Ryan Hurd

“I’ve released a lot of autobiographical stuff...
Is it real? Or is it true?
There are a lot of pictures, moments, things that happened.
Nobody else is going to write these songs,
but a lot of people may feel them.”

Reflective. Romantic. Ragged in places. Ryan Hurd is an old school singer/songwriter who’s not afraid to put his heart on his sleeve or the line. And if he’s a master craftsman who’s written hits for Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Lady A and Tim McGraw, at his core, he’s a storyteller, whether finding “Love In A Bar,” nursing a broken heart in “Michigan for the Winter” or tracing soulmate ebbs, flows and forever in his sweltering duet with wife Maren Morris, “Chasing After You.”

But it’s the details, the specifics that give Hurd’s own songs their weight. Understanding the sweet spot between the innocence surrendered with coming of age and the greater depths of emerging as a fully formed adult, he understands people actually live in the songs – and he seeks to create a place where roots can descend, dreams can take wing and connections get made.

“I like writing songs that have the whole story in the title,” he say. “Then you explain what happened. Why did you go to Michigan for the winter? A girl named Summer, the why of that? Maren and some others have one word titles, that are anthems. But I have these stories that explore what happened. Once you find your voice as a writer, you really blossom.”

With Hurd’s forthcoming debut album Pelago, that tender stoic sensibility is on full display. Measuring a girl’s truth by her cocktails in the yearning, piano-inflected “What Are You Drinking?” or the negative metaphor pledge of forever on the gently tropial “Palm Trees In Ohio,” he offers a masterclass not just in the devices a songwriter can use to show instead of tell, but a real investment in emotions that most men don’t man up and own.

Are you sitting by yourself in an old hotel bar, looking beautiful
Trying something new with a stranger in a booth, or thinking to the usual
Are you sippin’ on red wine? Are you thinking about old times?
Is it a straight tequila night? Or beer with the girls in a downtown dive
Are you raising up champagne? Is there a tear in your Tanqueray?
Are you heartbroke? Or doing fine?
I wanna know, “What are you drinking tonight?

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, the sloe-eyed artist who evokes bits of Dan Fogelberg, Willie Nelson and early Tom Waits fell in love with music as a kid. His father owned an advertising agency located halfway between Detroit and Chicago; his mother did occupational therapy. Both were musicians, sharing a love of playing with their son.

A Jimmy Eat World fan, with a strong affinity for Wilco, he dreamed of life on a tour bus, playing his songs for people. He didn’t quite know how, but he was determined. Moving to Nashville to study sociology at Belmont University, his bandmate and fellow musico Aaron Eshuis followed his friend a year later.

Like so many seekers of the dream, they fell in with a crowd of young writers. Eshuis got an internship with producer/publisher/songwriter Frank Rodgers. He and Hurd kept collaborating, writing and thinking about how to make songs that made their own mark instead of merely chasing what everyone else was doing.

“We knew we wanted to be in Nashville. Aaron wanted to work in a studio here, so you have to come to Nashville.

“You don’t come here with a plan,” he concedes. ”When you’re 22, 23 years old, you feel like, ‘Why won’t anyone give me a look?’ We had to figure out how to get demos made, get things done, write songs that stand out. But what all that means is you learn to be resourceful, to make things work with what you’ve got.”

Very Midwestern. Conceding he’s a bit of a contrarian, his advisor suggested grad school at Wisconsin or Michigan, “two totally different programs, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger.”

Grad school’s loss was country music’s gain. Beyond his hits for others, Hurd’s thoughtful EPs have delivered the Platinum-certified “To A T,” “Every Other Memory,” “Hold You Back” and current radio smash “Chasing After You.”

“I started as a songwriter, that’s really what I wanted to do. I struggled with the artist thing, thinking it wasn’t 100% what I wanted do – in part because so much of it has nothing to do with the music – but playing shows for people who really want to see you, who really love this music. I realized: there are people who want these songs.”

If HITS sees the warm sweater and old t-shirt voiced writer “occupying terrain somewhere between Jackson Browne/Neil Young and Ed Sheeran/Jason Isbell” and Maxim notes his “alarming combination of down-to-earth approachability and effortless charisma,” finding the artist lane seemed inevitable. Not for the ego soak, but a place where one’s songs can be delivered as they’re written and conceived, Hurd – the reluctant star – found his home.

“If you care about it being successful more than you care about it being good, you’re gonna make some choices that maybe have different consequences in the long run,” he begins. “Instead of finding a flashy producer, I work with Aaron. I write most of my artist stuff with him, too. We grew up together, we’ve stuck it out. He understands.

“A partner who doesn’t put a due date on anything, if you say, ‘I gotta come back to this,’ it doesn’t hurt their feelings. I say, ‘I want to come back with my good brain,’ and he knows emotions like this don’t come simply, they come in time. As a creative partner, he gets that and supports it.”

Emotions like the yearning “June, July, August” or the regret-stained “I Never Said I’m Sorry” offer strength in the loss, but also the wistful pleasure of knowing how good it once was. Happily married to one of country’s most outspoken, genre-smearing superstars, he may not be writing his now, but he remembers.

Roses and cigarettes, that season came and went
Don’t you remember when we were unstoppable
Good night on New Year’s Eve, kissed you out in the street
You smiled and said to me, “Anything’s possible...

“I want people to come have fun, to drink up, have a few beers. That’s what bars are for, why we’re there. But the thing is: I want you to leave with something a little bit more, something inside you that you feel – or think about. Something that stays with you, maybe even turns a light on.”

His deep blue noir “If I Had Two Hearts” deep dives into heartache without regret, while “June, July, August” brings that deeper than summer love truth in the same way Kenny Chesney, who’s name-checked here, evokes the indelible mark a vacation paramour leaves in “Anything But Mine.” Far flung, personal, unadorned, wildly alive to the possibilities, Hurd is the sort of artist who threads broader connection with an intimacy that feels one-on-one whether he’s in an arena or Nashville’s iconic Exit/In. As POLLSTAR reported on his beyond fire code sell-out, “Too dreamy to be garage country, this was an intersection point that’s equal parts Austin’s Cactus Café, Ann Arbor’s Arc and Laurel Canyon’s 70s emergence.”

“I think if you’re a writer, every day you wake up with ideas,” he says of the many careers he embodies. “I have a worldview and that feeds it. Writing’s my vocation, and I enjoy the people I work with. I’ve learned there are a lot of ways to do this. But then there’s the personal. As I move through life, every experience, every person, every story could be a song.

“When you know that, it makes everything wide open. With a world like that, of course you’re going to do this. I’m a big believer that if you only get to do (any of this) one time, then you should do it on your terms. So what do I want it to feel like? How do I want the music to sound? What do I want to leave behind? That’s everything.”

For more information, please contact Cami Operé, Reid Kutrow,
Asha Goodman or Carla Sacks at Sacks & Co., 212.741.1000