Maren Morris Opens Up About Her Next Chapter

Maren Morris Opens Up About Her Next Chapter

In 2022, after speaking out against anti-trans remarks made by the wife of one of the biggest stars of “bro country,” Maren Morris found herself on the receiving end of some extreme vitriol — the likes of which hadn’t been seen since The Chicks made a now-infamous political remark at a concert in 2003.

Country music closed ranks again last year when Morris released her latest EP, The Bridge, revealing she was leaving the things in the genre behind that didn’t serve her anymore. News then broke that she’d ended her marriage to fellow musician Ryan Hurd, with whom she shares custody of 4-year-old son Hayes.

No one would look at Morris’ last few years and assume they’ve been easy. But now, a new motif is emerging for the singer: growth.

She recently wrapped a world tour with none other than The Chicks, the OG rabble-rousers. She continues to make music with The Highwomen, the band she created with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, and Amanda Shires. She’ll soon kick off a summer concert series devoted to her loyal fan base.

And she just released a children’s book she co-wrote with her best friend, former teacher Karina Argow. Aptly, Addie Ant Goes on an Adventure centers on a garden, a brave protagonist seeking to expand her horizons, and an ensemble of diverse, supportive characters.

Morris’ journey to this point has been that of a woman figuring out which soil is worth tilling and which is, well, just dirt. In this much-deserved new chapter, the outspoken advocate and ally is facing the sun and planting fresh seeds.

Scary Mommy caught up with Morris and Argow to chat about their book (they’ve already finished a follow-up!), Beyoncé, and life beyond country music.

Scary Mommy: Congrats on the book! What made you decide to do this together?

Maren Morris: Thank you! It was two years ago on tour. I was promoting my Humble Quest record, and we were at the end of the tour. Karina is on the road with me, and we just had a really late night on my bus going home from Canada or something. I remember it was around 3:00 a.m. We just started talking about our favorite children’s books because I read so many of them to my son, and I had always wanted to make a children’s album or write a children’s book — just something in that universe because I love getting to sort of be a kid again with my son.

That’s kind of how the idea was hatched. Then Karina said, ‘Oh, by the way, I have all these characters I’ve come up with in my garden.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s half the work.’

Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images; Book Image Courtesy of on Freepik

SM: The book’s inclusivity feels exactly like inclusivity should, which is just very natural and organic. What did those early conversations look like when considering the messages you wanted the book to convey?

KA: One of the things we always talked about was that we wanted it to be reflective of a human society or an environment where everyone’s different, but everyone’s important. How do we naturally make sure that we include all sorts of insects and all sorts of personalities who have different jobs and different roles in a garden?

MM: Addie, coming at it from the child mindset because she’s a kid, just really opened up our first story in a way that could be about curiosity — knowing when to ask for help and knowing it’s OK to ask questions. We wanted to touch on all of that.

We got one critique while we were writing it: Should we put a male character in this so boys who read it feel more connected to it? And we were like, ‘They’re bugs. They don’t really need a gender.’

[In addition to the book’s female characters, there is one non-binary character: Lewis Ladybug.]

It was a totally nonchalant, sweet note, but we were like, no, honestly. Someone brought up earlier that Bluey is the biggest show around, and no one realized until halfway through Bluey is a girl. I just don’t think kids care. So, removing that narrative was really important to us as well. We were like, ‘No, my son is a boy. He loves this book. He loves the characters. He sees himself in Addie and has the same questions and curiosity.’

It was just establishing that we don’t need to be super specific … kids are kids.

SM: Have these characters you’ve now introduced Hayes to added an extra dimension of fun in the garden?

KA: It’s hard not to, right? When you make these things that you see in the garden have lives and backpacks and binoculars.

MM: Obviously, we want to teach kids that a lot of the bugs in our story are harmless, but we also want to teach caution. Like, ‘Careful of the chicken’ and ‘Don’t touch every bug.’ But there’s something so nurturing about putting your hands in dirt and just grounding yourself. Kids love that.

SM: Karina, what has it been like getting to know this version of Maren, the mom? And Maren, in what ways have your girlfriends shown up for you in motherhood?

KA: I still can’t believe it sometimes. I have to remind myself that Maren is a mom of a 4-year-old who is the most unbelievable little guy. He’s my godson, and I’m obsessed with him.

MM: We’ve known each other for over a decade. She’s just seen so many chapters of my life, including this year … Having female friendships during this time for me has been so crucial and wonderful, and also them being there for my son and kind of creating this family within a family.

SM: The way we each parent evolves in a million ways every day, and for you, one of those evolutions is co-parenting. How has that changed you as a mother and just your dynamic with Hayes?

MM: Oh, that’s a good question. I’m very early into this phase, but I will say everything they say is true. You’re 100% on the weeks that you do have your child. And then when you don’t have them, it’s hard … that first night you go back to your house and it’s just empty, it’s really, really tough. My friends have brought me through this moment, and I think I’ve been able to really dive into myself more in those weeks when I don’t have Hayes. I can go get dinner with my friends or just really do whatever. I can go see a movie. Just things that never occurred to me before.

And kind of rebuilding my social life. Parents know it’s very easy for that to fall by the wayside because you just get so enveloped in your routine and going to bed shortly after your kids do — and just being sort of a homebody when I’m not on the road. So, this has, in one way, allowed me to explore my independence more.

The time I do have with my son is just all the more special and intentional because I don’t get to see him every day. I have 50% of the time with him. It’s really made me assess the moments I don’t have him. Then, the ones that I do, I’m just even more engaged and present with him. I want him to have an amazing week with me.

SM: I want to talk a bit more about your career. But I want to preface this by saying I was raised on country music in a small town in the rural South, I currently live in the South, and I have a gender-fluid almost 13-year-old. So, for all the different versions of me, and especially for my kid and for their friends who hear everything, I want to say thank you. There are a lot of us here who really need the voice that you are.

MM: Oh my gosh. I’m going to cry. Honestly, as a mother, it’s really crystallized for me how important it is to speak up and stand up for people and stand up for yourself. I want to take care of my fans and people who are new to music or country music or going to live shows and feeling safe at those shows. So, it’s just such an honor to hear that.

To circle back to Addie Ant, we were intentional about making Lewis non-binary because while the idea of a ladybug being male has been done before, we were like, We really want to make this feel, not amplified, but definitely normalized. I love that we use they/them pronouns for Lewis and for it just to be a norm. Lewis is just who they are.

SM: So, everyone’s already tying you not attending the CMT awards with “leaving” country music. Is that shift part of it, or is this purely just timing because of the book tour?

MM: Yeah, that was just timing. It looked fun. I’m from Texas, and they did it in Austin — it’s one of my favorite cities. But no, that was just timing. We’re in New York right now, and then we go to LA and back to Nashville for our book signing there. But I hope everyone had a great night.

SM: Karina, what has it been like watching Maren weather these last few years?

KA: I think about it a lot. Maren’s got really tough skin, but I’m from New Jersey, and I have a terrible temper…

MM: I’m really proud of her for not cursing in the last few interviews. I’m shocked. The Jersey hasn’t popped out.

KA: It’s so hard, knowing that Maren is the most generous, kind person and does everything for everyone around her. The abuse that she gets online sometimes, she takes it and rolls with it. I want to put gloves on and get into a ring, and Maren just handles everything with grace and kindness — I don’t know how she does it. But that’s something that has been on my mind a lot in the last few years, watching how terribly strangers can behave.

MM: Yeah, it’s psychotic. Also, I have a temper, too! I had to get off Twitter last year. (laughs) So, no, I’m not always graceful by any means, but that’s so sweet. You’ve seen literally every shade of this and talked me off many ledges.

It really is hard to understand that it’s not about you, and you’re obviously ruffling people’s feathers, but I stand with conviction by everything that I’ve said. Even if I didn’t go about it in the most Jesus Dolly way, I feel so deeply. And when I see injustice, or people being bullied or becoming the butt of a joke for existing, and they’re already being punched down on, it enrages me.

I definitely have had temper flares. But it’s always coming from a place of, even if I’m doing it through humor or sarcasm, there’s a person there. I wouldn’t be able to have thick skin if it wasn’t for my friends, humor, and people talking me through it.

SM: You’ve gotten positive feedback, too. What has that validation meant to you?

MM: It makes me feel like I’ve done something right. It’s very isolating when you’re one of few who speak out on bullshit, but I’ve learned that that’s not the case. I’m not alone. Even hearing you say that, it’s just such validation for me. Not that I need to remind myself that I’m coming from a good place or that I have a good heart, but we all deal with our egos and being hurt.

For me, it wasn’t about leaving country music because I’m so deeply in love with that music. It’s what made me, and it’s the way, quite frankly, I still sing. I can’t knock the twang out of certain syllables. It’s just there whether I’m doing pop or whatever.

It has been a learning experience for me as a public figure, taking criticism and not absorbing it as if it’s your own personality. It’s other people’s reflections of what they think you are, and it has nothing to do with me. And I think I have learned the wisdom of you catch more flies with honey than shit. But other times, I’m like, No, I have zero tolerance for racism and transphobia. I can’t come at you with love on that one.

SM: I think people underestimate how hard it is to disentangle yourself from things that have been such a huge part of your identity.

MM: Obviously I can’t change everyone’s mind; I’m not attempting to do that. But for me and the way I walk in life and my son, I want him to be expressive … They start so young saying stuff that they hear at school or a family member said to them, like, ‘Boys can’t like mermaids,’ or ‘Girls can’t like Spider-Man.’ That’s something my son said a few months ago, and I was like, ‘Who told you that? Girls can like Spider-Man, dude. And boys can like mermaids, and they can like Spider-Man, too.’

It starts so young; he was 3 when he said that. They pick up on societal norms and gender norms that are broken.

He’s so obsessed with color right now. He has a favorite color that’s different every day, and he liked my nails. So, I said, ‘Well, do you want to get some kid nail polish?’ So, he has every color on his nails right now, and I’m sure some people would look at that and be like, You’re shoving your ideology, your woke-ness, down his throat. He’s only 4. I’m like, No, he asked for this.

I think we have to be so aware as mothers, particularly, of what is being fed to them at school or on the playground. It’s exhausting because you’re trying to protect them and inform them. There are also moments where my temper flares, and I’m like, ‘What little shit told you this?’ It’s probably their parents, and they’re just-

KA: Parroting it.

SM: Oh, 100%. Karina, do you feel like fans are seeing the most authentic Maren yet?

KA: Oh my God, yeah. Well, this feels like a renaissance to me. Maren is in an entirely amazing, wonderful, happy, joyous light. I love seeing where she’s at right now. I’m proud of you, and I’m happy for you.

MM: Thank you. I love you. I’m glad that you’ve been there because, from festivals to club shows to theaters to arenas, you’ve seen it all. These Lunatic shows that we’ve done and also this tour I’m doing this summer, it’s just really fan-focused, and I think that’s made me the happiest the last few months and gotten me through some really dark times.

We played the Bowery here in New York a few months ago, and it was sold out in seconds. It’s a small club, but I wanted to go back to these intimate venues where I got my start. That was truly filling the well. I had been drained for so long, and just seeing a bunch of people in an intimate space, playing songs that aren’t just the hits but the deep cuts too — oh my God, it totally rewired my brain. I was like, This is what I fell in love with.

It’s not the growth and filling up bigger capacities of venues and more number ones or streams or whatever you equate success as, but just going back to the roots of why this is so fun — because it wasn’t fun for a second — really fed my soul. I just want to continue that.

I know it’s a different path, and certainly things I’ve left behind for good are being left behind, but everything just feels so much lighter. This book, this sort of era of my personal life, and then I’m working on an album right now… I just feel like, yeah, it’s all looking up.

SM: Do you feel country music could be entering an era where women let go of “the pressure to be palatable“?

MM: Yeah, I think so. And I think it’s getting there. I’ve sort of removed myself from a lot of avenues of the country music industry, but I still watch my friends and I’m so proud of them.

Brittney Spencer is crushing it. I think she’s just a perfect example of someone who is just so authentically themselves and obviously has the talent to boot. She’s performing at the CMT Awards — a few years ago, she was singing backgrounds for another artist at the CMT Awards, and now she’s lighting the stage on fire. And she’s on the Beyoncé record.

I just think she did it her own way, and I’m doing it my own way. I feel like that’s always sort of how we have to go about things. If you follow the formula forever, I’ve seen artists who have done that, and they just don’t seem happy. Sometimes you have to lose stuff to make this work for you again.

Music in general right now is being dominated by women, so I think that’s a good sign that we’re doing a great job. We always have been, but now the change is reflected a little bit more. Obviously country has some work to do on their charts, but there are a ton of women in that medium who are just annihilating it right now. And I like looking on as a fan.

SM: Since you mentioned Beyoncé, what are your thoughts on Cowboy Carter?

MM: Talk about someone who doesn’t care about being palatable. I was floored … because she doesn’t get very personal with us very often. I love that she is putting her heart into these explanations on why she made this album to begin with, out of feeling alienated from this audience. I love Beyonce’s long game because she could have put this out years ago when this happened, but she chose to do it in sections.

Her having the artists she has on this record is so beautifully intentional and thoughtful. And yeah, “Tyrant” is my bop right now. There are just so many. The interpolations of the Beach Boys and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” her cover of “Blackbird,” and the “Jolene” re-imagination. It’s just, like, only she could do all of this.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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