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Multi-platinum-selling country rocker Michael Hardy holds a grudge for an awfully long time.

Sure, he remembers the accolades — and there’s been more than a few in a music career that only goes back five years. But it’s the naysayers that fuel his fire.

Case in point, Quit!!, the name of his third studio album, which drops this week. The title, he told Postmedia in an interview before a sold-out show at Budweiser Stage last month, was inspired by someone who told him he should give up on his musical dreams.

“There’s a bar on the beach, right on the Florida-Alabama line. Me and three other buddies of mine were playing a show and we checked our tip jar at the end of the night. There was nobody in there; there was maybe 20 people in the room. We emptied out our tip jar and there was 37 bucks in there and somebody wrote ‘Quit!!’ on a napkin and put it in there,” Hardy, who records and performs under his last name, recalled.

“I wasn’t upset about it, but I took it and put it in my pocket. I made it all the way back to Tennessee and I tacked it up on a cork board and it stayed there forever. The longer I kept it, the more significant it became. I still have it to this day to inspire me,” the the 33-year-old musician said.

Over the past decade, the five-time ACM and two-time CMA winner made a name for himself as a go-to songwriter penning a string of tunes for his good buddy Morgan Wallen that includes Up Down, More Than My Hometown and Sand in My Boots; Kenny Chesney’s Take Her Home; Blake Shelton’s God’s Country; Florida Georgia Line’s Simple; LOCASH’s One Big Country Song; Chris Lane’s I Don’t Know About You; and Dallas Smith’s Drop. Along the way, he has been invited to share the stage with FGL, Wallen, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell and others. Soon after, Hardy wasn’t just crafting tunes for country’s biggest hitmakers, he was coming up with his own songs he wanted to sing.

After recruiting his all-star pals like Keith Urban, Lauren Alaina, Wallen and Rhett for 2019’s Hixtape, Vol. 1, Hardy released his debut, entitled A Rock, the following year.

Michael hardy
After writing songs for some of country’s biggest names, Hardy has released his debut LP, A Rock, led by the hit single, One Beer.Photo by Handout /Kiley Donohoe

The 12-song tracklist — which included the chart-topping One Beer, the Philadelphia, Mississippi, native’s collaboration with Devin Dawson and Lauren Alaina — found the singer-songwriter leaning into his storytelling side. 

On 2023’s The Mockingbird & the Crow, he teamed up with Lainey Wilson for Wait in the Truck and began to embrace the rock music Hardy says he loved growing up, long before he began a career writing for Nashville’s biggest artists.

The risk paid off with Mockingbirddebuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s country albums chart.

Lainey Wilson and Hardy
Lainey Wilson and Hardy perform “Wait in the Truck” during the 56th annual CMA Awards in Nashville.Photo by AP Photo

This month he continues to lean into rock and “nu-metal” sounds with Quit!!, a 13-song set of grunge-tinged aggro-rock fuelled tracks. “Quit!! is my first attempt at a full-length rock ‘n’ roll record,” he says. The first single Rockstar debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Hard Rock Songs chart.

Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst pops up on Soul4Sale, which Hardy describes as mining a drum beat that recalls songs by System of a Down and Linkin Park. “I bounced some ideas off of him and he bounced some off of me. It was crazy,” he said of the collab. 

“That sound has always been there,” he said of his penchant for playing arena rockers. “The Mockingbird & the Crow was my first attempt at it and I had two rock hits off of that record (Truck Bed and Jack). I think it was just in my heart to put out a rock record.”

The Nashville-based Hardy says over the course of his five-year journey as a solo artist he’s discovered that he can’t be pigeonholed into one musical box.

“I feel like I’m constantly discovering who I am and digging deeper into what I’m capable of doing as an artist,” he said.

His lyrics, he insists, are always going to be country, with several songs inspired by his wife Caleigh. But it all adds up to is his own unique version of rock ‘n’ roll.

Even though Hardy has seen other genres seep into country music, with artists like Jelly Roll also leaning into rock, he doesn’t think it was inevitable that the genre would embrace such mainstream appeal.

“Country was almost the most specific, rule-following genre. I don’t know how it changed like it did,” he says, namechecking Sam Hunt and FGL as two artists that pushed the envelope.

“Sam Hunt’s Break Up in a Small Town sounded almost like a Drake song. I think he maybe hates that comment,” Hardy chuckled. But he thinks the rock side of country has always been present in the music.

“People say that Garth (Brooks) was progressive with his sound and Alabama were progressive with their sound and leaned a bit more rock ‘n’ roll. But everything else, the hip-hop and this indie thing that a lot of artists are doing, it just started with people who were the innovators who just blew the doors off country music to let new people in, which I think is great,” he said.

After growing up in a small town, Hardy followed his sister when she moved to Nashville to try and start a career as a singer. A cousin helped him get his start, but he broke out when he fell in with some people connected to FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley and Big Loud label mate Wallen, with whom he worked on last year’s One Thing at a Time.

“Morgan Wallen was my first No. 1, with Up Down. Morgan and I became buddies eight years ago,” he said. “But FGL was the first group that gave me a break. When I started writing with them, I had nothing going on … I just had a batch of demos of songs that I had just written. But they had me out on the road constantly and I ended up getting 10 or 15 cuts with them.”

The note telling him to “Quit!!” still hangs in his house. He even got it framed.

But in those early hardscrabble years, Hardy still remembers being encouraged to prove that anonymous hater wrong.

“People told me, ‘Hang in there. Don’t give up.’ I wrote songs for three years. I wasn’t getting paid a lot of money to write songs and it’s frustrating when you’re literally buying McDoubles at the end of the month and putting them in the freezer so you have food to eat,” he said.

“But everyone said, ‘It’s going to happen for you. Just hang in there and keep writing songs,’” Hardy reflected. “You just got to keep your head down and keep doing it. You can’t be a good writer and it just never happens for you. It’s impossible for that to happen.”

With live shows booked until October, including a date next month at Calgary’s Country Thunder, Hardy says he already has two songs ready for his next album. But he won’t say if it’ll take aim at another detractor.

“I had a publisher one time who told me … ‘I think you’re a good writer, but that redneck s— is not going to fly with me,’” he recalled with a faint smile. “But I never stopped writing redneck country s— and I think that’s what I built my career on, so f— that person.”

Hardy’s Quit!! releases on July 12.

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