Sam Hunt Takes His Time With 'Montevallo' Followup: 'I'm Going to Put Music Out When I Feel Like it's Ready'

Scoring a blockbuster debut album can be both a blessing and a curse. There are obviously a lot of perks to sudden success, but on the other side of the double-edged sword lies the pressure to follow up with another hit-laden album. Yet Sam Hunt doesn’t appear to be worried about the old sophomore slump, and to paraphrase one of his chart-topping hits, the Georgia native plans to take his time following up his 2014 full length debut Montevallo.

“Fortunately, the music from the first record really connected with people and I was really proud of that,” says Hunt, looking relaxed onboard the Carnival Cruise ship Splendor prior to a show as part of the Carnival Live concert series. “I put a lot of time into that record before putting that record out and I have a lot less time to devote to the second record, so I’ve tried to figure out how to be as efficient as a songwriter with the new obligations and a new lifestyle since I’m not as free to write. I’m sort of figuring all of that out, but it’s coming along.”

Hunt knows that Nashville tends to operate on a certain timetable, but doesn’t plan to follow the usual model.  “I don’t want to rush it,” he says. “There’s this sort of model that exists in Nashville that we think we have to abide by: You put out a record and in two years you have to put out another one and have three or four singles. There are all these rules that I’ve just sort of thrown out the window. I’m going to put music out when I feel like it’s ready.”

This week makes two years since Montevallo was released on Oct. 27, 2014. “Leave the Night On” was the first single to hit the top of the charts, going No. 1 on both Billboard’s Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs lists fir Nov. 15, 2014. “Take Your Time,” “House Party,” and “Make You Miss Me” also hit No. 1 on Country Airplay with “Make You Miss Me” peaking at No. 2 on Hot Country Songs. Hunt quickly became one of country’s hottest new acts and set a record as the first solo male artist to land four No. 1s on the Country Airplay chart from a debut studio album.

He admits to feeling a little pressure to repeat that chart success. “I’ve got a few songs that I’m excited about that I’m going to put out, even if that is a long time before the next record comes out,” he says. “Everything is changing right now on how we put out I’m going to try to adapt accordingly. I do feel pressure internally and externally to put out music, but that excites me because I love songwriting and this brings me back to why I got in music in the first place so I’m excited about that.”

Hunt’s first taste of success came as a songwriter. His credits include Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over,” Keith Urban’s “Cop Car,” Billy Currington’s “We Are Tonight” and he recently provided newcomer William Michael Morgan with his first No. 1, “I Met a Girl.” But he admits he doesn’t have as much time to write for others as he previously did. “Time has become a lot more valuable,” he says. “I don’t have time to just write with other people in mind or just with the openness that that could be a possibility. I have to focus my goals and really focus on writing for myself and the next project because the time to sit at home and write is a lot more rare now.  If I had the option to write for other people or just write in general in a more broad sense, I would love to do that, but I’ve kind of had to focus those studio sessions and the time back home on the next project.”

Hunt plans to write everything for his next album. “I want to be even more vulnerable and more honest than I was on the first record even,” he says, “and that is obviously going to require me to write the songs if I’m going to tap into my own life and really, if I want that record to reflect real experiences in my life, then I’m going to have to write the songs.”

Though the former college quarterback is already working toward the next album, he says his main priority right now is enjoying the fruits of his success and learning how to relax and maintain a personal life outside the spotlight. “That’s what I’m working on now and I have actually prioritized that over the next record,” he says. “For me personally, that is something that I needed to do. I’m very competitive, driven and passionate about music and what I’ve done and what I hope to do, and sometimes I have to take some steps back and realize that it’s not really worth sacrificing all these things in your life that are very important to me [like] having time to see my family and to have a love life and to have some of the things that I had before diving into all this full speed. I’ve been able to appreciate those things a lot more after having not been able to experience a lot of those things in the past couple of years because of my obligation to the music. That was the goal from the beginning to hit the road, tour and put out a record and do whatever it takes to get the music to people. Now that I’ve done that after a couple years, I’ve taken a step back and started to carve out time for myself because I realized how important that is. So whenever the second record comes out, I don’t think I will be putting it, prioritizing that over some of the things in my personal life that I think are important, and that I didn’t necessarily neglect, but I didn’t take full advantage of in the past couple of years.” 

Hunt admits the success he’s experienced in the past two years was a little unsettling. He says he knew the kind of man he’s always wanted to be, but sudden success made him re-examine his priorities and struggle to stay grounded. “I was a product of the relationships with my family, the environment I grew up in, all those things I kind of put on the back burner when I got into music and my life all changed dramatically,” he shares. “That is still very important to me. It’s something that I’m still working on and I think I’ll always be working on for the rest of my life, but I do feel like I’m at a place now that I’m a lot more proud of where I am now in terms of the man I am and the man I want to be than I was when my head was spinning about 12 months ago in the middle of everything happening. I’ve realized the importance of that and I’ve realized how to surround myself with the right people and put myself in the right environment to make that process happen like I want it to happen in terms of growth as a man and as a person. I’m working on that still, but I feel like I’ve gotten a good jump on it, especially in the past several months with a little more time to myself.”

After a busy year of relentless touring, Hunt is off the road the rest of 2016 and says the Caribbean dates were a nice way to finish off the year. He traveled to Cozumel, Mexico where he boarded and performed shows on two Carnival ships. “We haven’t played in about a month now and throughout the summer we were playing constantly every week, all week,” he says. “I always enjoy playing live, but there was something about last night having had that break for several weeks that made it more exciting.  I didn’t feel like I was working at all. I felt like I was a part of the cruise and just hanging out with everybody. It was really fun.”

Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts and The Band Perry, Daughtry, Styx and Journey are among the acts who have previously performed as part of the Carnival Live Concert Series. Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Jeff Foxworthy and Tim McGraw are among the performers slated for the 2017 line up.  

Hunt enjoys playing for cruise crowds.“There is a slight difference,” he says of the audience. “They are on vacation when they come to your show and everybody is in a good mood on vacation, so that works to our advantage right off the bat. Everybody was having a good time and it felt like everybody was on vacation. They definitely had fully gone into the vacation mode when they got to the show, so that really made the experience a lot more exciting for us.”