Photo of Hardy by Tanner Gallagher
w/ Jameson Rodgers and Blame My Youth | 04.27.23, 7:45pm | The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. | All ages | $54.75–$64.75 (sold out)
It is an inescapable fact that country music is one of the most popular genres across the United States, dominating album sales and streaming services. Light acoustic guitar picking accentuated with distinctive southern vocals tell familiar stories of love, heartbreak, and rural lifestyles. Whether you are driving down the road or shopping in a supermarket, there always seems to be a catchy country song in the background creating ambience and lightening the air around you. Then came Michael Wilson Hardy.
Born and raised in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, HARDY has many similarities to other country music icons. With his thick southern accent and affinity to hunting, fishing, and big trucks, he readily fits the genre. While southern twang and alternative rock have allied and blurred lines in the past, no one has come close to the manner in which HARDY has done it. HARDY adds an unapologetic abrasive grit to country music, dropping F-bombs and emptying his lungs with metallic screams, fusing genres together into something uniquely his own.
HARDY began his career in the studio helping other country artists modernize their sound until he emerged from their shadows in 2018 with his EP release This Ole Boy, followed by a tour with his good friend Morgan Wallen. In addition to writing for Wallen, HARDY has also produced hits for big names including Florida Georgia Line, Chris Lane, and Blake Shelton. Following his debut EP, HARDY went all-in in 2019, releasing an additional EP (Where to Find Me), a hit single (“Rednecker”), and a collaborative mixtape called Hixtape Vol. 1 featuring seventeen popular country music artists including Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Trace Adkins and even Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde. HARDY received his first CMA nomination that year for “God’s Country,” which he co-wrote with Devin Dawson and Jordan Schmidt, followed by a 2021 CMA nomination for New Artist of the Year. He released his debut full length album, A ROCK, in September of 2020. His success has continued to grow, and earlier this month HARDY nabbed his first CMT award for his music video “Wait in the Truck,” a collaboration with Lainey Wilson. The single came from his most recent album, the mockingbird & THE CROW, which was released in January of this year to rave reviews.
HARDY embarked on a cross-country tour promoting his newest album in February, with one of the final dates bringing him to St Louis. Erica Vining and Colin Williams of The Arts STL recently sat down with the artist to discuss the tour, upcoming plans, and some exciting projects.
Erica Vining: First off, congrats on the mockingbird and THE CROW. This album is blowing up and the half-rock/half-country thing is genius. We’re headed to Welcome to Rockville in May and you’re on that lineup opening for Avenged Sevenfold despite being new in the genre. What would you tell those people coming to the festival who aren’t super familiar with who HARDY is yet?
HARDY: First of all, it’s crazy that we’re on the bill and we’re in the slot that we have. I’ve been to a lot of rock shows in my life and I can confidently say that we bring it and we’re going to perform like we really deserve to be there. We just want to give it hell for those guys and earn our keep because I’m really thankful to even be considered in the rock category, and to be one of the younger up-and-comers in the rock world. I feel like we have something to prove and we’re going to prove it to the rock world this year in general.
Colin Williams: Like Erica said earlier, we will see you in April at the Pageant. You kind of have your own little twist on country where you punctuate verses and choruses with that metal feel and screams, what made you decide to do that? What was your inspiration to take a country song and make it heavy?
HARDY: The heavy guitars and stuff, that just kind of came into its own. I had a song on my last record A ROCK called “Boots” and that song was my first attempt at really dipping my toes in the water of rock ‘n roll to see how it would go. It went great live and was really well received so I just decided to keep pushing that envelope because that’s the music I grew up with. I really want to put my own spin on it because it’s what I love, and what I think would be cool if I was listening to it. The scream thing happened as an accident, the first screaming I ever did was writing “Sold Out.” I’d just gotten off the road after 23 days straight and my buddy David Garcia had written the intro guitar part and knew I was getting ready to try writing some heavier stuff. When I got into the booth to sing it, I got to the sold-out part and my voice was super raspy. I tried to sing it really high and it came out as a straight up scream and I thought, “Oh man, that was it.” David hits pause and says “Bro, do that again, do it like 5 times.” From there I sort of learned to scream, it was born that day.
Erica: That’s such a cool story because it’s become the thing that makes HARDY different from everyone else. The fact it came about as almost an accident, I think that’s awesome.
HARDY: Yeah, it was a blessing because it really was an accident. I’d attempted it in the past but for some reason that day the timing was right and my voice was shit and it was perfect. I kind of figured out how to do it when my voice was in good shape but it took my voice being super-tired to figure out that I could go there.
Erica: You were a songwriter first; you’ve written some huge hits. The first time I heard “God’s Country” by Blake Shelton I turned it up and I’m not even a country fan. You co-wrote that song, you’ve written for Florida Georgia Line, Morgan Wallen, so many others. When did you realize you’d rather be on stage versus behind the scenes writing?
HARDY: I don’t know if I have yet. I don’t know, my goal in town was to just be a songwriter. All I wanted to do was write hits for other people, and then in 2018 I had written “Up Down” and it went #1, it was Morgan Wallen’s first big hit. My record label Big Loud who had Florida Georgia Line, Chris Lane, Morgan Wallen, all these people I was writing songs for, they kept calling me. Seth England who runs the label kept saying, “Man, just consider signing a deal with us,” but I didn’t know if that was something I want to do. Then Joey Moi called me and was like, “Dude, I have no skin in the game but I want you to know if you ever want to put out a record, I’d love to produce you” and I just I saw the opportunity present itself so many times I felt like I should take it. So, I made the switch. I won’t really say switch because I still write songs for other people, but I jumped right into it and said I don’t want to get 30 years down the road and regret having turned this opportunity down and never know what would come from it.
Colin: Man, we’re glad you did. You mentioned in previous interviews that your dad is a big influence on your music. Set the scene for me, how did you listen to music with your dad?
HARDY: It was all riding down the road. My dad was a chicken farmer my whole childhood, even into high school, and we would always have to ride into the farm. His farm was 20 minutes outside of town and we would listen to music back and forth, and he still to this day is always playing music. I’m talking 3, 4, 5 years old just learning everything, Aerosmith, ZZ Top was a big one, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, all that classic rock stuff dads listen to. We had some in the house too but this was before Bluetooth speakers, so the only time you heard it was on stereo in the house or stereo in the car. I spent a lot of time in the truck with my dad listening to that stuff.
Erica: Family is super important. You just got married recently, congrats! Have you found it difficult to balance family with being on tour?
HARDY: We just got married so I’ve only played maybe 20 shows since, which isn’t a ton. She and I have done a great job of getting together and looking at my schedule, finding gaps and planning out trips and down time. We do a really good job of blocking that out. We stay on top of it so we don’t get overwhelmed with not seeing each other. The national format is out Thursday through Saturday, and you’re back in town Sunday through Wednesday so we get to see each other four or five days out of the week. Sometimes she’s on the road with me, too, so it feels more normal than you’d think. There are crazy times like festival season where I could be gone two weeks solid, or award show time where it’s hectic and stressful, so we just try to take moments to ourselves and remind each other that we’re married and we have each other and to not let any of this crazy stuff get to us. So far, we’ve done a really good job with it.
Colin: You’re a Mississippi boy, and anyone who has heard anything from you know you like to hunt. We’re at the bottom if Illinois so we know about the hunting life, they even close schools here on opening day. Would you do a show on the season opener, or are you out of commission during that time?
HARDY: [laughs] No, I would do a show, man. I love it, I really love it. I have my times, like rut in Tennessee is towards the end of November, so I block that off. About a month in January, I go hunt in Mississippi, too. I go get my fix and then I’m good. I know when I’m going and I have that to look forward to, and if I can squeeze in a few hunts here and there between times, I’m happy, but again I just block it ahead of time and know exactly when I’m going to go and I work up to that point.
Erica: What’s your favorite game to hunt?
HARDY: White-tailed deer for sure, and I’m a big bass fisher. I love to bass fish. I try to go south and do some in-shore speckled trout and redfish and saltwater fishing too, but whitetail is what I’ve liked to hunt my whole life.
Erica: I hunt them with my car every year. We were laughing earlier reading an article about your song “30-0.6” and the inspiration behind it. We’re also both lefties living in a right-handed world, so I felt your pain when you talked about your left-handed gun you wrote the song about.
HARDY: Oh man, yeah, I had this guy reach out to me from Mississippi through Instagram and he builds these badass custom rifles. I told him I’ve always hunted with a 30-0.6, just go crazy with it, but I forgot to tell him I’m left-handed. I go to meet up with him and I get the gun, and he says “look through the scope and check it out.” I pick up the scope and look through on my left shoulder and his face just completely drops and he says, “Are you fucking left-handed?” So right then I was like man it doesn’t matter that much, but it was just funny because it’s a thing, lefties are definitely forgotten out here.
Erica: It really is a harder life for lefties! We love listening to you on Octane, they love you on Sirius. Any big collaborations coming up you can talk about or any songs you have out you wish they would play more?
HARDY: You know, I’m just happy they’re playing what they’re playing. I will say, I’m starting to make some friends in the rock community and there may be some stuff coming soon. I just might be in the works with a pretty popular current rock band from Ohio, and that’s all I can say, but I’m excited. I’m looking to do some really big collabs over the next year with some rock guys, really jumping into this world a little more. | Erica Vining & Colin Williams
The show has been sold out for months, but if you were lucky enough to snag a ticket you can bet the show on April 27th will be packed with a mix of y’allternative concertgoers. Remaining tour dates can be found below:
04.27.23 | St. Louis, Mo. | The Pageant
04.28.23 | Oklahoma City, Okla. | The Criterion
04.29.23 | Irving, Texas | The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory
All dates supported by Jameson Rodgers + Blame My Youth