On Jan. 1, some of us will sleep in then go for a big greasy breakfast, others will be nursing a hangover or hitting the gym. Sam Hunt will be delivering his new album to his record label.
It’s been a long wait for fans since the country singer-songwriter exploded on the scene with his 2014 MCA Records Nashville debut album, Montevallo, which yielded four No. 1s on the Country Airplay chart, making him the first male solo artist to land a quartet of No. 1 singles — “Leave the Night On,” “Take Your Time,” “House Party” and “Make You Miss Me” — from a debut. He also became the first country artist in 22 years to peak at No. 1 on three Billboard country charts simultaneously and the first in 25 years to take both Billboard’s year-end country album and single top spot.
A year later, Hunt followed the album with the re-release of his 2013 mixtape, Between the Pines, then the new material started coming. First, 2017’s mega smash “Body Like a Backroad,” which spent 34 weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and then nothing for more than a year when he dropped “Downtown’s Dead” in May 2018.
Last week, the 34-year-old debuted slow-burner “Sinning With You” during an hour-long set for 150 fans who won tickets to see him perform for the Bud Light House Party at a secret location they were bused to outside of downtown Calgary. The livestreamed event was the third in a trio of House Party shows staged by Bud Light in Canada this summer following 2 Chainz in Toronto and Alison Wonderland in Montreal.
Hunt told Billboard by phone before the event that the new album covers a range of topics, including “songs [about] trying to entertain a girl that you just met or that you’re getting to know,” and reflective tunes like “Sinning With Me,” which he describes as “a commentary on growing up in the South and the conflict with religion and being in a relationship before you’re married and all that comes with that.” He added that he has recorded four new songs for the album and plans to spend the next two months in the studio.
Who have you been writing with for the new album?
I’ve been writing with some of the same guys that I wrote a lot of the first record with, who had been with me from the beginning, and a few new guys and girls. I’ve written a lot of different songs over the past two or three years since putting out my first record, but they were all over the place, to be honest. I made a point last September to say, “OK, I’m going to write for the next 12 months. I’m going to focus and organize my efforts and whatever I come up with will be the next record.” So the songs on the record will be songs that were written within about a 12-month period.
How many songs did you end up writing to choose from?
I probably wrote 15 to 20 songs. I started a lot of songs that I never ended up finishing, which would probably put it closer to 25 or 30.
Stylistically, has anyone been influencing you that you’ve heard the past year or two? Lil Nas X or anyone like that?
[Laughs] No. No. I’m inspired by a lot of different music, but you won’t necessarily hear any of that influence on the new record.
Taylor Swift started in country and then moved into pop. would you ever go further in that direction? “Body Like a Back Road” reached No. 6 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and on Adult Top 40.
Especially as I get older, I don’t see myself going towards the pop world. I definitely, if anything, will slide back into even a more traditional sound. I like the idea of being adventurous and finding new ways to combine styles and to try to come up with something new and fresh. So that is important to me, but I don’t see myself actively trying to cross over.
Now that you’re married, is your wife as much of an influence lyrically as she was in the past when you had issues?
I would like to say yes, but to be honest, I don’t write a lot of love songs, for whatever reason. I need adversity to find inspiration and I don’t have a whole lot of turmoil in my love life right now. It’s pretty steady, so I’ve had to try to find inspiration. A lot of it had come from the transition that I’ve gone through from being in my 20s and single for a lot of that time to being in a committed relationship with somebody who I know will be with me for the long haul. It’s not necessarily reflective of where I am now. I guess the songs are more a reflection of the transition.
There is footage of you performing “Nothing Lasts Forever” last May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Is that going to be on the album?
Yeah, I’m going to put it on the record.
You’re still recording? It’s not in the can?
No, not yet. We have four songs finished, so I’ve got another handful to go. We’ll be recording through October, November.
Is there one producer that you’re working with?
Yeah, Zach Crowell, who worked a lot on the first record.
What about Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne who worked on the first album?
Yeah. Shane got pretty busy the past couple of years. He’s got a lot going on, so he’s still a friend, a buddy who I run things by, but he’ll be on a song or two still. I still wrangle him up every once in a while, but Josh and Zach are really digging in.
It sounds like it will probably be next year that we see an album?
Yeah. I’ll be turning the record into my record label on Jan. 1, so they’ll have a timeline worked out that, hopefully, will be sooner than later.
The video for “Take Your Time” has about 200 million YouTube views and I’m sure that a lot of people identified, unfortunately, with the domestic abuse storyline. Did you get letters from people who had gone through an abusive relationship or left one? What was the lasting effect of that?
Yeah, more than anything [it was] just crossing paths with people on the road. People will come up to me and not necessarily go into the details of their backstories, but just tell me that that video meant something to them. I couldn’t have anticipated the kind of impact that some of these people have come up and told me that it had on their lives. So that means a lot to me.