Michael Hardy (known on stage as simply Hardy) moved to Nashville at 19-years-old with dreams of becoming a songwriter. He had grown up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town of about 8,000 not known for much beyond Marty Stuart and casinos. But it didn’t take long for him to make some noise, penning songs for Florida-Georgia Line and Morgan Wallen among others.
Earlier this year, he landed a hit of his own with “Rednecker.” The first concert he attended was Aerosmith in Birmingham, Alabama in 1999. Now, the 28-year-old returns for the third performance of his own in the Magic City. He talked about getting out of Philadelphia, Stuart and the Southern foods that he’s eaten.
Was the goal always to be a songwriter or did you think you’d end up on this side of the microphone one day? Was that the ultimate goal?
I think it was always in the back of my mind. But I definitely moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. It was kind of back-and-forth. There were times where I thought I would do it; then I decided not to and then finally, about a year ago, I just jumped right in.
You were writing for close to ten years before making that jump, I guess…
Yeah. Professionally, I had been writing for six years or so. I’ve been writing since the day I moved to Nashville, so it has been a little over nine [years] now, which is crazy.
The little northwest Alabama town I grew up in is actually smaller than your town…
[laughs] I get that a lot.
The most famous person from your town is Marty Stuart. How much of an influence did he have on your childhood?
I remember when I was really young listening to some of his records. It was a really cool thing.
Were you aware of that as a kid? Did you know he was from Philadelphia?
Oh yeah. Everybody knew that. He was the biggest thing from Philadelphia. Everybody knew Marty. Everybody knew who he was. I don’t know if he influenced me a ton musically, because I listened to a lot of rock and roll and stuff growing up. But definitely – if there’s one thing that I think was a really cool, driving force in the way that he influenced me, it was that he grew up in the same town I did. So success is definitely attainable if another guy just like me, that did the same thing I did, can be crazy successful. It can be done. If anything, he helped put that in my head. This is definitely possible. You can come from a small town and grow up and do big things.
What would you be doing right now if you weren’t writing songs and singing them?
That’s the God’s honest truth. Probably cutting grass. I don’t know. I honestly have no idea, but I’d want to be doing something outside; if it was some kind of forestry thing or something, I don’t know. But honestly, I think the real answer is cutting grass. And I’d be grinning ear-to-ear, too. I love cutting grass so much. It’s like my favorite thing ever.
You look completely different on the cover of the EP than you do now. How and when did that makeover happen?
[laughs] I would say that was a little bit of my creative freedom – not being taken away from me at all, but just trying to figure it out. I’ve definitely gotten my look dialed in, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know if that first EP cover was exactly what I wanted to look like. Here I am now, and I’m definitely sticking with what I’m going with now. It was just a different time. I had just signed this record deal, chopped all my hair off so my hair was short and it just took a little time to come into my own. And that was just before I had done that. It’s part of it. Happens to a lot of people.
Where do you get your hats? I’m personally a big fan of your “Run the [Expletive] Ball” hat.
[laughs] I got that one in Athens [Georgia]. Some little store there had them, and I saw it and thought, “Man, I’ve got to get that.” But there’s a website that has these old school hats, and you can customize them. I actually just bought like five the other day, so I’ve got some new ones coming up. I appreciate you recognizing my hat game. I’m very proud of my hat game.
Are you a Mississippi State fan? Ole Miss?
Mississippi State. But my girlfriend goes to Ole Miss, so it’s been an interesting year. But yeah, I’m a Mississippi State guy all the way.
Okay, lightning round. A regional blog called Southern Thing recently posted a meme with Southern foods, asking you to name how many you’ve tried before. I’ll name the food; you give me a yes or no.
Chicken and dumplings?
Chicken fried steak?
No. I don’t know what that is.
Shrimp and grits?
Oyster casserole? No, that sounds awesome, though. I want to have that.
Fried green tomatoes?
Pickled pig’s feet?
Red eye gravy?
If that’s like tomato gravy, then yes. But I’ll say no, because I don’t know for a fact that I’ve had that. Don’t want to be dishonest.
Oh yeah. I had one of those yesterday.
What is that? No…probably not.
Yep! Man, my grandpa makes the best squirrel and rabbit stew in America.
Red beans and rice?
Yeah! Aww…that’s so good, dude. You’re killing me. I’m like up in Iowa, and they ain’t got none of that.
Yeah, it’s been a long time, but I’ve had them.
Yep. My grandmother made a great pear salad.
Yeah, I’ve eaten gator tail.
I’ve eaten poke salad.
Yeah, dude. I made my girlfriend eat her first chicken liver about a month ago.
I think that’s 34 out of, like, 39. So you’re definitely rednecker than me.
Hardy is at Zydeco on Tuesday, June 25. Doors open for the show at 6:30 p.m. and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Jeb Gipson opens. Admission is free, as part of WZZK’s summer concert series, but when the venue reaches capacity, no more patrons will be admitted.