Jaren Johnson! I’d make Jaren skydive with me.
One food he loves and one he absolutely hates
I love Eggs Benedict and I HATE olives.
If Ryan Hurd were a cartoon character
Oh man, that one’s tough. I would be, He-Man of course. I’m so masculine and strong, and my hair is long.
Thanks for the chat, Ryan!
“Love In A Bar,” if you ask me, is a pretty strong airplay contender. Co-written with Joey Hyde, the anthemic, mid-tempo ballad showcases Hurd’s flawlessly raspy vocals and rock influence. It recounts the love-at-first-sight type of instant connection Hurd and his better half, Maren Morris, shared in a dark bar where “hearts (were) on fire” in the moment when they were “just friends, sitting around and waiting for somebody to cross the line.” From the production build-up to the emotional intensity of this song alone, it makes us wonder with great curiosity how good that debut album is, and crave with a greater desire for it.
You guys heard it from the guy himself. The release of the debut album is primarily dependent on how well his debut single does on country radio. So if you’d like to hear his recording of the Tim McGraw cut, “Last Turn Home,” amongst many other excellent songs with a “country lyric” and “rock influence,” start buying, streaming, and requesting the hell out of “Love In A Bar.”