Interview: Sam Hunt Doesn’t Know When He’ll Have New Music to Share … and He’s Just Fine With That
Before dropping the record-breaking cross-genre hit “Body Like a Back Road” on Feb. 1, Sam Hunt was already flying high: He had a multi-platinum, Grammy Awards-nominated debut album (2014’s Montevallo) and four No. 1, platinum-certified singles to his name, not to mention a legion of adoring fans eagerly awaiting new material. But now, thanks to his “song of the summer”-level single, he’s riding a wave that seems to reach its peak, but then just keeps going.
Currently, “Body Like a Back Road” is at the point, chart success-wise, where an artist would be looking to drop his or her next single — if they hadn’t done so already — to capitalize on the buzz and keep that momentum going. Hunt, though, doesn’t know when that next single is going to come for him.
“No, I don’t [have a timeline], to be honest,” Hunt tells The Boot backstage at his recent 15 in a 30 Tour stop in Canandaigua, N.Y.
Hunt gets asked about new music often, he says, and he always tries to “give an optimistic answer” — but the truth is, his priorities have shifted.
"I’m in a place in my career and in my life where I’m not willing to give music 100 percent of me anymore."
“I don’t want to come off as I don’t — you know, [that] I’m not excited about making music or I’m not very hopeful to have new music for the fans who are anxiously awaiting new music, but, you know, I’m in a place in my career and in my life where I’m not willing to give music 100 percent of me anymore,” Hunt candidly explains. “I did that for four years, and it was fruitful as far as my career goes, but everything else in my life had to be put on hold, and I’m just not willing to do that for years and years at a time.”
That’s understandable, certainly: Hunt’s got someone else in his life to think about now. In 2016, Hunt spent a considerable amount of time trying to win back his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Hannah Lee Fowler — the inspiration behind a number of Montevallo‘s songs — including by making, by Hunt’s estimates, about seven trips to Hawaii in a three-month time frame. They’re married now, and as anyone in a relationship will tell you, being with someone who’s married to his or her work isn’t exactly fun.
Previously, Hunt has confessed that writing new material and putting together his sophomore album has been a struggle because he was adjusting to new-found fame and the life changes that came with it. In April, the president of Hunt’s label and his manager told fans they should expect to hear a few more singles before a full album, and that, yes, there was a timeline in place for the record’s release, but also that it was movable. To The Boot, Hunt notes that he is “going to put out as much music as the percentage of time I’m willing to give to music will allow;” currently, it’s not clear to him exactly what that means, but he’s hoping for balanced productivity.
“I’m hoping I can still have songs ready,” he adds, “but I can’t really make any promises based on that plan.”
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Hunt has been writing for a number of years, though — surely he must have a back catalog that he can work from. Perhaps he does, but Hunt is an admitted perfectionist (in his interview with The Boot, he shared that he was still messing around with small pieces of “Body Like a Back Road” the night before it came out). Although his dedication and work ethic earns the praises of those around him, it also means he has potentially successful songs that likely won’t ever see the light of day.
“They’re songs that I think definitely could — they have value monetarily, but they don’t necessarily say what I want to say, or they don’t fit the storyline that I want to stick to as a songwriter as I continue with my career,” Hunt reflects. “So I think being overly particular about exactly what I say and how I say it and what I put out, I think [it] probably cost me economically, but with the intentions that I have and the story I want to stick to, like I said, it’s more important for me to stick to the script.”
"If it doesn’t get any bigger than this — you know, that’ll be fine. "
But fame can be fickle. Sure, Hunt’s die-hard fans will always be there, but he won’t always have such a large, cross-genre audience hanging around, waiting to hear what he does next. Losing out on that doesn’t worry him?
“No, not at all,” Hunt quickly replies, “because I’ve done what I set out to do.”
A former high school and college football player — and a pretty good one at that — Hunt was invited to Kansas City Chiefs training camp after he graduated, but he didn’t earn a spot on the team; shortly thereafter, he headed for Nashville. In college, Hunt first picked up a guitar to kill time; “it wasn’t my dream to be a writer, an artist, for life,” he says.
“We’re playing some really big venues, and this is awesome, but if it doesn’t get any bigger than this — you know, that’ll be fine. There’s sort of marginal returns as it gets bigger and bigger, in terms of self-fulfillment and satisfaction with what I’m doing,” Hunt continues. Later, he adds, “Music is one of many passions that I have in my life, and it has provided so much for me, and provided for my family, and it’s created a business out here on the road, with employees who are also providing for their families, and I’m so grateful for that, but, you know, going forward, I’m not necessarily going to try to keep pushing, pushing, pushing to see how big I can get or make it or go with it.”
"There’s sort of marginal returns as it gets bigger and bigger, in terms of self-fulfillment and satisfaction with what I’m doing."
Hunt has hinted in the past at wanting to expand his style; in concert, he’s been known to cover everything from the biggest female artists of the ’90s to Waylon Jennings. During his conversation with The Boot, Hunt noted that, with Montevallo and “Body Like a Back Road” and his catalog thus far, he’s “intentionally written a version of the kind of music that I would normally write that lends itself to a career in country music.” That’s meant “writ[ing] a certain shade of music” that, while commercially successful and critically acclaimed, doesn’t encompass everything that Hunt wants to do.
“My inspiration and the type of songs that I want to write don’t necessarily all aim in that direction. So, now that I’ve established myself and am in the position that I’m in now, going forward, I’d like to explore writing songs that probably won’t be as commercially viable as some of the songs that I’ve written in the past,” Hunt explains. “If the new direction takes away from the amount of people I’m able to put into some of these places, that’ll be okay.”
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