Rising country singer Sam Hunt will release his debut studio album, Montevallo, on Oct. 27 via MCA Nashville. Here's the cover art:
Hunt, 29, has taken a non-traditional route to country stardom, picking up fans on social media and streaming services as well as terrestrial country radio.
Hunt grew up in rural Cedartown, Georgia. He played football in high school and college, and listened to rap and rock in the locker room. (Montevallo refers to the small Alabama town of the same name where Hunt lived for some time while attending the nearby University of Alabama at Birmingham.)
Football was at the center of his life until he moved to Nashville in 2008. "I didn't know you could write songs for a living," he told BuzzFeed News. "Then I realized there were lots of publishers in Nashville and these publishers were partnered with songwriters and a lot of the songs that I'd heard on country radio over the years were written by all these guys. That community of people who are churning out lots of country songs that you're hearing on the radio is not large, numbers-wise," he said.
Hunt got a publishing deal of his own and wrote songs for Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban, but he wanted to play his own songs as an artist, and tour them. "But it's hard to tour without music out," he said. Wanting to hit the road without resorting to cheesy covers, Hunt drew from what you might call a rapper's playbook, releasing a free mixtape of acoustic songs called Between The Pines in the summer of 2013. "Making the music accessible, especially in hip-hop, they do a great job," Hunt said. "When somebody's never heard you, that's the way to do it: Just give them music for free and let them decide for themselves if they like it or not."
Eventually "Raised On It," a song originally recorded for the mixtape, was picked up on XM Radio playlists, and Hunt signed a deal with Universal/MCA Nashville earlier this year. Unlike a traditional country song, "Raised On It" doesn't tell a linear story. Instead, it's a feed of snapshot images from Hunt's teens and twenties — burned CDs, rope swings, police headlights, pine scents, driving past your ex at a four-way stop. "It's sort of ADD, kind of like a Vine or an Instagram video," Hunt said. "There's a theme running throughout, but the images could be separate from each other, really."
Hunt can remember a time when trends from big cities took a long time to trickle down to rural American towns, but said that in the social media age, there's less of a divide between city and country listeners. "I remember the first time I got a computer, getting the internet going," he said. "But now, everybody's exposed to the same things. We're influenced by the same trends and we can access all the same music."
If Hunt's fans are driving trucks, they're also cruising blogs. Over the Summer, Hunt songs like "Leave The Night On" and "House Party" averaged over 200,000 streams per day on Spotify, a rep said. In August, he won the latest cycle of Spotify's Emerge program, which identifies a "next big thing" among ten new artists, awarding the one with the most streamed and shared tracks.
Many of the songs that will appear on Montevallo are polished versions of songs Hunt's fans have already heard in their original, campfire acoustic versions. Hunt says some were inspired by a woman he dated after moving to Nashville. "She's sort of somewhere in between a city girl and a country girl," he said. "She absolutely fit in when she was hanging out with me in Georgia, and she lived in a liberal, kind of hippie town that had an art school, so she fits in right there too." That woman might represent a significant portion of Hunt's listeners — young people in high school, college, or just beyond it, who can relate to the culture of both small towns and big cities. Maybe, like Hunt, they're not in a rush to get married as early as their parents did. They probably grew up listening to country music with their parents, but plenty of R&B and hip-hop too.
"The boundaries are starting to break down," Hunt said. "Maybe one day music will just be music and there won't be these categories, it'll just be different shades of music."
Here's the entire Montevallo tracklist:
1. "Take Your Time"
2. "Leave The Night On"
3. "House Party"
4. "Break Up In A Small Town"
5. "Single For The Summer"
6. "Ex To See"
7. "Make You Miss Me"
8. "Cop Car"
9. "Raised On It"
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the University of Alabama at Birmingham was in Montevallo, Alabama. Sam Hunt lived in Montevallo while attending college in Birmingham, nearby.