About Ryan Hurd:
Platonic EP takes Ryan Hurd’s relationship with his fans to the next level and solidifies his unique approach to country. The five-song collection is vivid, reflective, and laden with lyrics that are cinematic, scene-setting images that transport and deliver a genuine vulnerability capped by irresistible melodies.
The Nashville-based artist/songwriter whose brand of country is just a sliver outside the norms of Music Row, is a rough-cut romantic. He embodies the new masculine — simultaneously amiable and focused, respectful and edgy, commanding and supportive. There’s a lot of complexity wrapped up in Hurd, who’s balanced his budding RCA Nashville recording career with a songwriting portfolio that includes hits by Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, and more.
Hurd didn’t necessarily set out on that path – getting his name on theater marquees was not his original intent – but by following his inner voice, he’s become a Next Big Thing contender, lauded by the likes of Rolling Stone, Pandora, VEVO, CMT, Maxim, and Esquire while performing for capacity crowds at some of music’s iconic showrooms: The Troubadour in Los Angeles, Bowery Ballroom in New York City, and The Exit/In in Nashville, just for starters.
“I kind of have already done everything in country music, and I’m still a brand new artist,” he said with profound appreciation. “I’ve written hit songs, I’ve been to all the awards shows with Maren Morris, and I’ve gotten to tour with Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line and Old Dominion. It’s sort of like I’ve already experienced what it means to be an artist in Nashville.”
A self-titled 2017 EP, the re-release of Panorama, a four-song EP of refreshed songs from his early songwriting days, and a series of later tracks demonstrate his evolving persona including his current single and a “stripped” version of “To A T,” “Michigan For the Winter,” and “Her Name Was Summer.” With more than 275 million worldwide career streams, Platonic, which includes “To A T,” is the obvious next step in Hurd’s evolution from songwriter to full-fledged artist.
Those early threads show Hurd to be a bit of a modern-day Dan Fogelberg, a smart songwriter with a conversational, almost-fragile voice and a subtle gift for getting right to the core of human motivations.
“Most people go on stage and the live show is larger than life,” Hurd observed. “Sonically, it’s bigger than the record, and the artist is so good at pumping up a crowd. But my show is all about connecting with you.”
None of this was part of the plan for Hurd, who was – like Fogelberg – born in Illinois. Hurd made his debut in Chicago, though he grew up on the other side of Lake Michigan in Kalamazoo, raised by a father who worked in advertising and a mother who earned her paycheck as an occupational therapist. Both parents dabbled in music in their spare time – Dad sang in the church choir, and Mom played piano, and they even created a makeshift recording studio in the basement of their modest home.
“It was not anything that you would look at and think, ‘Oh, that’s a studio,’” Hurd recalled. “It was just a little computer room that had an interface and a bunch of instruments laying around.”
Hurd cut his musical teeth playing drums and listening to rock bands – Jimmy Eat World and Wilco were personal favorites – and to country music on the radio. The wordplay and identifiable choruses created by Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley formed something of a template as Hurd developed crude recording techniques in that home studio with Aaron Eshuis, a friend who likewise found his way to Nashville and ultimately became Hurd’s producer and creative collaborator.
“A lot of the music that we started making was in the structure of country music, very hook-based,” Hurd said. “I’ve always just been attracted to the way that country songs are put together.”
Hurd and Eshuis played in a local band in Michigan, though Hurd planned to put music behind him when he went away to college. He studied sociology and economics at Belmont University in Nashville where he quickly fell into a band and toured a bit his freshman year.
When Eshuis enrolled at Belmont a year later, the two became running buddies with a few other songwriters who were soon to make waves in Music City: Joey Hyde (who co-wrote The Swon Brothers’ “Later On” with Hurd), Matt McGinn (“Heaven,” “What Ifs”), and indie singer/songwriter Steve Moakler.
“I had that network of people around me who were all extremely talented, and I figured out that songwriting is a job that you can actually make money from,” Hurd said. “You don’t have to go on the road. You don’t have to be the best singer or the best artist, just a good writer.”
Hurd got a half-time job doing research each day until 11:00 AM, leaving him free to focus on songwriting the rest of the day, and he grew fairly quickly. He signed with Universal Music Group Publishing, then landed a series of key cuts – with Jake Owen, Dierks Bentley, and Rascal Flatts – plus a progression of singles: Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight,” Lady Antebellum’s “You Look Good,” and Luke Bryan’s “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset.”
He met his musical muse and partner Maren Morris in a songwriting room in 2013. They wrote a Tim McGraw song, “Last Turn Home,” that marked her first writing credit for a major artist, and their professional friendship soon blossomed into a romance. Hurd then recorded Panorama handing out 500 copies to ticket holders who came out to see a concert he did with Morris and fellow Nashvillian Ryan Beavers. The show, and the disc, made an impact. He got a manager, a booking agent, and soon picked up his recording deal with Sony Music Nashville. Hurd turned to Eshuis – who’s produced Scotty McCreery and written songs for Cole Swindell and Kid Rock – as his producer.
Morris’ career took off shortly after that same show, and their relationship became one of his musical motivators. “Love In A Bar,” is a story derived straight from their early meet-ups, “Diamonds Or Twine,” which was written as an engagement present for Morris, uses a simple household item to convey a scratchy lifetime commitment, and she sings background on “To A T,” which shows signs of becoming Hurd’s first solo hit with a hauntingly synthetic arrangement and sexually-charged intimacy. The song is climbing the country charts and has already reaching No. 1 on SiriusXM The Highway’s Hot 30 Countdown.
“I’ve written for her album, and she’s written for mine, and she sings with me a lot,” he said. “You kind of can’t tell my story without her.”
Performing live has been a natural extension of that progression. Hurd first hit the road in 2017 with Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line, helping to build his fan base and his comfort as a solo artist – rather than a member of the band. He took most of 2018 off the road, but the two shows he did play put him in a more stripped-down setting. He realized that his best form of expression relied less on big-personality entertainment and more on simple relationship with the audience.
“I’m not a great guitar player by any means, but somehow putting on an electric guitar that fit my body, it just felt like a missing piece,” he explained. “I played in London, and I played in Mexico, and it felt like those two shows turned it around.”
The music he’s recorded in the meantime has similarly helped Hurd find his musical center, which subtly reveals his personal power. It takes strength to purposely let down your emotional guard – particularly on a public stage – and Hurd’s songs invariably reveal his longing for connection and his commitment to growth and personal truth.
The “To A T” video provides even more insight into Hurd’s view of the world. Its romantic atmosphere shines a light on a series of couples – young lovers, an older husband and wife, an interracial pairing, and two lesbians – putting Hurd’s brand of country in an expansive, forward-leaning landscape. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but it is most definitely intentional.
“It doesn’t feel radical,” he said. “It just feels like a very 2019 form of human love and expression. I think it’s a cool time in country music. There’s more discourse now than there ever has been about our genre and what it means to be a country music artist and fan, and what it means to be on the radio.”
And with songs like “Half Hoping,” “Florida With A Girl,” “Wish For the World,” the title cut, and “To A T” on Platonic EP, Hurd demonstrates that he can stand out from the pack by simply being himself.
“I’m putting out weightier songs and writing weightier songs than I ever have,” he said. “The more honest I’ve gotten with my music and what we release, the more the music really translates.”
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