In recent times, Maren Morris, has been at something of a crossroads. When I first talked to the Texas-bred, Nashville-based singer-songwriter in 2017, she’d just broken out with her immaculate, country-centered debut album Hero. But thanks to world-shattering collaborations (like the ear-wormy Zedd-produced “The Middle)” and smaller but still noteworthy work with the likes of One Direction’s Niall Horan (“Seeing Blind”) and Thomas Rhett (“Craving You”), Morris appeared to be settling into a comfortable pop-tinged lane— albeit one colored ever-so-slightly by her past country inclinations. Even her massive 2019 follow-up album Girl, was notably highlighted by the pop-leaning smash single, “The Bones.” It seemed likely, that Morris would continue down this glittery pop path for her following LP.
Which makes her new record, Humble Quest, a pleasant swerve.
“It was really organic,” the no-nonsense singer says of her stripped-back, rootsy and undeniably excellent forthcoming new album produced by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters), and co-written with songwriting confidantes including her singer-songwriter husband, Ryan Hurd. A harmonious step back more into her country-leaning origins, Humble Quest completely reorients Morris’ place in the musical landscape.
“It forced me to tap back into the lyric being king,” Morris says. As songwriting sessions were often relegated to Zoom, or requiring a forced quarantine before meeting in person, she wasn’t privy to “all the bells and whistles” found in a major pop-production studio. Instead, Morris says, she started almost every Humble Quest song on acoustic guitar. “It was kind of a relief to be able to do it that way, and just focus on the honesty of whatever we were writing that day.”
The result is some of Morris’ most inspired work yet, from the gentle lilt of “The Furthest Thing” to the country rock lead single “Circles Around This Town” and the down-home “Good Friends.” Above all, making this album, and particularly doing so during such an uncertain time, has centered the singer and eased some of her anxieties around reaching new heights in the music industry. “It was realizing that I’m gonna be OK and this ladder of growth that we are all on in the music industry, of just getting to the next phase and selling out the next size capacity venue and breaking this new record, etc., it’s a very unsustainable ladder to be climbing. I think this pandemic and making this record has allowed me the time to realize that.” GQ talked to Morris about the origins of Humble Quest, writing with her husband, and no longer feeling like an outcast.
GQ: What was your mindset heading into what became Humble Quest?
I had my son in March of 2020, and then the pandemic shut all things down. Naturally, I was not in co-writing rooms starting this project with a bunch of track guys that are doing these heavy layers of synths and vocals and 808s. The songs we were doing were starting on acoustic guitar and vocals. That’s what was starting to shape the sound