Maren Morris talks about the Las Vegas shooting; she played at the festival the night before the massacre. Mark Humphrey AP
Maren Morris talks about the Las Vegas shooting; she played at the festival the night before the massacre. Mark Humphrey AP

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Timothy Finn blogs about Kansas City's music scene

Back to Rockville

Singer Maren Morris talks about Vegas shooting, gun control, women in country music

By Timothy Finn

tfinn@kcstar.com

October 11, 2017 11:48 AM

UPDATED October 11, 2017 02:15 PM

Country music singer Maren Morris performed at the three-day Route 91 Music Fest in Las Vegas on Sept. 30, the night before Stephen Paddock went on a shooting spree from a room in the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 58 people and leaving hundreds wounded and injured.

Morris, 27, who released her major-label debut album, “Hero,” in 2016, won the best country solo performance for the single “My Church” at this year’s Grammys. Her single “I Could Use a Love Song” is No. 15 on this week’s Hot Country Songs chart — making her one of the few women on any country music chart.

Morris performs at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Oct. 26. She recently spoke to The Star about the Las Vegas shootings, the need for a conversation about guns and about the lack of women on the country charts and country radio.

What was it like to wake up that Monday morning to the news of the mass shootings in Las Vegas?

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I was in shock. I was confused and trying to read all the details because at that time there was still a lot of information coming in. But mostly I was in shock. We played the festival and it was such a great show and the festival itself was so much fun and organized.

Security was vast. There was no one walking around backstage without a pass. They were very careful about who was back there. But in the end, it didn’t really matter. It seems like it was the least likely place this could happen.

How has it changed your view of security at shows?

It obviously makes me want to explore it more and tighten it up. It’s a different world, I think. It’s unfortunate you have to even think about those things as a performer or as a fan of music, that you’re going to see a live show and that has to be in the back of your mind. But all we can do is control us and what’s around us and what we’re doing and we just have to be as safe and secure as possible.

You just released a single, “Dear Hate,” in response to the tragedy. How did that come about?

I wrote it with two guys, Tom Douglas and David Hodges. We wrote it after the Charleston (S.C.) shooting. Tom Douglas is an amazing songwriter and in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He had that title “Dear Hate” and we just started listing all the historical things that had happened that were fueled by hatred and even the facet of … self-hatred. So we covered all the bases. … It ended up becoming this really powerful poem.

How has it affected your view on guns and the Second Amendment?

I’m from Texas, and I grew up around guns. I never particularly understood the fascination with them. I don’t feel like they make me feel safer to have them around.

No one who’s a civilian should have access to bump stocks. I just hope this kind of tragedy doesn’t leave people’s mind after the news cycle in a couple of weeks and then no one talks about tightening up gun control.

As a country music artist and someone who loves country music and grew up in it, I hope that artists become braver on their stances with it. … This was our family. These were our fans that were lost because of a guy, who, as far as I know, I’m still reading all the details that are coming out about him, but I don’t think this is a mental-illness debate. … He was very angry and very methodical and very advanced in how he set this entire horrific plan up.

This was so close to home. This has been jarring for everyone, the artists, the songwriters, the whole Nashville community and the country music community. This isn’t about politicizing a tragedy. It’s about waking up when something this horrific goes down and we say, “How do we prevent this from ever happening again?” And that starts with the gun conversation.

I know it’s very polarizing, and for some reason there’s this unwritten stereotype that if you’re in country music or you love country music you are staunchly against gun control. And I think that’s complete bulls***. I think a conversation has to happen, and it starts at home and it starts with our politicians and lawmakers. I never want to see anything like this happen again. My heart is broken for our fans and their families who are reckoning with this.

You are one of the few women artists in country music who is on the charts and gets radio airplay. What’s your reaction to that?

There are so many variables and it’s such a complex situation. I think it’s slowly, very slowly, but surely improving over time. A lot of it is just trends.

I think the problem started when they started siphoning out all female voices until listeners were only used to hearing men on the radio. So if you did play a woman it was unusual to them because they were used to hearing back-to-back dudes for so long. So the initial reaction to that was negative. That kind of change can’t happen overnight.

Having people like Kacey (Musgraves) come through, who has such a strong message and voice and point of view. And Brandy (Clark) and Kelsea Ballerini.

We are all so different from each other but we’re all striving for the same spot. I have a voice and I speak my mind and I’m not the cookie-cutter type when it comes to the country music female. But I think there’s room for all of us.

And I think fans are starting to support us. I think they always have but it’s about letting the trend change. And songs like “My Church” and songs like “My Merry-Go-Round” and “Tin Man”: These songs that have something to say. I think that is what garners you a spot.

I look at the charts, and it’s so bad to see that there are like three women against 50 guys. That’s a problem that needs to change, and I don’t think people understand it is a problem.

A lot of fans turn on the radio and they want to hear something that provides an escape or makes them feel good. They’re not looking at the charts. That’s not their job. But we are looking and we are trying to … change what they’re listening to for the better. I think the most important thing that can happen is having men also stand up for it.

What women artists have influenced you?

I grew up with Kacey and I’ll always look up to her. And obviously Brandy. I love any kind of storyteller. Dolly Parton. Loretta Lynn. Patsy Cline. I grew up listening to that. Women were different then. They were saying things that pushed the envelope. But they didn’t try to sound like anyone else, they didn’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes or walk on eggshells. They had something to say, and that’s why we love them.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Oct. 26 KC concert

Maren Morris will perform Oct. 26 at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland. Ryan Hurd (her fiance) opens. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $20-$28 at midlandkc.com.