10 Questions with ... Sam Hunt
February 15, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
At first glance, Sam Hunt might seem like a fairly typical young Country singer-he grew up in a small Southern town; spent his school days concentrating on sports, but feeling his attachment to music grow deeper and deeper; and came to Nashville with little idea of how the music business worked, but with big dreams. But a closer look instantly reveals that there is nothing typical about the music that Hunt makes, nor about the way he has introduced his work to the world. In a short time and on his own terms, he has become one of Nashville's most hotly anticipated new artists, and his debut album, Montevallo, delivers on the buzz and the promise-and then some. The album follows Hunt's recent four-song album preview, X2C, led by the #1, Platinum-selling track "Leave the Night On." Of course, even though he was a recording rookie, Hunt was no stranger to the Country music charts, having already written hits for the likes of Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Billy Currington. Now, Sam's current single "Take Your Time" is racing up the charts, and he's been voted by Country radio programmers to be one of the five acts featured at the CRS 2015 "New Faces" show.
1) Sam! Thanks for taking the time to chat with All Access. Congrats on being chosen to play the CRS "New Faces" show next week! Your audience for this particular show is radio programmers and other industry folks, which is a different audience than when you're out on the road playing for fans. Are you going to prepare for the "New Faces" show any differently than you do when you're out on tour?
I know that the audience may be a little different than our normal audience, but we'll still approach it the same way. We'll at least try to connect with them in the same way we do when we're out on the road playing for fans. I'm hoping that most of the people in the audience are familiar with our music, but if not, then we'll do our best to make sure we connect the same way we do when we're out on tour.
2) Speaking of shows, you recently have set out on your own headlining "Lipstick Graffiti" tour, where many of the markets sold-out within minutes of tickets being on sale. You'll also be going on tour with Lady Antebellum this Summer, where you're sure to gain new fans. Looking into the future of headlining your own shows, do you see yourself quickly progressing into arenas, or gradually moving up and playing amphitheater type venues, etc?
I think that will depend on how we progress, how many people we reach, and how many people are willing to buy tickets to our show. I also think that all that is dependent on how well the singles do at radio and how quickly the music spreads. So far it's going great, so I'm hoping it will continue on that path. It would be great to be able to play arenas or venues of that capacity in the next couple years! It's hard to really say. I'm just excited that people are willing to come out to the clubs and bars that we're playing now and see our shows and hear our music.
3) Lyrically your songs are very Country, but the production seems to have a lot of different influences. Some may see it as "pushing the envelope," but it's clearly working. How much farther do you feel your music can be pushed, or do you feel like your music will always follow a similar pattern to what you have out now?
It was never my intention to push any boundaries. I don't even know that I'm aware of what the boundaries are and how strict or broad they are. When I was making this record I wasn't thinking about that at all. I just got in the studio and just worked and did what felt right. In the future I'll follow the same program, and I won't really think about boundaries or what risks we might be taking when we sit down and make the music.
4) As we just mentioned, your songs are very out-of-the-box. What is your creative process when writing a song and heading into the studio?
My personal creative process is always evolving. I still feel like I'm relatively new to this whole process. I've only been making music for a few years now. At this point I usually go into the studio with my producer Zach , and a lot of times Shane is there working with us, and we'll get the music going from a production standpoint. I'll then go into a vocal booth and just sing for sometimes 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time. Zach will record and he'll just be keeping a lookout for cool moments that happen. A lot of time it will be phrases and nonsense that just spill out, but sometimes he'll catch melodic hooks that way and I'll go back out after doing that and listen back and we'll find parts that we really like and save that. We'll slowly put together a verse and a chorus. I save ideas in my phone too and I'll go over them with Zach, most of them are terrible (laughs), but then we'll stumble across something that we both agree might have some potential. Then I'll take that phrase and go into the booth and sing towards that idea. Sometimes, subconsciously, lyrical ideas will stumble out and then melodic ideas will stumble out. Through this process we'll start to put together the song, and after an hour or two we'll have the bones of what could be a song, and so we'll sit down and start to really look at lyrics and put together the rest of the song. Most of the time I'll go home and ride around at night, listening back to what we've conceptualized and come up with more lyrics and finish putting the song together over the next couple of weeks.
5) You've played the Grand Ole Opry and are slated to play Bonnaroo this Summer. How have artists from such different genres embraced you? Have you been able to build relationships with traditional Country artists, as well as Indie, R&B, Pop acts, etc?
I've played some really cool festivals and events with other artists, but I never really get the chance to hang out or chat with them in a way that would allow me to get an impression of what they think about me. Of course I never really seek their approval that way. It's cool to play those events though because I get to watch the shows and check out a lot of the traditional Country acts that I grew up listening to. Just a couple weeks ago I was at a guitar pull with John Michael Montgomery and that was really cool. He started playing "Life's A Dance" and that was a song I can remember riding around in the car with my mom and singing it at the top of my lungs. He told me his daughter was a big fan of my music and that was pretty surreal to hear John Michael Montgomery telling me that! It's cool to have that interaction with those people, and sometimes we play with multiple acts and get to check out their shows too. It's really cool.
6) You received your first #1 as a songwriter when Kenny Chesney cut "Come Over," and recently received your first #1 as an artist with "Leave The Night On." Was it a different feeling when you found out "Come Over" went #1 vs. "Leave The Night On?"
It was similar in a lot of ways, but it was also different. Having a song recorded by Kenny Chesney, and then hearing it on the radio was a first for me. It's going to be hard to beat that feeling. It was a moment where I realized that success and the music business became tangible. When I heard it on the radio, it became something I could almost touch. It brought me a lot closer to the end all, which was getting up here to make a record. That was a special moment for me. It was also special for me, in a different way, when "Leave The Night On" went #1. When "Come Over" did well it was great because I got to celebrate with my cowriters Shane and Josh (Osborne), but when "Leave The Night On" went #1 I was able to celebrate it with a whole team of people from my label, to my management, to my band and everybody who was involved. When you have a moment of success, to me, it's sweeter when you can celebrate with a team of people and that made "Leave The Night On" a little more special to me because I knew how many people worked to get it there.
7) You've been making a lot of TV appearances on Late night television, Good Morning America, and most recently The Ellen Degeneres show, just to name a few. Do you have someone DVR the performances for you, so that you can go back and watch them? Or do you just experience it in the moment and want to remember it that way?
The second option. I don't like to watch TV performances. I've never went back and watched any of the TV performances I've been on. I just like to experience it as it happens and then go from there. I do like the fact that my mom, and family and friends from back home, get to watch it. Since I've gotten on the road, I don't have a lot of time to spend with my family, so that's one of the ways I stay connected to them. One of the nice things about being on TV shows or being on the radio is that I feel like I can still have that connection even though I don't get to be there face to face with them.
8) You're a new artist, but one who has really taken off a lot faster than most. There is a lot of buzz around you and your music right now. What has your reaction been to how well your music has been received?
I've been really excited to hear that people are reacting in the way that they are. When you spend so much time working on songs and production and making it all come together; by the end of it you start to lose perspective on whether or not the music is going to connect with people. By the end of the process, I was thinking 'Is this great? Will this work? Are people going to enjoy this and connect with it?' It's always hard to tell, so you just got to be vulnerable and put it out there and hope for the best. It is really rewarding when people start to buy the records and people start to come out for the shows and see the enthusiasm on their face in the live shows make it all worth it. I'm flattered, humbled, and excited that the people are connecting with my music the way that they are.
9) As all new artists do, you've embarked on a radio tour. Before signing to a label, were you aware of what a radio tour was, and has it been different than what you expected it to be?
I had heard about radio tours and what they consisted of. I really had no clue looking back now that I've experienced it! I had a blast on my radio tour and I'm not technically on a radio tour right now, but we're still playing shows and working with a lot of radio stations in-between our official "Lipstick Grafitti" tour dates. I've had a great experience so far. I've heard it's a lot of hard work and it was a grind and it could be tough at times, but I have no complaints at all. I've met a lot of great people and we've done a lot of cool, interactive things at the stations. I tried to stay as naïve as I could about the process because everybody has a different opinion about it and I didn't want that to affect how I approached it. I didn't approach it like I was selling anything. I approached it as a way to go out and meet people, no matter who they were or what they did. All the people I met on my radio tour were really cool. It was great!
10) The CRS "New Faces" show will consist of mainly radio programmers, some who you have met while out on radio tour and some who you have not. For those Country programmers that haven't met you yet, what do you want them to know about you and your music?
There's nothing I could really verbalize that the music couldn't. I just hope that when they listen to the music that they listen to it with an open mind. When it comes to talking about my music personally, I'd much rather the music speak for itself and have it influence them that way.
1) You first learned to play guitar when you were 18. What motivated you to want to pick up a guitar and want to learn how to play?
Initially it was just a product of boredom (laughs). I had just graduated high school and was waiting to go to college and a friend of mine had bought a guitar. The idea for me to go out and buy a guitar and play had never crossed my mind, but I was over at his house that Summer and we were just killing time and hanging out. I picked up the guitar and just started messing with it. He then took it and started playing a couple of chords. It looked easy enough to at least learn a couple of chords, so the next day I had a little bit of money from graduating and went to a pawn shop and bought a guitar. Doing what I'm doing now was definitely not my intention when I went out to buy the guitar, but it evolved into this because I fell in love with playing and writing music.
2) Let's say you're putting together an episode of "CMT Crossroads" and you get to pair one Country artist up with a non-Country artist. Who would you choose?
That could take some thought, but right off the cuff I would say Thomas Rhett and Bruno Mars. I thought Thomas did a great job with the new Bruno cover he put out!
3) Following up on that, you get asked to star in an episode of "CMT Crossroads." Who would be your ideal non-Country artist to have paired up with you?
I'm a big fan of Steve Earle's. I would love to do a "Crossroads" pair up with him!