Country Music's Next Big Star ... From Michigan?

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Why you should care

He helped others get the spotlight. Is it his turn now?

Ryan Hurd is a good old-fashioned American, even if he is wearing what’s referred to as a “Canadian tuxedo” — jeans and a jean jacket — when we meet. He loves cruising around on his boat and just bought his first house. Before he speaks, with a Southern twang, he parts his shaggy, overgrown brown hair. “I get to do what my 11-year-old self has always wanted to do,” he says gratefully.

The 30-year-old is referring to what has been a very prolific 2017 so far. In the past six months, Hurd has released an EP, played at SXSW, opened for three major tours and signed an RCA record deal. Rather than singing about tractors and jail, though, Hurd’s brand of country zeros in on drinking and city girls. “He’s able to craft songs that feel modern, but at the same time, there are influences and nuances that remind me of older country or, in some cases, Southern rock,” says journalist Alison Bonaguro, who has written about Hurd for CMT.

Raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Hurd grew up outside of the places that breathe country. But he’s of the “Napster generation,” as he calls it, which burned music from every genre. While Hurd’s teachers gave him B’s and C’s on writing assignments, his mother encouraged him to write creatively. When it came time for college, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and studied sociology. It wasn’t until after completing applications to urban planning programs that Hurd realized he was completely uninterested. Switching his focus to writing country songs with friends, he cut his first deal with singer Jake Owen, who added Hurd’s tracks to two of his albums. From there, Hurd penned hits for Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line and Tim McGraw, among others.

“I always thought I’d be a songwriter in Nashville, and that’s it. Forever,” Hurd says. But then he got some solid advice from Taylor Swift’s first producer: Lay down a track, and if he loved it, lay down vocals, and if he loved that, keep going with the process of becoming an artist. Hurd took the advice, and soon made the leap to singing his own songs.

Today, he has more than 1 million monthly Spotify listeners, and he’s often on the road touring, sometimes with girlfriend Maren Morris, who, as the CMA’s 2016 New Artist of the Year, is country royalty. Hurd has put his hobbies (boating included) on hold for the time being, hoping that if he gets his biggest hits, like “Love in a Bar,” on the radio enough, his album will blow up.

Video by Nat Roe. Text by Libby Coleman.

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