“I've put out songs like ‘Body Like a Back Road’ or ‘Kinfolks’—they're just upbeat, fun songs that are hopefully universally relatable,” Sam Hunt tells Apple Music, calling out some of the hooky singles the Georgia-bred singer released ahead of SOUTHSIDE, the long-awaited follow-up to his star-making 2014 debut Montevallo. The 12-song set flexes his down-home fluency in the rhythms of pop, hip-hop, and R&B, blending beats and throwback country textures and vocal styles and the mellow brooding of his most confessional-sounding performances. “I think if you asked somebody that really knows me well which record they heard more of me on,” he says, “I would bet that those people would say, ‘I could hear you, the person that I know, in those songs, even more so than the first record.’” Here he talks through some of the tracks that reflect the album’s range.
2016 “That song is a little more vulnerable and personal. And I know a lot of my buddies who listen to music, they don't want to hear somebody laying in about their issues. They just want to hear something fun that's easy to listen to. So that song was a little bit of a risk. I've talked about some of the reasons why it took me so long to put out a new record—this song touches on that a little bit. When I hear it now, I don't hear myself anymore, I just hear a song. People will be looking at me funny as I'm singing it, like, ‘Man, he's really putting it out there on this one.’ But to me, it's just another song from the set. Not that I don't want to still get in that place when performing it and try to authentically be in the moment, but at the same time, once it's over with, once it's written, once it's recorded, it's almost like it's not even me anymore in terms of feeling vulnerable about singing it or playing it in front of people.”
Hard to Forget “Luke [Laird] has just such a great taste in music. He knows his country music history, but he's also a big fan of a lot of the stuff that I grew up listening to outside the genre. I don't know if he had heard that Webb Pierce song [‘There Stands the Glass’] somewhere, or if it just came to mind. I think he sang the Webb Pierce part and then beatboxed his drum part and took it to the studio and then worked it up. I've been looking for a song to sample for a while and just haven't been able to find the right song. I've been messing with songs from like the ’80s and ’90s, but I think the trick was to go way back. To hear those things work together, it makes a little bit of a point. I didn't want to hit anybody over the head with it in that way, but at the same time it does make that clear, I think.”
Young Once “Nowadays I write a lot with producers who can build a track in the room, and a lot of times they'll build something before I even get there, or sometimes we'll build something in the room. We wrote that song originally on just piano and guitar, and it sat around in my phone. I just had a voice memo of it forever. Then we put it down over at Zach [Crowell]'s and started playing it and put some drums on it. We had players play on it and it just kept growing. It's one of those, like, I'm old enough now to be nostalgic about my youth, and that's a big thing in country music, is reflecting back on the good old days. I wanted to have a song that did reflect on youth, and I'm surprised nobody had written that, had hooked ‘Young Once’ in that way.”
Let It Down “I remember talking to the guys and saying, ‘What if the verses sounded like an R&B song but then you drop to this chorus and it feels like a classic bluegrass or old country?’ I'm so fascinated by that, when different genres or different worlds can come together. A lot of times, you can miss by an inch or miss by a mile and it doesn't work. I think my whole career, I try to blend R&B and country. I can't help but sing country at the end of the day, so even when I do R&B, I don't really do R&B. I'm just doing a country boy's impression a little bit. So somehow it kind of comes together.”
Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90’s “We remember telephones on the wall and pre-social-media relationships. So just thinking about the world and how much it's changed because of all those things, it was a song I wanted to write. The trick was not filling it up with a bunch of technology references and trying to find the story within it. It's just the world's so much smaller now. In a lot of ways, like the fact that I can release the record and still stay in touch with my fans, there's so many positives. But when it comes to relationships and navigating old relationships or new relationships and especially breakups, it can be tricky. I have a hard time focusing and organizing and really concentrating on getting something finished. There's something about the ninth hour that centers my focus. If I know that I have to turn something in tomorrow, I have more mental clarity on that day than I would have had combined in the months before. I sat around on those verses thinking, ‘What would you do? How would you write this? I could do this, I could do that.’ And then I had one day and it was like, ‘Okay, this is it. Boom.’”
Drinkin’ Too Much “I didn't really have a place to put that song, but I decided last minute to include the songs that have been out that didn't really have a home. There were nine songs without the three that I put out prior to this record, and it just felt incomplete. And one day I just typed in those songs to the list and then it felt like a record all of a sudden. I just wanted them to have a home, especially just for me. Not that I'm OCD about it, but there's something about looking back on it 10 years from now and feeling like, ‘This was record one, this was record two,’ without having stragglers out there. [As for the hymn on piano], faith is a big part of my lifestyle adjustment during those three years. So I wanted to acknowledge that somehow without being too overt about it or pushing it on anybody. That was a way to give credit for a little bit of redemption in a subtle way. And that's one of my favorite gospel songs. [‘Drinkin’ Too Much’] is such a heavy thing, and it's a lot to take in, so I just wanted to leave it on a hopeful note.”