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Sam Hunt’s Latest Country Hit: A 1950s Honky-Tonk Classic + a Hip-Hop Beat


“Hello.” “Hey. What’s going on?” “You face the criticism that you’re not country enough.” “If the tone of a drum is the difference between country music and pop music, that’s a pretty ridiculous statement to make.” Singing: “There stands the glass.” “He knows that he’s not a traditional country artist in today’s world. He is constantly thinking, ‘What can I bring to the table that’s not already there?’” “People are like, ‘What is that?’ And I think that’s sort of the magic of being a little bit polarizing.” Singing: “You’ve got a cold heart and the cold hard truth. I got a bottle of whiskey, but I got no proof that you showed up tonight in that dress just to mess with my head.” “You’ve sort of gained this reputation as the guy in Nashville who can incorporate hip-hop in a way that feels natural.” Singing: “ Act like I didn’t see her. We’d pay at the same pumps, flip through the same stations, and slow down for the same curves.” “If I become too conscious of it, then I can force it, and it doesn’t work as well because there are songs that I’ve never put out where I’m trying too hard to blend genres as if that’s now a responsibility of mine.” “From your vantage point, where did ‘Hard To Forget’ begin?” “I had been eating breakfast at this little spot over near my house, and this song, ‘There Stands the Glass’ came on by Webb Pierce.” Singing: “There stands the glass.” “And so I’m a big Kanye West fan and I was like, I want — like, if Kanye came across a bin of country records, I wonder what he would do with something like that? So as I’m walking out of the restaurant, I was like, ‘there stands the —’ [beatboxing] And so I made that track.” Singing: “There stands the glass.” “Super slow.” Singing: “That will ease all my pain.” “I’ve done tons of beats like this just for fun.” “And had you ever sampled anything that old?” “No, not that old.” “So what was the first version of ‘Hard to Forget’ that you heard?” “It all started with Sam and I, and Luke Laird just doing a session.” “You know when you get in a room with Ashley Gorley, he’s trying to write a hit song.” “I had an idea that day that I started and I came in with. I can’t remember exactly what it was because it was, like, so-so.” “Somewhere in session, we could just tell, not that it was stale, but I was kind of sitting there.” “About halfway through, we broke for lunch, and Luke said, ‘I had this sample, man, I wanted to play you.’” “I hadn’t even thought about playing this track for him. All of a sudden, it hit me. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. What country artist could actually legitimately pull this off?’” “Immediately in the room, Ashley and I both looked at each other like, this is awesome.” “I was like, wow, that’s probably too crazy, but if anybody can pull this off it would be Sam.” “What was it about the sample that spoke to you?” “I think the fact that it was so far — it went all the way back to the ’50s. That would have been music that my granddad listened to growing up. Like Webb Pierce, that’s where I heard that stuff. There was a place called Foster’s Mill down the street from where my grandparents lived, and they would always have old, old country playing in there. And they sold minnows because there is a creek right beside it, and Blue Bell ice cream. So the sound of it is what was so familiar to me.” “It just like transported you back to childhood?” “Yeah, right. I told Luke, I was like, let me just think on this for a couple months. Let me see if I can kick up an idea. I combine two worlds on this song because the Webb Pierce sample came along after starting the ‘Hard to Forget’ idea.” “I had this idea playing ‘Hard to Forget.’ I was with Josh and Sam, and I was like, ‘I think I have this really good idea for a title.’” “When somebody has a title like that, we’re all like, ‘Oh, yes, let’s write that.’” “I was more excited about the idea ‘Hard to Forget’ than I was about the song we ended up writing that day.” “So it just sort of went in a stack.” “I remember thinking about ‘Hard to Forget’ and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s the kind of hook we need.’ But then I thought, well, I’ve already started this song with Shane and Josh, and there’s three writers on the Webb Pierce sample. I don’t want to cut the pie up in a million pieces. But at the same time, I felt like it was just — it was too perfect.” “He was like, ‘Can I play it for y’all just so you can hear the track?’ He said we didn’t really get real far on the song.” Singing: “There stands the glass that will ease —” “I thought what we were going to do was take the existing ‘Hard to Forget’ song, and try to sing it in this track. And he goes, ‘No, no, I want to write a whole new song. All I want to use is ‘Hard to Forget.’ I just want to use that line.’” “We ended up turning the Webb Pierce track off, I think, and picking up guitars.” “Josh and I were sort of joking and talking about Buck Owens.” Singer: “I got the hungries for your love.” “We’re like, ‘You’ve got a —” “Cold heart.” “That’s a Bakersfield sound, you know? And trying to put that on top of a traditional country thing like Webb Pierce that goes way deeper south —” “And I remember us thinking like, you know, it needs to sound like a bar sing-along, like a ‘Friends In Low Places.’” Singing: “Where the whiskey drowns and the beer —” “And so we started taking these pieces of all of our influences, and putting it on this very current-sounding track.” “What was the next step?” “You got all these great songwriters that are going to be on this song. I’m like, I mean, we got to get everybody in a room together.” “It had the feeling of what I would think an N.B.A. All-Star Game would feel like. You know what I mean? We’re all hanging out like, ‘Oh, I’m sure you got this line.’ ‘Beat this line.’” Singing: “You’ve got a cold heart and the cold hard truth.” “‘Cold heart’ is throwback to Hank Williams Sr., and then I actually think Ashley Gorley said the line —” Singing: “Got a bottle of whiskey, but I got no proof.” “Which is probably my favorite line of the song.” “It was a big run-on thing of all the country hook lyrics that Nashville’s kind of known for.” Singing: “So much for so long, out of sight, out of mind. Girl, you’re looking so good, it’s driving me out of mine. Oh, you’re breaking my heart. Baby, you’re playing hard to forget.” “I feel like we got it to a certain point, and then he was like, ‘I think I’m good.’” “And at that point it was like, OK, it’s like you’re putting the puzzle together, and you get the borders.” “He just wants time to think about it and live with it, and at the end of the day, he just has a certain barometer and a certain meter that makes a song him.” “And then Zach sort of brings the whole thing together?” “Yeah Zach — I don’t think his importance to the Sam sound can be overstated.” “The sample, it’s the backbone of the song, but it’s actually — the sample’s not in there very much.” “What did you think needed to happen to make it, A, a Sam Hunt song and, B, a Sam Hunt hit?” “The main thing I did was sped it up.” Singing: “There stands the glass that will ease all my pain.” “Those are the things that he does so well. He’ll hear something like that — goes, it needs to be up here at this tempo.” “And then all of a sudden, it felt like, ‘Oh, crap! This feels like a hit.’” “One night, we had a tracking session. We just let the band play a million different things. We ended up recording drums on it, but I didn’t use any of them. They just didn’t sound right. It felt that that song would be best served if it had hip-hop 808 drums.” Singing: “There stands the glass.” “He finds the balance between the live band and then what he supplements. That’s really his forte. He can really find that sweet spot.” “I’m very much the guy who loves to squeeze a bunch of little candy hooks, here and there.” “When you put a happiness in the background, it kind of comes through.” “He brought in my daughter and some of her friends. I’ve got 15-year-old daughter that was singing on the last chorus with a bunch of her buddies.” Singing: “You’re breaking my heart. Baby, you’re playing hard to forget.” “We needed a female voice texture on there to offset a bunch of dudes hollering in the background.” “You put some of those gang vocals on it, it just kind of comes to life. And it’s putting those — you know, kind of putting a ribbon on it or the bow on it, where it starts to feel like it’s getting finished.” Singing: “So much for so long, out of sight, out of mind. Girl, you’re looking so good, it’s driving me out of mine. Oh, you’re breaking my heart. Baby, you’re playing hard to forget.” “Did you think it was risky at all to release this as a single?” “It didn’t feel too, that radical to me mainly because the song itself is such a — it’s a country song.” “He’s really good at knowing how to kind of zigzag and keep everybody guessing, but also be true to what his brand is.” “The fact that country music artists today are going back in time to something like 1953 is telling you something. That song has a resonation, no matter what generation is listening to it.” Singing: “There stands the glass.” “Are people coming to you now, and asking you for this sauce, this, old-school samples?” “You know what? If so, I’m ready for it. I hope so. That’d be so much fun. Look, we can samples for days.” [laughter] Singing: “Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum.” “I just had this idea that I wanted it to bounce.” Singing: “I got the horses in the back.” Singing: “Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum.” “Man, what’s the deal? Man, I’m coming through. It’s your girl, Lizzo.” [laughs]

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