If Maren Morris is comfortable, she's probably doing it wrong. Country music's Grammy-winning breakout artist has relied on songs and messages that are counterintuitive — she's a right lane driver in an industry that expects you to be traveling at 20MPH over the speed limit.

Flashy onstage and humble off, Morris speaks about the business of being the CEO of a company with the same honesty and comfort with which she tweets and talks about how tours with Keith Urban, Sam Hunt and Niall Horan will shape her next album. It's somewhat sexist to say she's outspoken — the 27-year-old has well-rounded points of view that don't always end up where you think they might.

"I think being a woman (in country music) has its ups because there are so few of us, that the few that there are get attention," she begins, "but it’s still a very lopsided chart. I think this week for instance, Kelsea Ballerini and I are the only two women in the Top 20."

The struggles women face at radio is a topic she has taken on in the past, but her opinions are measured and recognize that part of the problem was that the songs women were recording were often about men. Hero (2016) felt like a refreshing splash of cold water with its dynamic palate of song topics and unique pop-country-soul stylings. Has any female artist ever sung about a car before without being cheesy? Raise a hand if "Drunk Girls Don't Cry" was not the song you were expecting when you first came across the title.

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Now prepping her follow-up project, Morris tells Taste of Country she has something else to consider that didn't play a role in the making of Hero: a live audience.

"Everything shapes your album," she says. "Every conversation, every tour. I know after touring with Keith (Urban) and Sam (Hunt) I think playing live things change in your mind as a writer because you’re like ,‘OK this works live, this really works live. This doesn’t as much as I thought it would ... So that stuff really gets into your brain and it’s filed in back.”

Urban's Ripcord World Tour was the first major tour Morris embarked on where the singer personally invited her to open before anyone knew the words to "My Church." "That was very scary," she says. "It was my first big tour and I had to learn how to be onstage and shoot energy into the back of the room, which I had never done before."

A headlining tour of clubs and theaters followed, and then Hunt's 15 in a 30 Tour which included direct support at major festivals. She's not the same artist in December that she was in February. Somewhere along the way she gave herself permission to be bold, and at that point, the live show caught up with the quality of her record. It's rare you'll see the same song setups twice. Scripts are boring, she says.

“Especially when you just have one album out like I do," Morris says. "You really have to figure out how to change those songs up until some new music comes out. So I’ve learned how to really scare myself, which keeps me engaged.”

Morris' rise is unexpected for a Texan who moved to Nashville with songwriter dreams. She wanted No. 1 singles, but not as the performer. You'll have to climb to the second floor of her Nashville-area home to get a glimpse of accolades and awards. Still, the "I Could Use a Love Song" singer says she wouldn't trade them for anything — not even a No. 1 song.

“I kind of look at those awards as concrete validation that my album has transcended more than a six week period or however long it takes to get a No. 1 song," she says.

When the Hero Tour wrapped last winter Morris announced she'd begin writing and recording her next album — a project that is one of the most anticipated of 2018, even though she hasn't officially confirmed it'll be ready by then. Taking advantage of the tremendous spotlight she'll be under when she begins Horan's Flicker Tour would be smart commercially, but rushing the most important thing would be a tremendous step backward. Along with singer and songwriter, Morris recognizes the responsibility that comes another title: boss.

“I’m about to be able to put my crew on salary and not a day rate. You just see this team grow and you’re the top of it. It doesn’t go without you," she says. "It doesn’t go without these songs."

She's also working to hit a narrow target. Morris recognizes she's at a special age where she's no longer a naive teenager, but not quite ready for babies and domestic life. Exploring that with honesty means blazing a new trail in country music. That's exciting, but perhaps a little scary.

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