HARDY and ERNEST Discuss Their Hitmaking Collaboration With Morgan Wallen & If They’d Ever Form a Supertrio
In recent years, a trio of Big Loud-signed artists — ERNEST, HARDY, and Morgan Wallen — have become country music’s ultra-collaborative hitmaking machine, churning out an array of hits for themselves and other artists.
Earlier this month, ERNEST, HARDY and Wallen were all honored during the Country Music Association’s Triple Play Awards, which honors songwriters who have written three No. 1 songs within a 12-month span. To date, Wallen has been a co-writer on several Jason Aldean-recorded songs, including “Make It Easy,” as well as Keith Urban’s “Brown Eyes Baby” and Corey Kent’s “Wild as Her.” HARDY has been a contributor to Wallen’s “Sand in My Boots,” Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country,” Michael Ray’s “Holy Water,” LOCASH’s “One Big Country Song” and Breland’s “Praise the Lord” (featuring Thomas Rhett). ERNEST’s Triple Play-earning contributions this year are Wallen’s “Wasted On You,” Sam Hunt’s “Breaking Up Was Easy in the ‘90s” and Kane Brown’s “One Mississippi.”
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While Nashville is no stranger to hitmaking songwriter trios — such as the Peach Pickers (Ben Hayslip, Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins) and the Love Junkies (Liz Rose, Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey) — it is additionally notable that over the past year, Wallen, HARDY and ERNEST have each issued albums representative of country music’s expansive soundscape. ERNEST’s March 2022 release Flower Shops (The Album) and subsequent deluxe album Flower Shops: Two Dozen Roses this February incorporated a throwback, traditional country sound, while this January saw HARDY issue his country/metal amalgam The Mockingbird & The Crow, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
This month, of course, the two sets are followed by Wallen’s juggernaut, 36-track project One Thing at a Time (Big Loud/Republic/Mercury)– which has already earned 315 million official on-demand U.S. streams in its first four days of release (March 3-6). It’s not only the biggest week of any album so far this year (and larger than its predecessor, 2021’s Dangerous: The Double Album, which opened at 240 million in its first full week), it’s also already the biggest streaming week any country album has ever posted.
“Everybody just truly does such different things, and we all bring out the creativity in each other,” HARDY tells Billboard of the trio’s fruitful collaboration. “Ernest might say something that would sound like something I would never think of, and that would spark a lyrical direction maybe they wouldn’t think of. We do what we do, and bring out the best in the rest of the triangle.”
ERNEST notes a common thread that runs through each of their respective projects: the production work of Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Nickelback).
“I think about how many country music acts Joey Moi has helped craft into a sound, and how different all of those sounds are,” ERNEST tells Billboard. ”My sound is a little more traditional, like [an] Opry band. HARDY’s got the rock stuff, and Morgan’s down to go the 808s route. But Joey is able to make it sound really f–king good every time.”
ERNEST first met Wallen in 2015 at a party thrown by Big Loud co-founder and hit songwriter Craig Wiseman. They followed each other on Instagram and discovered they had competed against each other on opposing high school baseball teams — Knoxville’s Gibbs High School (Wallen) against Nashville’s David Lipscomb High School (now Lipscomb Academy) (ERNEST).
“They beat us and went on to win State [in 2010] and then we beat them for State [in 2011],” ERNEST recalls. “So, technically we met in 2015, but we had been rivals before we were friends.”
HARDY and ERNEST met on a writers’ bus on a Florida Georgia Line tour around 2017, when ERNEST was a rapper still going by the name Snow. HARDY and Wallen also began writing together in 2017.
“He came to my little apartment in Green Hills [in Nashville] and we just started writing. Me, Morgan and Jameson Rodgers wrote a song and then ate Martin’s BBQ after,” HARDY recalls of his first writing session with Wallen.
The trio’s collaborative efforts were apparent even on Wallen’s 2018 debut Big Loud album If I Know Me. Wallen, HARDY and ERNEST co-wrote the title track, alongside co-writer Ryan Vojtesak. HARDY and Wallen each contributed to around half of the songs on that album. Wallen’s follow-up, 2021’s record-breaking Dangerous: The Double Album features more songs from the trio: they all contributed to “Somethin’ Country” and “This Bar,” as well as “More Than My Hometown,” which became a No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart before the album’s release in 2020.
“I remember being very difficult that day,” HARDY recalls with a laugh of writing “More Than My Hometown.” “I had a vision for the song, and so did Morgan. I was just being very picky because I could feel that the song was going somewhere and we really dug into that lyric. We always make the joke that Ern accidentally went to Midtown and got really drunk before that song, so he wasn’t really much help — but he contributed as good as he could. I just remember we really dug into the lyrics hard that day. The leadup to the hook changed so many times and we finally settled on those [lyrics].”
The trio have also traded features on each other’s albums, with Wallen appearing on the track “Red” from HARDY’s The Mockingbird & The Crow, as well as on two tracks from HARDY’s Hixtape, Vol. 1: “Turn You Down” and “He Went to Jared,” which has become a fan-favorite in concert. Meanwhile, Smith co-wrote another song from Hixtape, Vol. 1, “Redneck Tendencies.”
Wallen also teamed with ERNEST for “Flower Shops,” the traditional-minded top 20 Country Airplay hit. Meanwhile, Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album features seven tracks cowritten by HARDY and 11 contributions from Smith (including two tracks, “Dangerous” and “Wonderin’ About The Wind,” written by Wallen and Smith).
ERNEST contributes to 11 songs to Wallen’s sprawling One Thing at a Time, while HARDY contributed writing to three tracks. HARDY and ERNEST also lend their voices to respective features: HARDY on “In The Bible” and ERNEST on “Cowgirls,” a track he also wrote with Rocky Block, Ashley Gorley, James Maddocks and Ryan Vojtesak.
“A few months after we wrote it, I sent it to Morgan,” ERNEST says. “When I was singing and freestyling it, I thought, ‘Morgan’s gonna sound sick on this.’ Then, I think, with like eight hours left on the clock before they had to turn the album in, I was at the No. 1 party for Jelly Roll’s ‘Son of a Sinner’ [ERNEST is a co-writer on the Country Airplay chart-topper] and Morgan called me to sing a verse on ‘Cowgirls.’ I was like, ‘I thought you’d never ask’ — so I had to get my award and then run to the studio to put my vocal on ‘Cowgirls.’”
A similar situation led to HARDY’s vocal on “In The Bible.”
“The day the record was supposed to be done, Morgan texted me to ask me to sing on it,” he explains. “[Wallen] said the record had to be done by midnight that night. I listened and it fit me perfectly. If it was something stupid, I wouldn’t have done it — and I won’t ever send him a song that doesn’t sound like him.”
The trio’s camaraderie extends far beyond the writing rooms and recording studios. HARDY and ERNEST will open on Wallen’s international One Night at a Time tour, kicking off later this month. In 2022, HARDY opened shows on Wallen’s The Dangerous Tour, while ERNEST filled in the opening slot for a few shows after a tour bus carrying HARDY was involved in an accident.
“If any of us are going through anything on a personal level, any of the other ones would be there for them in a heartbeat in real life — and you’d never even know about it on Instagram,” adds ERNEST. “We are blessed to have these careers with our friends and get to cheer each other on.”
“I talk to either Morgan, ERNEST or both almost every day,” HARDY says. “We’re buddies, even outside of music. We’re always sending memes. I Facetimed Morgan on the way to this [Country Music] Hall of Fame event I did yesterday and I just worked out with Ernest this morning.”
Given their ultra-prolific songwriting and solid camaraderie, HARDY says it’s not out of the question that he, Wallen and ERNEST could at some point add to country music’s storied canon of collaborative albums — such as Wanted! The Outlaws, the Trio albums from Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, the Parton/Tammy Wynette/Loretta Lynn album Honky Tonk Angels, or projects from The Highwaymen, Pistol Annies, The Notorious Cherry Bombs, Chicks With Hits and more.
“We’ve definitely talked about it,” HARDY confirms. “I think it would be awesome. I think it would do really well, and would set up a tour perfectly. I don’t think anybody in our little trio would be opposed to that. It would be fun.”
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