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Sam Hunt interview

Sam Hunt has emerged as one of the brightest new stars in Country music since the release of his debut album Montevallo in 2014.

The former college football player turned singer-songwriter, has enjoyed incredible success with a number one album and three number one singles under his belt. Recently he performed on the main stage at C2C: Country to Country in Dublin, Glasgow and London wowing the crowds with his blend contemporary Country.

I sat down with Sam following his appearance at C2C to talk about his experience at the festival, find out his future plans for touring in the UK, and to discuss the status of his eagerly anticipated second album.

You played C2C for a second year recently. How was it for you this year?

It was great. We played the bigger stage. Last year we just did two acoustic songs on the smaller stage in the centre of the arena. It’s interesting because that was more intimidating to me than playing on a bigger stage this year…I don’t know why! Last year I remember playing on the smaller stage and thinking maybe 3, 4 or 5 years from now we’d make our way to the big stage. To have the opportunity to play on the big stage on 12 months later is something that I definitely was not able to predict last year. It was an opportunity I was excited to take advantage of, 4 or 5 months ago when we found out we had that opportunity.

The audience was great and I got to see a lot of my friends back from Nashville who coincidentally made the trip over to London this year. Backstage it felt like I was back in Nashville because I saw so many familiar faces, so many people travelled over for the C2C festival. It was really exciting and it felt like it’s something that’s really growing. Within 12 months I felt like the event itself was growing and that Country music is really gaining popularity over here.

I think you’re solely responsible for shutting down the Pepsi pop-up stage after causing such a commotion outside the arena last year…

Yeah out in the hallway there…we didn’t think anyone would show up to listen. Just before our set we got word that it was a big crowd and we looked round the corner to see people everywhere. We were blown away. It was really cool and exciting.

One of the highlights of C2C this year is when you joined Carrie Underwood onstage for Heartbeat. The audience reaction was crazy. How was that experience for you?

I think I forget that song has been on the radio and it’s gained popularity over a six week span. We were able to do that song on the Grammys about six weeks ago. It was really cool to walk on stage and sing that song. You sense that people know the song, I’ve performed it several times with her over the past few weeks, but the moment gets more and more special each time. Maybe I’ve just gotten more comfortable with it. It was a really special time for me to be able to perform that song with her.

The audience knew the words to every single song you performed at C2C including songs that aren’t on your album like We Are Tonight. Were you surprised by that?

It blows me away! I came into this thinking ‘well maybe they’ll know the single Take Your Time, but they won’t know the other songs so that’ll be the highlight of the set if we can keep their attention until we get to it.’ That seems to be the single that’s most popular in Europe but as soon as I get on stage I try to gage faces to see how into it and how involved they are. To look down and see people in the audience singing every word to the second verse of a song that has never been a single is really reassuring. It’s exciting to see the success of this first record over here and to gage the potential for a future here in Europe with new music and the music that already exists.

Sometimes I think I think of C2C as kind of a novelty thing over the one weekend, and the very few Country fans there are will come out for that. This week has led me to believe that Country music is growing in popularity around Europe and it’s not just a one weekend thing. Maybe we can come back in the future outside of this event and tour, and play some shows. It’s really encouraging to see people that into the record, the music and the show.

Sam Hunt - Montevallo
Credit: Decca

Are there any plans in motion at the moment for a UK headline tour this year or maybe next year?

Maybe next year. Just as we’re starting to gain some traction here, I’m in the position where I need to start working on new music for another record to put out in the States. It’s been about 18 months since we put out our first record so that requires me to be back home, so it’s hard for me to tour and keep trying to grow and expand in places like London and some of the other places we’ve visited in Europe on this trip.

I know how important it is for me to be in the studio and be writing so I kind of have to prioritise that and block out time to stay back in Nashville. If I can make some progress on the new record, I want to get back out on the road and try to come back to Europe. Although technically I don’t have any dates booked yet, we’re making plans to tour whether it’s this Fall or next Spring…that’s the intention.

Montevallo has been absolutely huge, possibly bigger than you ever expected it would be. How much pressure does that put on you when it comes to recording your second album?

I feel a bit of pressure just to try and maintain what we’ve been able to create. Hopefully that pressure doesn’t hurt the creative process. I don’t want to get in my head about it and think that I’ve got to do the same thing over again. It does create a bit of pressure when I think about the success of this record and all the things that have happened. I couldn’t have predicted or expected…I hoped it would be successful but I didn’t know what successful really meant, what it would require from me and what it would feel like once I was in it. I try to take those things out of my mind because the pressure doesn’t help anything. I’m just going to make another record, see where it goes and let it run its course.

The first time I heard about you was when I picked up Keith Urban’s album Fuse and you had co-written Cop Car, which he released as a single. Was it always your intention to record that song or did Keith having a hit with it nearly dissuade you to record it?

Initially when it was written I intended on recording it. At that point I had switched gears from writing songs that potentially could be recorded by other artists to writing songs specifically for my first record as an artist. Although I approach the process in the same way, it is a little bit different. I feel like I have a licence to be a bit more personal and speak from my own voice in the songwriting process knowing that this is a song that will be on my record.

That was a song about a true experience I had in an airport back in the US. At the time I intended for that song to be on the record. Keith Urban recorded it and had success with the song in his own right. As I continued to write songs for the record, I felt like that song fit into the batch of songs that I felt represented that era of my life and best represented me as a new artist. I felt like I was working on this movie and that Cop Car was a scene in that movie along with the other songs from the record. Even though Keith Urban had recorded, I felt like it still had a place on the album so I went ahead and put it on my record.

It’s refreshing to listen to an album like Montevallo, where every single song could be a single. Nearly every single song on the record has charted…

Thanks! Yeah…almost. Now that I think about it. I just wanted to put out the best songs that I had written the past 12 months of my life. I’d written songs that were 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 years old and even though I still respond to those songs, I wanted there to be some continuity to the record. All of the songs that I put on the record came from the same era in my songwriting career. They would all have been written within about 12 months of each other and were all inspired by the life that happened to me within that time.

Does it feel bittersweet to be getting to the point where you’re moving on from Montevallo now?

Yeah a little bit. In a way it feels like years ago since we put out Montevallo but also in other ways it feels like it was just yesterday. It is great to start to move on from those songs. I’ll always cherish those songs and this record because of what they’ve done for my career. Also after singing them just about every day for 18 months, they start to lose that lustre a little bit. I’m ready to sing something else and write something else so in that way I’m ready to move on to something new but at the same time those songs will always have a special place in my heart because of what they’ve provided me and my team in terms of the opportunity to have a career, travel the world and do all the cool things we’ve been able to do. As much credit as I give to the people in my camp, the songs deserve credit as well because they’ve been the vehicle for all this. It is bittersweet.

You’ve been credited with bringing a younger audience to Country music. Was that one of your original aims or is a by-product of your music?

I think it’s more of a by-product. There’s this recipe that has resulted in success and it’s easy to break down now and dissect the parts, and give credit to the different variables in the equation for what has happened. At the time it was not calculated at all, it was something that naturally happened. The different styles that influenced me and the music just naturally happened because I listened to different types of music growing up. I sat down to write a song and they all just came out. It’s just a by-product of having grown up listening to all styles of music. I listened to a lot of styles of music that this generation, the trendsetters who are putting their mark on culture and evolving music, (have). I think they’re going to be drawn to the same things I’m drawn to because we grew up listening to the same styles of music.

Sam Hunt
Credit: Decca

Last year you re-released your mixtape Between the Pines. On the song Saturday Night you almost rap at one point. Is the faster lyric delivery something you may explore on your new album?

Possibly. That’s an element of a style of music that I’m really attracted to because I listen to hip-hop music and I’m drawn to that. I don’t want to make it a thing if that makes sense. I may do more of that but also I would like to explore my more traditional tastes as well, maybe put out a song that is more traditional than anything on this record (Montevallo). I may do a song that’s more in that vein with faster lyrics that’s probably associated more with hip-hop or R&B music but also I’d like to do some songs, or pursue a style that’s far more traditional. Hopefully the second record, because of the success of the first, has given me a licence to be even more diverse and cover more ground in terms of stylistic influence.

Your music has been criticised by some for not being ‘Country enough’ despite the huge success you’ve had in the genre. Does that bother you?

It bothers me that people at times are for some reason upset by the sounds that I chose to use on the record in terms of it being Country or not. I don’t know why anyone would ever be emotionally upset by that. Sometimes it seems to have sparked an emotional conversation. I’ve seen people get upset about the fact that there are certain sounds on the record that they don’t consider traditional Country. That’s unfortunate because getting caught up in that prevents you from just enjoying the music for what it is. I don’t really quite understand what the point of being able to define a song, in terms of genre, is. If you enjoy it, you enjoy it.

I try to stay out of that conversation because everybody has a different definition for what Country is and what Country is not. I don’t like to think about it too much because I don’t ever want that to affect the creative process. When you start applying rules to what you can and can’t do, you put boundaries and limits on that creative process when you’re writing a song. I try not to get too caught up in that conversation. I see it as unfortunate if someone refuses to listen to something because it doesn’t have a characteristic or criteria that they’ve come up with in they head about what a genre of music should sound like.

People just like to pigeonhole artists don’t they?

Yeah, we all like to categorise things. That’s good for convenience, if you want to find your taste, but it’s not good for creativity, and from my perspective when you’re trying to create the music.

It’s one of the downsides of social media. It can be such a wonderful channel but it’s also given everyone the ability to have an opinion and communicate the opinion directly with the public and artists. How much attention do you pay to social media?

I’m tuned in enough to try and stay aware of the temperament of culture as a whole but in terms of the little snide and snarky opinions that people like to put up on the Internet, I don’t pay much attention to that. There’s a lot of useful information on the Internet and there’s a lot of useless ignorance. It’s up to me to decide which is which. It’s OK to tune in but I by no means get caught up in the negative side of social media that shows up pretty regularly.

It’s still important to stay in tune with the fans, the mood of people, their reaction to the music and their thoughts and opinions; that’s important to me but when it gets to that place where it just becomes bickering and negativity I definitely avoid that the best I can. It’s interesting because people behind the comfort and privacy of a computer are willing to say anything at times. It’s wild. I try to stay out of that negativity.

Sam Hunt’s album Montevallo is available now. Watch his music video for Take Your Time below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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