Maren Morris is full of surprises.
Just last month, the hit-making singer — who’s sometimes country, sometimes pop and usually near the top of the charts — dropped a new version of her country single “The Bones” featuring Hozier, the gospelly pop hero.
A few days later Morris announced that she and her husband, country singer Ryan Hurd, are expecting their first child next year.
What’s next? How ’bout showing up Saturday at the Armory in Minneapolis with an armful of trophies from Wednesday’s Country Music Association Awards?
“Oh, man, the pressure’s on,” she said by phone. “I’m so glad I’ve got a show right after the CMAs because it’ll make [this] week seem a little more normal for me.”
For Morris, it’s been “a really massive year.” Capping it off with six CMA nominations — more than any other artist — including album and song of the year is “sort of a win in itself.”
The recognition is for “Girl,” her second major-label album. The title track went to No. 1 in Nashville, and “The Bones” is currently in the Top 10.
But last year, Morris was featured on one of 2018’s biggest pop songs, DJ Zedd’s chart-topping “The Middle.”
Does she think of herself as country or pop?
“I don’t have this formula when I write a song,” Morris said. “Sometimes it leans more country or more pop or more R&B. It’s really not till you have to categorize it for iTunes or an interview that I have to really think about the boundaries that people want to put on it. I just love to write songs and sing whatever comes out of my heart that day.”
Some country fans don’t realize that the woman who declared Hank Williams and Johnny Cash as being “My Church” is also the voice of “The Middle” — at least until they witness her delivering both songs in concert.
“Nothing connects [those two] musically,” she said. “Just me. The singer.”
Morris may be stuck in the middle between pop and country, but there’s definitely something very country about her.
“I’m from Texas,” she said proudly. “I love good barbecue. I put hot sauce on everything. That sounds pretty country.”
Whatever sauce Morris puts on her music, it’s working.
‘Bad ass’ or old soul?
Fellow Texan and friend Miranda Lambert knows why Morris has been such a hot property in Nashville since self-releasing “My Church” on Spotify in 2016.
“She’s a bad ass,” Lambert said. “She’s a genuine, authentic artist.”
Morris, 29, doesn’t describe herself as a bad ass. She calls herself “frustratingly humble and boring on a night off.” And neurotic, restless and honest.
She’s also an “Old Soul,” the title of a tune she wrote for the remarkably old-school-country debut of the Highwomen. That new supergroup features her, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby.
The first-born of two sisters, Morris is a caretaker type who grew up fast, singing in Texas honky-tonks at age 10.
“I’ve always felt really comfortable around adults,” she noted — the type of person who is “overanalytical and mature about the choices you make because you’ve seen so many people make the wrong ones.”
Morris thinks the right choice was posing for Playboy earlier this year in an issue focusing on gender and sexuality.
Surprise No. 1 in a year of many.
“I liked that it wasn’t a cookie-cutter view of what a woman in country music is,” said the singer, who talked about oral sex, among other things, in her Playboy interview. “It was multifaceted and complex and showed the most realistic side of me.”
Surprise No. 2 was the Highwomen, featuring longtime friend Hemby and now two other BFFs. “The soulful conversations at the dinner table and the advice — both professionally and motherly — it’s been insurmountable,” Morris said.
The surprising hookup with Hozier came through another Nashville pal who sings backup on tour with the Irish pop star. That friend mentioned to Morris that Hozier had been humming “The Bones.” Both singers record for Columbia, so a long-distance musical marriage was arranged.
“He completely slayed it and brought so much softness to the song that I didn’t even know it needed,” Morris noted. “It happened very organically. He was already a fan of it. It didn’t feel forced at all.”
The biggest — and most significant — surprise is her baby boy, due in March.
“Right now it feels a little too normal. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Morris said. “I’ve written a couple songs [since becoming pregnant] but they were under wraps; I haven’t got to share them with my co-writers. But now we’ll see what inspiration comes out. The next album’s called ‘Boy.’ ”
She laughed at her joke.
Before she drops that record, she’ll have another surprise for next year: concerts by the Highwomen.
“We’re in talks about it,” she said. Aside from TV, the group has only performed at the Newport Folk Festival and Loretta Lynn’s birthday party. They’re scheduled to be part of the CMAs on Wednesday along with a solo appearance by Morris.
“The hardest part is everyone has their own solo endeavors,” she said. “Getting together to play is a real intentional practice because it means flights, and time away from kids. They’re all mothers. We’re actively planning for next year.”
And planning for more surprises.