Interview: Hardy’s ‘A Rock’ Shares His Smart Country Songwriting
Hardy's basement looks like a pretty sweet spot to relax. Camouflage wallpaper covers the walls, and Christmas lights line the ceiling's perimeter. "Call Me Old Fashioned" reads a print featuring the drink of the same name; another, a photograph turned into a cartoon, shows the singer and songwriter flipping off the camera.
"It's my bar, so I can do what I want," Hardy explains of the gift from his girlfriend Caleigh.
A large neon arrowhead, left over from a photoshoot, glows on another wall. It's surrounded by dozens of tour passes: souvenirs from Hardy's time on tour, both when he's gone on the road to write with other acts and when he's been out as a performer himself.
The room is polished — this isn't some frat house basement bar — but with a light touch of redneck, which is also an apt description of Hardy's songwriting. His debut single, 2019's "Rednecker," much like the No. 1 hits he co-wrote for Morgan Wallen ("Up Down") and Blake Shelton ("God's Country"), shows an artist with a knack for smart, but accessible, songwriting. The 12 songs on his debut album, A Rock, further that picture.
"Aside from the actual lyrics themselves, the way they sound is something that you can actually pay attention to and try a little extra to make them sound like that," explains Hardy, who has a degree in songwriting from Middle Tennessee State University. He loves how assonance and alliteration — both types of of sound repetition — can elevate a line, "but I don't know, man, I don't really know where that comes from," he adds with a laugh.
The rowdy, sing-a-long chorus of "Unapologetically Country as Hell" — a Hardy, Jake Mitchell, Nick Donley and Smith Ahnquist co-write — is a perfect example of that style: "My truck's where my money goes / Got buck blood on my Sunday clothes / And directions to a honey hole / That I'll never tell / And I know it's redneck of me / Lettin' moonshine get the best of me / But I'm unapologetically country as hell," he sings, leading a chorus of voices that may as well be joining in with a dive bar jukebox.
"You just find a way to say it, and sometimes it sounds cool," Hardy reflects. "There's just something about finding the internal rhymes and making sure you rhyme words within the line that makes a regular line sound a lot cooler."
He makes it look easy, but that particular chorus took Hardy a day to write. (That said, he did it while up in a deer stand.)
"That takes time," he says, "because that's the stuff that people remember and they gravitate to."
Hardy has a knack for saying things just the slightest bit differently than another writer might. In the regret-filled "Ain't a Bad Day," it's the phrase "drank that bar out of bottom shelf;" in Cole Swindell's new single, "Single Saturday Night," it's a casual, timely White Claw reference. He's a literal student of songwriting, and an admirer of plenty of iconic songwriters, but he's been able to rise through the ranks without being derivative.
"To not sound like you're on top of somebody [style wise], I think is just — I don't know, that's a really good question," he reflects. "I guess, when I do it ... You just have to make something your own. It's okay to be inspired by something; you just can't redo that exact thing or it's not creative."
"Boyfriend" is another highlight of A Rock, thanks to the twist in its chorus:
"It's all about what words you put emphasis on," Hardy notes, explaining that, as he was writing the song, he was highlighting certain words and phrases in each verse to hint at what's really on the protagonist's mind. "But in music, that's what's cool about writing hooks," he continues. "You just say it, and it tricks people."
A Rock is heavier, sonically, than fans may expect from Hardy if they're most familiar with "Rednecker" and his collaboration with Devin Dawson and Lauren Alaina, "One Beer." He's a rock fan (he donned a Deftones tee for our conversation), and when he and producer Joey Moi got into the studio together, they leaned into their mutual love of loud guitars and big melodies.
"We're just very unapologetic about it ... and he loves it," Hardy says of Moi, who produced a number of uber-successful Nickelback albums before striking it big in country music as Florida Georgia Line's go-to producer. "We have the same music brain about what we want it to sound like, so it's perfect."
A Rock arrived Friday (Sept. 4).