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Country's Next Big Twang: Extended Sam Hunt Interview

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We chatted with Georgia singer-songwriter Sam Hunt, 29 — whose penned hits for the likes of Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney, and now has a No. 1 single under his own belt buckle –for this week’s issue. Full of stories and thoughtful answers, we thought we’d put the rest of the chat up here.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where are you right now?

SAM HUNT: I’m on the back of the bus – we’re riding to New York. We got a pretty long haul.

Where are you driving from?

Nashville. We just left about an hour ago. Some people don’t like long bus rides but I love them. There’s sort of a sense of solitude. Once you travel on this bus so much you get comfortable here, so it’s sort of like sitting at home.

The first single off your new debut album, Montevallo, “Leave the Night On,” went platinum. Did it feel like a hit when you wrote it? 

I thought it was a song that could do well. But truthfully, it wasn’t my first choice, because it had been so long since I had written it, I had lost a little bit of perspective. There are a lot of songs that are themed in a similar way, and I wanted to put something out that was unique. Fortunately, after having it out and hearing it, people did catch onto the nuances of the song that separate it from other songs that maybe have similar themes and it worked out.

When did you start realizing the sort of steam it was gathering?

When I started to notice that the people that were coming out to see us play live – because we were touring pretty heavy this summer – the number of people there singing that song back was growing pretty fast. I don’t really have a chance to listen to the radio a lot and truthfully, I’ve only heard it on [there] one time, but I knew it must be gaining steam if more people were hearing about the song and learning it and coming to the shows.

It’s a little weird when radio stops being a regular thing in life…

Yea when I was a lot younger I always had the radio and now I’m rarely in the car. And personally, when it comes to “Leave the Night On” or whatever it is, I didn’t really like to pay attention too much to how well it’s doing. I just, I don’t know why. Just superstition or whatever it is but I didn’t mind not hearing it.

You got your start as a songwriter – what’s different about writing songs for yourself versus other performers?

I make sure to spend a lot more time making sure that I’m saying lyrically what I would say personally, I guess, as the artist. A lot of times in a songwriting session, if I’m not specifically thinking about myself – which, usually now, for the most part I’m always doing that – but in the past there have been times when good lyrics may come out that I wouldn’t necessarily say or that I don’t feel like represent me as a person or an artist I might go with it for the sake of that specific song but now I make sure that the ideas and lyrics and stories and experiences all represent me in an honest way.

That’s a little trickier you have to dig a little more…

Deeper?

Yeah, it’s easier and it’s harder. It’s easier because you just can look into your own life and be a little more personal with the songwriting. But its tougher because a lot of times a good idea might come up, but it doesn’t represent me so I have to pass on it and keep digging.

How did you get your foot in the door in the Nashville-songwriting community and partner up with Shane [McAnally]?

Well, Shane came back to town – he had gone to LA — about the same time I moved to town. When I met him I was pretty frustrated with my songwriting experience and just not being able to really find, in the co-writing world, anybody that I really hit it off with as an artist. I had had maybe a song or two recorded by some young guys that never ended up panning out with whichever labels they were on but the second time I wrote with Shane we wrote “Come Over” and that was the first song recorded by a major recording artist [Kenny Chesney].

And the biggest thing, it’s about the relationship I started with Shane and his willingness to push the boundaries and try some things that were a little more forward than what was going on the current radio.

When you two are writing, are you purposely ‘pushing boundaries.’, or are you just making the songs you want and that’s just what people say about them?

It wasn’t intentional. When I met Shane and a couple of the guys, I finally felt free to write and come in with ideas and spend time stylistically on songs and really I didn’t really think too much about whether or not they fit in this genre. Before, that was all I thought about when I was co-writing.

You know, when you’re batting around ideas people say, “You can’t say that,” or “You can’t do this,” or “That’s too much of this, too little of this…” It’s just all these rules that you use to make sure you stay inside the commercial genre and that was what I finally broke out of with Shane.

As a result, there’s been a lot of discussion about the genre of the music you make. Can you talk a little bit about the other influences that come through on a lot of tracks?

I’ve always really liked the rhythm element of songs. So, the drums or the sound of the kick drums or the snare and the percussion — that’s something that we experiment with a little bit on this record. Traditionally, in country, there’s a drum kit and there’s a variation to the sound but it’s more subtle than what we did on this record. I wanted to use the drums as an instrument that had a pretty wide range of sounds so that one kick drum sounded this way one and the other kick drum in a different song makes it sound completely different. And, that I think, when people hear that, they don’t think “country.”

So I think that’s probably the element that throws people off the most but if you take that away and just put the regular drum and just some of the more traditional sounds, I feel like they’re all country songs lyrically. They’re just stories about country life.

So what makes a country song is that there’s a linear structure to the story being told?

Yea, that’s what I hang my definition onto. I think of a song in terms of lyrics and stories and that’s what keeps it country for me.

You’ve been associated with ‘bro-country’ – does that term get under your skin?

That’s something that conveniently was becoming popular when I came along – this little “bro-country” sub-genre and I don’t really know the criteria for what decides whether or not you’re in that little thing or not. I don’t know if the phrase originally was meant to be derogatory but it’s turned into that. It’s sort of a snobby thing to say. You know, I think some people enjoy being above whatever “bro-country” is.

If whoever is judging music — including mine — as that, I don’t think they’re listening really closely to the songs and the lyrics.

Switching gears a little bit – prior to a music career you had an athletic one. What have you carried over from that discipline to this one?

First off, just learning how to connect the dots between hard work and success and having experienced that through the time I spent working in football and the success I had. That’s more of a life lesson – you could apply that to anything you do. But a lot of the lessons that are taught in football will promote success in anything you get into after football, for me it just happens to be music. Being disciplined. Good character. Trying to do the right thing, and working hard. That’s been probably the biggest thing.

I played quarterback and it was a leadership position and even though I’m doing a solo thing now, a lot of my success is a part of assembling this team of people who are really, really talented and their position doesn’t put them out front the way mine does, but it’s still a team effort.

Does musical talent run in your family?

Not that I know of. But my grandfather was a storyteller. He would take us out dove hunting and we’d get out there before the legal time that we could start shooting and he would tell us stories and we’d sit around, all the men and boys, and listen, hang out and talk.

You don’t have a typical country-star resume. You were a philosophy major for a while and a star football player and NFL hopeful in college. We’re your parents worried when you headed to Nashville?

[Laughs] I’m sure they were as any parent is as their child is in that transition from school to adulthood. But they had enough faith in me just from being around me so much and knowing I wasn’t too troublesome that I would figure it out one way or the other.

You’ve gained fame pretty quickly. What’s been your craziest fan experience?

I’m conflicted about the lyric tattoo thing. I feel like that’s a lifetime decision and I always feel like, “I hope you don’t regret this a couple years from now when you get tired of that song.” but if somebody connects at that level to the music and it brings them some fulfillment, even though I might not understand it completely, I guess it’s okay.

Have you had any big ‘a-ha’ moment where you really realize this is all ‘happening’?

That happens on a day-to-day basis and it doesn’t really sink in. When certain things happen that open my eyes to the level of reach that we’ve had so far. I don’t know, I just can’t wrap my head around it and then when something happens the next day it hits me just as hard.

You now have a whole new platform – do any new goals come with that? Maybe branching into other areas of entertainment or even music genres?

Nothing from an entertainment standpoint, I’ll see where it all goes. It’s more to use the influence to personally influence people outside of the music. I want the music to do the majority of the talking but if the music earns an open ear in the future – although I don’t have a message that I’m preaching today – I just hope I can use that pedestal to do good for people, outside of the songs for themselves.

 

 

The ACM Awards: The night's best lines

“There’s20 million dollars worth of hairdos out here and it all has confetti in it. This is not a Head & Shoulders commercial, everybody.” —Luke Bryan, after show openers the Band Perry unleashed their confetti guns on the A-list front row.

“If you don’t like live music, then you need to go down the block and see Britney Spears.” — Blake Shelton in the opening monologue READ FULL STORY

ACM Awards: The winners list

Here’s who took home the televised prizes at tonight’s Academy of Country Music Awards:

Vocal Duo of the Year: Florida Georgia Line

New Artist of the Year: Justin Moore

Single Record of the Year: Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart”

Song of the Year: Lee Brice, “I Drive Your Truck”

Male V0calist of the Year: Jason Aldean

Vocal Group of the Year: The Band Perry

Female V0calist of the Year: Miranda Lambert

Album of the Year: Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park

Entertainer of the Year: George Strait

Johnny Cash's new album 'Out Among the Stars' -- EW talks to the country icon's son about unearthing the lost recordings

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On March 25, Legacy Recordings will release Out Among the Stars, a “lost” album by Johnny Cash which the singer recorded for Columbia Records in 1984.

So how on earth do you lose an album by a bona fide country icon? Well, it helped that back in the early ‘80s, Cash was not exactly flavor of the month, C&W-wise. “Johnny Cash did not quite fit,” says John Carter Cash, the producer son of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Cash recorded the tracks with producer Billy Sherrill who at the time was the A&R chief at CBS Records Nashville, but even his imprimatur couldn’t get the collection released at the time. “I think he made the record which was correct for Johnny Cash,” says John Carter. “However, Columbia didn’t know what to do with it so this record was literally shelved.”

READ FULL STORY

Watch Taylor Swift's cat-party ACM 'For Your Consideration' video

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Taylor Swift may have painted the world red in last year’s “For Your Consideration” video for the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) but this year, the singer and her Big Machine label boss Scott Borchetta opted for a sillier approach.

The tongue-in-cheek clip opens with Borchetta realizing that the only thing he has yet to check off on the “Taylor To-Do List” of world domination is create a for-your-consideration ACM video. Borchetta quickly calls Taylor but before he can get a word in, Swift puts him on hold to take care of more pressing matters like painting her nails and pampering her famous kitty-cat, Meredith.

Watch Taylor Swift’s ACM “For Your Consideration” video below:

READ FULL STORY

Garth Brooks announces 2014 World Tour plans on 'GMA'

Garth Brooks went on Good Morning America to promote his new box set, Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences, when he decided to add a little something extra: He revealed that he’s heading out on a world tour in 2014.

“You know what, since it’s you and since we’ve had a history forever, let’s announce it. We’re going on a world tour in 2014,” Brooks told Robin Roberts. “I can’t believe I just did that, but you are a doll.”

Now that his youngest daughter is a senior in high school, Brooks says he’s ready to hit the road once again. “All my babies are fine with it. Ms. Yearwood is fine with it.  So now I get to do what I love to do, which is play music.  I get to be with the person I want to be with, which is Ms. Yearwood.”

Watch Carrie Underwood fall on stage and literally miss one note -- VIDEO

At a concert in Texas on Thursday night, Carrie Underwood proved the combination of 5-inch stilettos and a long flowy shirt is dangerous if you’re a singer who stomps for emphasis. Watch her hit the floor in the video below and, well, you can read the headline. Equally impressive: how she handled it afterward on Twitter. Here’s hoping she can feel her toes now (and appreciate how funny it is that she was performing “Undo It” at the time). READ FULL STORY

Kelly Clarkson is the ultimate wedding singer in new 'Tie It Up' video

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In a knock-down, drag-out, musical battle royale between Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, who would win?

The answer, obviously, is Kelly Clarkson.

Okay, so maybe Kelly’s wedding reception-ready single “Tie It Up” isn’t going to generate sales as huge as “Roar” or “Applause.” But all the same, the song is bouncy, twangy, and earwormy enough to guarantee a place of honor at plenty of upcoming marriage celebrations. And its cute new video, which splices footage of wedding singer Kelly — flashing her own gorgeous engagement ring — with clips of normal people’s nuptials, is pure feel-good fun. (Yes, a few gay couples get featured; yes, in a perfect world, this wouldn’t be unusual enough to earn a special mention.)

READ FULL STORY

Kelly Clarkson goes country on new single, 'Tie It Up': Hear it here!

Kelly Clarkson’s dabbled in country before — remember her 2010 duet with Jason Aldean? — but her latest single, the let’s-get-married come-on “Tie It Up,” isn’t dabbling. It’s straight-up country, with a straight-up blues-country beat.

Clarkson sent out the single’s cover art online and then debuted the song at CMA Fest, reportedly telling the audience, “I’ve been nervous all day because I wanted to be good for you!” She shouldn’t have worried: “Tie It Up” is feisty genre fun, while still making room for the typical Clarkson wail. It’s a vision of commitment that’s worth committing to.

Watch her performance after the jump:

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Tiny versions of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran flirt in their new video for 'Everything Has Changed': Watch it here

It’s the classic love story: Boy meets girl on a school bus, boy loses girl, the ’60s happens, girl has boy’s baby, girl dies of AIDS.

Oh, wait — sorry, that’s Forrest GumpTaylor Swift’s new video for the Ed Sheeran-featuring “Everything Has Changed” video is similar but much more gentle than that, featuring what appears to be child versions of Swift and Sheeran flirting, playing guitar, and getting fake tattoos (Sheeran!) at their quaint little public school in the countryside.

And at the end, viewers finally to get to glimpse the real Swift and Sheeran. See it for yourself below:

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