Before he was country music’s hottest new star, back in his Alabama college days, Sam Hunt was a promising quarterback and a philosophy major. So it’s not surprising he was taken with a passage in Plato’s Republic about achieving societal equilibrium by teaching both athletics and creative disciplines.
“That struck a chord in me,” says Hunt, speaking somewhat literally, “because I had never explored the arts at all, and coming from a football background where everything was very intense, I had more of a wound-up, aggressive nature. Picking up a guitar brought a lot of balance into my life.”
Hunt is a welcome outlier in a landscape dominated by schlocky “bro country” music. His 2014 debut, Montevallo, is full of mellow jams that incorporate electronic elements, even soul. “I grew up listening to a lot of those types of rhythms and percussion sounds,” the 30-year-old says, “and I applied the country lifestyle I also grew up with to the storytelling, so that’s how the recipe started.”
With his album back in the top 5 this past summer, almost a year after its release, and a single (“Take Your Time”) that burned up the pop charts, Hunt doesn’t have much time for futzing with a football anymore, but he does get in cardio and weights two to three times a week, even on the road—a key example of a former gridiron guy intent on playing by his own rules. “I don’t let many things that are superficial keep me in a box,” he says, acutely aware of how “stereotypical” things like flannel shirts and cowboy hats could limit his appeal to a broader audience. “People might never give me a chance.”