The past couple of years have transformed Laine Hardy’s life, introducing him to stardom, success and Nashville’s world-class community of songwriters — but the stories that are at the core of his songs haven’t changed all that much.
In 2019, Hardy became American Idol’s Season 17 champion. Shortly afterward, he arrived in Music City and teamed with renowned country producer Michael Knox. He started booking songwriting sessions with some of the best-known members of the industry, honing his chops as a writer and gathering outside cuts for a new project.
In the spring of 2020, he shared the first two results of that period of hard work: “Ground I Grew Up On” and “Let There Be Country.” And while the songs reflect the 19-year-old singer-songwriter’s evolution, they still circle back to the same subjects he’d been singing about for years: His home state of Louisiana, and his experience of growing up in a small town.
“These two songs just describe who I am and how I grew up,” Hardy explains to Country Now.
Fans who’ve delved into the singer’s pre-Idol discography can attest to the fact that that subject matter is nothing new. In 2018, Hardy self-released an EP called In the Bayou, a three-song celebration of his Louisiana lifestyle. The singer says that his hometown will always be a permanent fixture in his songwriting style, no matter where he travels or where his music is recorded.
“Where I’m from is just burnt into who I am,” he reflects. “It’s a permanent thing. It’s always gonna be there. And it’s what makes me happy. It’s where I get my inspiration. So all my influences come from Louisiana, and that’s what I put into my music.”
That point is underscored, not only in the new songs themselves, but also in the music video for “Ground I Grew Up On,” which Hardy recorded in his hometown. In fact, the truck he’s driving in the clip is his own.
“Yup, that was my old truck I had in high school,” he confirms with a laugh. “What’s cool about that video is that it took one day to do, and it was a fun day. We got to do all the things I grew up doing, and all the things I still do. So that day was just full of a lot of fun and excitement…and we got to go drive my old truck around town.”
Though Hardy wrote and co-wrote extensively for his new batch of music, both of the just-released songs are actually outside cuts. “Ground I Grew Up On” was co-written by Brett Beavers, Brandon Kinney and Josh Thompson, while “Let There Be Country” was penned by Jason Afable, Tim Nichols and Steve Moakler.
“I was in Nashville for three months straight, writing Monday to Friday, and I got these songs shown to me,” Hardy remembers. “I really enjoyed [‘Ground I Grew Up On’] because it just spoke to me, in a lot of different ways.”
Spending time in Music City had more advantages than just serving as a crash course in songwriting for the young artist: He also had cuts penned by the industry’s greatest writers at his fingertips.
“I figured they have all these amazing songwriters in Nashville — why not, you know what I mean?” he points out, adding that for a young artist just finding his stride in the industry, every session he spent with seasoned veterans was transformative.
“It was basically my first time in Nashville, and I didn’t even know where to start…When I started going to these writes and stuff, I would learn something new every day, and apply it to the next day, and just keep on going” Hardy continues. “[Some of the most important lessons I learned during that time were] just to write from your heart. And don’t stay on one idea too long. That’s what I’m still learning.”
Early on in his stint in Nashville, Hardy also teamed with producer Michael Knox, who is known for his work with artists like Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry and Trace Adkins.
“Right when I met him, I knew that I wanted him to produce the music,” Hardy explains of his partnership with Knox. “He’s just easygoing, and he keeps everything simple. He just listens to my opinions, and we meet right in the middle. He’s really easy to work with, and he’s a great guy.”
While the young singer’s thematic vision has been clear from the start, he needed a boost from a veteran producer when it came to the songs’ production style. That’s where Knox came in.
“My vision was all kind of unorganized,” he admits. “When I told Mr. Michael my ideas that were all unorganized, he put ‘em into one [cohesive project] and made it for me. That helped out a lot.”
Even though his musical inspirations came from a pretty simple place — his home state — his style still depended on a blend of different sonic elements. That’s especially apparent in “Let There Be Country,” a tune that Hardy chose in part because of how perfectly it represented the different genres of music he listened to during his formative years.
“Just all the old classic rock, from the ‘50s all the way to the ‘70s, is what I grew up listening to. And that song is just rocking,” he says, going on to add that his family listened to a wide variety of music — not just traditional country — when he was a kid.
“They listened to country, blues, classic rock, all that stuff. I just picked my favorites, and that’s what I always listened to,” Hardy recalls.
As his star has risen over the past couple of years, Hardy’s musical sentiments may have stayed steadfast — but that doesn’t mean his experiences on Idol and beyond haven’t shaped him. On the contrary, the singer says, his experiences with stardom have tested his resolve to pursue music, and left him more certain than ever before that he’s meant to be a country artist.
“I didn’t want to chase music professionally or seriously at first. I just started digging into music and then I started to love it,” he remarks. “Throughout the years, I had ups and downs with my music. Sometimes I didn’t want to do it, but then I started to realize that I love it, and this is what I’m happy doing.
“Music is just what I love to do,” he adds.