"The 'aha' moment was coming to visit my sister and seeing how much music could be a real, possible thing," he told The Boot.
After earning a degree in songwriting from Middle Tennessee State University, the Philadelphia, Mississippi, native landed a publishing deal and serendipitously reunited with Florida Georgia Line. Soon, he was co-writing their hit singles "Simple" and "Talk You Out of It," as well as Morgan Wallen's "Up Down," Chris Lane's "I Don't Know About You," and Blake Shelton's "God's Country."
All the while, his mentors were prodding him to branch out as a recording artist. In 2018, he obliged with the EP This Ole Boy, featuring the tongue-in-cheek country-pride anthem "Rednecker," which has him boasting, "You might think that you're redneck, but I'm rednecker than you."
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was still writing his debut album, A Rock, but the quarantine didn't tame his country swagger or his creativity. The day before its release on September 4, 2020, Hardy - who was recently named the AIMP Nashville Songwriter of the Year - spoke with Songfacts about some key tracks from the album, including "A Rock," "Boots," and "One Beer." He also confirmed a surprising fact: Once upon a time, he didn't even like country music!
Hardy: Well, seven songs were recorded during quarantine - three out of those seven were written and recorded, if that makes sense.
Songfacts: How did that affect you creatively to have to work under a quarantine?
Hardy: Honestly, it was not that bad. I never really felt the pressure. I had gotten really used to Zoom writing, so I just knew there were a few songs left that I needed for the record.
So there wasn't a lot of pressure, just went in and wrote the song. But in the recording process, Joey Moi, my producer, really did a good job of getting everything done because you know the way technology is, it's crazy how they can finish the record. I mean, it's insane. He took the demo and took all the tracks out except for the guitars or whatever and then he would send it to the drummer and the drummer would play real drums and then he would send it back and then he would send the real drum takes to the bass player and then get it back to the guitar player. They put it together in a crazy way but it all came together pretty organically.
Songfacts: At what point did the title track, "A Rock," come about?
Hardy: That was like December or November of last year, 2019. That's when I thought about it and then we wrote it in early December.
Songfacts: Where did the idea for that concept come from? I read that you called it "a stoner idea."
Hardy: Yeah, pretty much. I was just driving down the road and was thinking about all the ways that a rock is important, like how a tombstone is made from a rock, and the roads you drive on a lot of times are made out of tons of rock, and engagement rings are made of rock, and when you think about it, iron comes from a rock, and if there wasn't iron, there wouldn't be pretty much any metal. I know that sounds ridiculous, but then I just wrote down "A Rock" in my phone because I just was like, "That's a weird idea."
Then I was listening to this band called The Airborne Toxic Event, and they have a song - I think it's probably their biggest song - called "Sometime Around Midnight," and the song doesn't have a chorus, it just has like 10 verses. I loved that song so much and I was like, "Man, I want to write a song with no chorus that just tells a story, and it's just verses."
There's been songs like that in history that have done that so that's exactly what we did. I threw out the idea to Jacob [Mitchell] and Smith [Ahnquist], my two buddies, and we just started from the beginning. I explained I wanted to tell the story about life and hook it with a rock and make a rock a significant part of your life. We worked on it really hard and worked on that lyric and it just turned out to be perfect in my opinion - it's exactly how I wanted to write it.
In the popular playground chant "K-I-S-S-I-N-G," children taunt potential couples with the refrain:
[Name] and [Name]
sitting in a tree,
First comes love,
then comes marriage,
then comes the baby
in a baby carriage!
For Hardy's couple, the path to marriage and family isn't quite so linear. He sings:
A boy and a girl and a three on the tree
First comes lust, then the shotgun marriage
Six months later come a baby in a carriage
Songfacts: What was the story behind "Boots"?
Hardy: This one was actually kind of funny. I was in New York City and I had just played as the headliner of my first sold-out show. My girlfriend Caleigh was with me and I was just a tad bit over-served. After the show, I picked her up over my shoulders and was walking down the street. There was this garbage can with a bag that had a bunch of Styrofoam in it, and I picked her up and I didn't throw her, but I laid her down on top of the bag. I was in the dog house big time, as I should have been, and she stayed pretty pissed at me for the rest of the night. Then we got back to the hotel room and I had these really tight, tough-to-get-off python boots, white boots, and she was so mad, so she didn't help me take my boots off.
The next morning we woke up late to catch the train to Washington, D.C. and I was still wearing the clothes I wore the night before. And I just wrote that idea down. I woke up in my boots, and I was like, "How could you make that cool?" I thought, "Oh, I know. What if you knew you were going to get kicked out the next day, so you woke up in your boots. It would give you one less thing to do when she's yelling at you in the morning."
I brought that whole concept into Hillary [Lindsey] and David [Garcia] and we just did it - they went down the writing hole with me.
Songfacts: After listening to the album, I was really surprised to go back and learn that you grew up hating country music. What made you change your mind about the genre?
Hardy: Well, let's say I didn't hate it, even though that might be true for a lot of country music, but I just didn't like it at all. I'm not going to lie - the music just wasn't my thing. But then Eric Church, his music and a lot of his lyrics, and then Brad Paisley's lyrics, those were game-changers for me. I was like, "Oh, this is cool." I liked how Brad did his thing with his lyrics and Eric, that Chief record especially was the one where I was like, "Ok, if this is country music, I can do this the rest of my life because I absolutely love this."
Songfacts: Yeah, I remember what stood out to me back then about Brad Paisley was that wordplay he would do, and that's what I notice in a lot of your songs, too.
Hardy: Yeah, I was definitely in the early years inspired by that kind of wordplay.
Songfacts: Before we wrap up, what advice would you give to aspiring songwriters?
Hardy: One main one, especially if you're trying to make it in the industry, is just keep being good to people and respectful and nice. That comes back to you for sure. Just know that your time is coming, and stay respectful and just trust the process.
I know it's really easy to get frustrated sometimes, but I think if you're a good person and you're good with the people you work with, that goes a long way. When you put that out in the universe, it will come back to you.
September 10, 2020
More Hardy on Instagram and at hardyofficial.com. Here are some other interviews with country songwriters we love:
More Songwriter Interviews