Lines are pretty blurred between Sam Hunt’s life on and off the road. When Rolling Stone caught up with the singer-songwriter in Nashville on a rare day off — his first in 27 days, with travels planned the next 26 straight days — he was surrounded by the same guys seen on his tour bus night after night.
The Georgia native moved to Music City from Birmingham, Alabama, where he was UAB’s star quarterback with a shot at the NFL. But his love of songwriting trumped his love of the game, and he decided to pursue music after graduation. A publishing deal came less than five months after unpacking boxes in his new Nashville home, and after a few minor album cuts, he scored a Number One single with Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over.” Hits recorded by Billy Currington (“We Are Tonight”) and Keith Urban (“Cop Car”) followed, while Hunt was simultaneously plotting his own track list for a debut album. His only problem? He didn’t have a band.
“I didn’t know how to go about doing that,” he remembers. “But I came home one day and my roommate, Tyrone [Carreker] was on the couch playing guitar and I asked him if he’d go up with me to Ohio to play an acoustic gig. We had such a good time, and it evolved into something more permanent.”
After recruiting three more Nashville musician pals for the band (including another roommate, guitarist Josh Burkett), along with a childhood friend from home to be his tour manager, Hunt’s traveling band was complete. And they could fast forward past the normal learning curve most new groups go through to develop chemistry.
“We’ve been buddies for a while, but we’ve become even closer after getting into this music thing,” says Hunt, whose debut album, last year’s Montevallo, has already spawned two chart-topping, platinum-selling hits. “It’s new to all of us, so all these things that we are getting to experience are firsts for all of us. If I didn’t have those guys with me, I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing to the extent that I’m doing right now. It’s a lot more fulfilling having your family and your people around.”
A family that sticks together even when they don’t have to. During our day with Hunt, he and his roommates-turned-bandmates spent some time dealing with plumbing and electricity problems at their house, later meeting up with the entire band for soundcheck, as they prepped for their opening slot on Lady Antebellum’s Wheels Up Tour. Later that night, they all met up at Park Café, a popular spot in Nashville’s Sylvan Park neighborhood, reserving every table on the restaurant’s tented back porch for a group of about 30 friends. Every band member sat at Hunt’s table for eight.
“We come home and still spend as much time together as we do on the road,” says the 30-year-old singer. “You’d think that we’d be tired of each other, but that’s the reason it works so well on the road is that we get along really, really well. We’re best buddies, and if we weren’t playing music we would be hanging out together doing something else.”
Another road tradition that follows Hunt home — and has followed him off the football field — is scratching his competitive itch. The singer tries to drum up a game of basketball any day that he can, whether on tour or at home. He’s fiercely religious about staying in shape, and doing so with friends is his favorite workout.
“I have this music craving and this competitive craving happening within me all the time,” he says. “I’m able to get my music fix now that I’m doing what I’m doing for a living, but I don’t get as much of the competitive fix anymore. . . I’d play football if it was easier to run up a game of football, but it’s a whole lot easier to find a basketball game at a YMCA.”
As our cameras followed Hunt working out, working on his house and working on his live show, it was clear that a “day off” involved very little downtime. But given Hunt’s caffeinated mindset, the wheels that still constantly turn off the road are welcomed.
“I love Nashville so much and my buddies here, that when we do get back to town we try to cram as much Nashville activities as we can in a short amount of time.”