Just two years ago, HARDY was well on his way to becoming one of Nashville’s most prolific, sought-after songwriters. He held a degree in the craft from Middle Tennessee State University and was racking up hits writing with and for artists like Chris Lane, Morgan Wallen and Florida Georgia Line. In fact, he was so focused on honing his songwriting skills that any aspirations he held to perform landed squarely on the back burner.
However, FGL bandmates Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley had other ideas. They recognized HARDY’s talent and brought him out on tour in 2018, hoping to give him a taste of what might be possible for him as an artist. The duo began to informally mentor and use their superstar status to champion HARDY and other young artists that they believed in.
Wallen was another artist whose talents got the attention of the superstar duo early on. He’d had some success with his 2017 debut single, “The Way I Talk,” but he got a major career boost when FGL appeared as guest vocalists on his breakthrough hit and first No. 1, “Up Down,” a song HARDY co-wrote.
Through their work with FGL and with each other, HARDY and Wallen have since toured together, recorded together and become good buddies — but HARDY says it all started in a pretty simple setting.
“I didn’t know Morgan at all. I’d never met him before, until the day I sat in a room and wrote with him. You get to know somebody [through writing together], you know?” HARDY tells Country Now. “I feel like the perfect ice breaker to building a relationship is sitting in a room with somebody for four hours and being creative with that person.”
HARDY’s talent for building musical friendships speaks for itself. His 2019 release, Hixtape Vol. 1, boasts a whopping 17 guest artists, spread across 10 tracks. Keith Urban, Joe Diffie, Thomas Rhett, Trace Adkins and Dustin Lynch were just a few of the acts to lend their voices to the project.
That wasn’t originally the plan. At the outset, HARDY says, he wanted to cut four tracks for Hixtape. He thought Wallen might duet with him on the two songs they’d written together for the record. Additionally, he decided to get in touch with some other artists he’d written with before — Lynch, Rhett, Urban and Cole Swindell — to gauge their interest in featuring on a track.
“All those people were people I had written with, or gotten to know in some way, so I just started texting them,” he explains. “…And literally everybody I asked said yes. Insane. And that’s what started it.”
There were a few others who wound up being part of Hixtape that HARDY contacted through the help of his label — the legendary artists, for example, like Adkins and Tracy Lawrence — but he’s proud that so many of the featured artists were people he already knew personally.
“Honestly, that was one of those moments where I realized how truly blessed I am to be able to have all these relationships because there were so many that I was able to just ask myself,” he reflects.
HARDY’s Hixtape duets aren’t just testaments to the power of collaboration, though; they’re also serious ammo for big moments during the singer’s live set. In 2020, HARDY is planning to tour with two of the artists featured on the project. In March, he’s opening for Swindell’s headlining tour, and later in the summer, both he and Swindell will join Rhett’s Center Point Road Tour. Having both artists on hand will offer ample possibilities for HARDY to bring them on stage for live renditions of their Hixtape team-ups. In fact, he and Rhett have already had a little practice.
“Actually, Thomas — when he played Bridgestone, in Nashville [in October 2019], I went out and did ‘Nothin’ Out Here’ with him,” HARDY recalls. “That was cool. That was insane, actually…It all just went so fast that after the fact, I was just like, ‘What the hell happened?! What was the last ten minutes of my life?’”
On the longer stint ahead of him, HARDY looks forward to growing his live show in front of Rhett’s crowd. “I just wanna make sure that we’re out there and we’re loud, and that we really blow them away,” he adds.
“Because I’m not so sure that Thomas Rhett fans translate as my fans. But my goal is to make them my fans by the end of the night,” he explains. In many ways, the two artists cover different ground in their country careers, but HARDY says there’s plenty of room for crossover appeal — and he can’t wait to find it.
“I’m a competitive guy, so I take that challenge. I’ll take it seven days out of the week. Because I wanna win people over,” he notes.
The title of Hixtape Vol. 1 implies that a Vol. 2 may be in the works, though HARDY says the next chapter of Hixtape might still be a ways off — but not because he’s not in the studio.
“I’m currently working on a record,” he says. “Whereas a Hixtape is different than a record. A Hixtape is a lot of lifestyle songs, songs that are fitting for a collaboration — it’s just a little different.
“I guess what I mean is that maybe not this year, but hopefully next year [I’ll put out another Hixtape.] Who knows? Maybe this year. I have no idea,” he adds. “I think right now we have enough songs to do a Hixtape Vol. 2, but I will say this: Eventually, absolutely, yes, there will be another one.”
So, what’s the difference between a Hixtape and a “real” record? “A lot of the stuff on the record so far is a little deeper,” HARDY reveals. “I’m gonna have a couple of my songs unleash my quirky redneck self, but as a songwriter, I do have a serious side, and some things I wanna talk about that aren’t really a party…Not that the whole album is gonna be depressing, or anything like that, but it’s just a little more serious.”
It makes sense that HARDY would want to lean into his songwriter side: That’s how he started his career. Though he’s now writing material for himself, he still pitches plenty of songs to other recording artists, and the singer says he thinks he always will. Take “God’s Country,” for example, which HARDY co-wrote with Devin Dawson and Jordan Schmidt. The song became a massive, career-changing song for Blake Shelton, who has said that its impact was so momentous that before he released it, he thought his career might be about to fizzle out.
“I’ve heard that before, and honestly, it’s just hard to process,” HARDY admits, explaining that from the inside of the Nashville songwriting community, it’s easy to lose sight of just how much impact a song can wield. “Like, I am a huge fan of Blake — ever since I moved to Nashville. To hear him or anybody else say that [a song I wrote] rejuvenated his career, that it’s a big song in his career, is just absolutely insane to me.”
Considering the impact one song can have on a large scale can be pretty mind-blowing. On a small scale, though, songwriting is the everyday magic that has helped HARDY forge friendships and build his career.
“People like Morgan and Thomas Rhett and those people, [I] quickly learned that those people were like [me], and [I] could actually be friends with this person,” he adds. “For me at least, most of my relationships have started in the writing room.”