My last name / is a whole lot bigger than I thought it’d be / A lot of things changed / Except one thing, me” country/rock singer/songwriter Hardy sings on “SOLD OUT,” the first single released from his new half country/half rock album, the mockingbird & the CROW, which drops tomorrow, January 20th, via Big Loud. A few lines before on the same song, Hardy is humbly flexing that he’s got the funds to purchase a Mercedes Maybach (starting out at a crisp $185k) due to “gold records on [his] sheetrock” before electing to keep driving his Ford F-150.

Some may call that a humble brag, and maybe that’s fair, but for the point of the song it’s at least a necessary humble brag. Without him plainly saying it, you could safely admit that to be the case anyway right? Top 20 record on the Billboard 200, a double platinum single, platinum single, and handful of gold singles — and that’s just songs he has released, not counting the many songwriting credits to his name for other hit singles along the way. But, this knowledge that he is, at least, consciously aware of his success coupled with the humility of sticking to who you are and not letting that fame get to you, is what makes Hardy, well, Hardy.

Fame has a funny way of changing people, but if you had not a single idea who Hardy was, you’d never guess he was a wildly successful country singer who’s still just in the thick of his meteoric rise. When we first get on the phone for our interview back in December, we spend a good 5-10 minutes just discussing life. He had just returned from his honeymoon to Thailand, my upcoming honeymoon to Bali, and our upbringing. When we do dive into talking about his stellar new album, we weave in and out of anecdotes and sharing stories/memories from our childhood. This is a man who may is not only “Unapologetically Country As Hell,” but is unapologetically himself all along the way.

Part of being himself is letting all sides of him show. He may have made a name for himself writing country tunes, but instead rock music is what first really got him hooked. We take a trip down memory lane to when Hardy was 3 years old with his dad driving around a Chevy S10 to where he first fell in love with rock music. “We were in my hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi and he had a cassette and he said Hey son, check this out this is a band called Pearl Jam,” he begins. “He put it in and ‘Alive’ started playing. I swear to god man it was something from a movie, that guitar that came in changed my life forever.”

Our life stories start to line up as he rattles off rock records he listened to a lot in his youth, stuff like Toxicity, Come Clean, Hybrid Theory to name a few, and then we talk about how we both didn’t particularly get back into country music until after we graduated high school. For Hardy, the first two country artists that marked his foray into the genre were none other than Eric Church and Brad Paisley. “I just became a fan of songwriting and it was just different. Paisley and Church had a very different approach to writing songs, and I tell everybody I grew up country in a small town, I just didn’t listen to it,” he explains. “They were the first guys to appeal to how I grew up, you know? Like redneck side of things, good ole boy things. So I kind of really gravitated to that and that opened the door to pretty much listening to all things country.”

Hints of rock music have always been prevalent in Hardy’s songs, think “Boots,” “Broke Boy,” “He Went to Jared,” and of course his cover of Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry.” But what made now the right time to fully commit here and do a record half country/half-rock, split right down the middle? “[Those] were all songs that were dipping my toes in the water and seeing what kind of reaction we got from the rock and roll community and my fans,” he says. “After I had turned in 8 or 10 songs and half were country, the other half were rock, we just said man let’s just do this and don’t look back and see what happens.”

For as much attention as “SOLD OUT” has gotten, and the overall attention towards this album has gotten for being half rock — you can’t ignore the country half of this record. First, “beer” kicks off the record and musically sounds lifted right from 2020’s A ROCK, and starts off sounding like your classic country song nostalgia song — ripe with a blink-182 reference — before you get to the last two lines of the chorus and realize it’s a song about beer, naturally. Not just a song about beer — but writing from the perspective of beer. I know, listen, concept sounds will ride? But it works. Trust me.

Then, “red” is the second song on the album, featuring frequent collaborator and close friend Morgan Wallen. Having previously collaborated on Hixtape Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, this marks their first time collaborating on a full-length album — but almost didn’t end up that way. “For a brief second, we had talked about cutting it for Hixtape Vol. 2, [but] there was something about it that felt more like a me song than a Hixtape song, so I decided to hold onto it for this project,” Hardy tells me. “Morgan just always loved that song, we had always talked about doing it together. It was never really a question,” he tells me on his decision to include Wallen on this song.

Right up next you get the single “wait in the truck,” which features the multi-talented singer/songwriter/actor Lainey Wilson. The song comes as perhaps the most powerful song that Hardy himself has ever released, one that we both learn together is described on Wikipedia as part of the “murder ballad” genre. What makes “wait in the truck” such a powerful track is not just the subject manner itself which follows the story of revenge taken against an abuser, but just how that revenge goes down. Think about a song like “Goodbye Earl” or “No Body, No Crime” where revenge is taken against the abuser in the form of murder, but there’s a plan on how it’s executed without getting caught. Not so much with “wait in the truck,” where the man Hardy portrays is content with the outcome he’s going to face after the crime, and doesn’t even try to run our hide — simply sitting on the porch waiting for the cops to come.

“When I played it for my mom, she was like ‘You know, I love it, I just wish that the guy would have gotten away with it at the end,'” Hardy recollect. “I was like ‘No, he’s not a hero if he gets away with it. He’s gotta go to jail.’ That’s what ties the whole thing together and really makes you feel for the guy. He had to suffer, and he was a sacrifice.”

There’s plenty of room for other conversations to fly around with “wait in the truck,” as you certainly are left feeling bad for the protagonist here — what happens in the song is murder by definition, but is there room for nuance? “I had some people right when the song came out, I did a couple of interviews and people were like ‘Aren’t you worried about the backlash?’ I honestly haven’t — I’m sitting here looking at my publicist, I don’t know if there’s something I don’t know about, but I haven’t seen or heard of anything negative. People are just like ‘fuck yeah’ and ‘he did the right thing’ and seeing a lot of people, mostly women, online telling me they wish that someone did this to the person who put them through hell,” he says.

More than anything, specifically with “wait in the truck,” Hardy just hopes that it helps people and empowers them in ways that they might not currently feel. “I hope it gives people a voice, and people feel the strength to maybe speak out and know that there’s people out there that are willing to — let’s hope maybe not to that context — help get people out of really shit situations like that.”

One of the other songs Hardy is proud of and has a different kind of message behind it is “screen.” I know, you probably just rolled your eyes. Hey, I get it. I’ve heard a handful of songs with a similar message, we all have, and they more often than not just strike you as condescending and treating you, the listener, like you should be ashamed of yourself. But with “screen,” while it has the subject mater of how we are all connected to our screens (phones, tv’s, computers, etc), it’s more so reflective for Hardy than it is accusatory of everyone else. “I wrote that song with keeping myself more in mind than other people. Not from a judging standpoint, you know what I mean? Like I’m telling myself this, I’m guilty of it as well,” Hardy says. He references how he tries to enjoy the things around him more while touring or just traveling in general (honeymoon, for example) and not taking as many videos at concerts and such, because though there may be an attainable balance to documenting where you are and what you’ve seen, too much can take you out of the moments themselves. “You never know what you might miss if you’re just looking at another picture on you’re phone, because the real thing is right there. I hope people see that as a message to take a break, to just look around and see the world,” Hardy says.

A few songs after “screen,” you find yourself listening to the title-track, which literally shifts from country to rock music mid song, mid album. Then you get into the aforementioned heavy hitter that is “SOLD OUT,” which at the time ripped the band-aid off for fans of what Hardy had cooking up, and even in the album if you’re just discovering Hardy with this album, will again have that same effect of what you need to expect from the rest of the album. That was always the intent, Hardy says, going back to when they released “SOLD OUT” as a standalone single before announcing it was going to be a part of his next album. “[It] was the first one that I screamed in, it was definitely by far the heaviest one I had written up to that point. That was definitely like, ‘Okay, let’s test the waters with this because if people dig this then we can go even further.'”

“.30-06” is another stand out song on the rock portion of the mockingbird & THE CROW, weaving the tropes of a break-up song while having some fun titling it after a rifle. The song itself includes a callback to the earlier “SOLD OUT” with another “dead back on my instagram” reference, something that Hardy says was intentional. ‘”You never hear that much in country [music]. Thomas Rhett did it with a couple songs, which was cool, he referenced ‘Die a Happy Man’ in ‘Life Changes.’ It’s just a cool hip-hop/Kid Rock-ish kind of thing to do. It was just something different, I truly thought the fans would resonate with it hearing the dead buck thing, because I know that is a popular line on Sold Out.”

If you’re curious why the .30-06 rifle was chosen as the song title, rest assured it was not something random. Being true to himself and continuing the trend of being authentically who he is, the title is another way that Hardy throws a nod to his roots. “This sounds like some cliche country song shit but my grandpa when I was 13 years old, because I’m left handed and they’re really hard to find, he bought found one and bought me a left handed bolt-action browning 30-06, and I do not dear hunt with any other gun. It’s the same gun, I always use it. So I just — that’s just my gun, and I wanted to stay true to myself, man,” Hardy tells me.

When the mockingbird & THE CROW was announced, one of the features that immediately jumped out was Jeremy McKinnon from A Day to Remember on “RADIO SONG.” It was a song that wasn’t written with McKinnon or anyone else in mind to feature on, and the idea wasn’t even Hardy’s own to get McKinnon. He was playing the song for his band and crew guys, and one of them is a huge metal head who brought up the idea of sending it to McKinnon. Hardy tells me that after the song was written he did think about getting a feature on this song, “I had struck up a relationship with Caleb Shomo, a couple other rock guys, but I’ve always — I love Caleb and his vocals — loved Jeremy’s growl, he’s got an awesome scream voice.”

So with no disrespect towards Shomo, he slid into the DM’s of McKinnon on Instagram. “I didn’t even have Jeremy’s number, but him and I had chatted several times on Instagram, so I sent him a DM and was like ‘Yo, I’ve got a song I want you to hear that I’d want you to get on if you’re ever interested and he sent me his number,” Hardy says. What happened next was McKinnon heard the song and immediately was ready to get involved. As fate would have it, he was heading into the studio already with Cody Quistad of Wage War, and cut vocals and re-wrote the breakdown.

“Cody and Jeremy went in and they cut it, Jeremy threw all of his vocals on and sent it back to me and said ‘Let me know if it’s too heavy.’ I said ‘Not at all, it’s perfect,” he says. He’s quick to compliment those two for their contributions on the song and making it the way it is, “I’m really proud of that one and shout out to Cody for putting his — I know he’s writing a lot of stuff for people right now and is guitar riff king right now. Shout to him for making that song better and for Jeremy really putting that growl on there.”

It’s perhaps this feature with McKinnon that really sums up who and what Hardy is. He’s a man of many talents, with respect and friends in every corner of the music industry. There’s not many artists these days who could pull off making an album like the mockingbird & THE CROW, and they’d be hard pressed to make it sound as genuine and authentic as Hardy has done here. Not only does it sound good, but you know lyrically what you’re listening to is not Hardy forcing himself to be anything other than who he always has been.

His reputation in country has long been established, and it’s unclear entirely where he goes from here with the next record, it’s too early to say. But his reach in the alternative/metal/rock world is growing and growing fast. Ask Shomo, McKinnon, or even a smaller band like Bilmuri, who Hardy worked with in secret, contributing the screaming vocals on “CORN-FED YETIS” uncredited.

“SOLD OUT” proclaimed that Hardy had yet to sell out, and you can certainly make the argument he would have potentially been “selling out” by writing another A ROCK, but he didn’t. He wanted to continue to be himself, and only himself. In truth, the mockingbird & THE CROW is the most Hardy record he could make, and it’s one long callback to his past and what he grew up on. He not only aims for this, but he sticks the landing. He’s here to stay, and the world is his for the taking.