NEW YORK — Sam Hunt's sophomore album opens and closes with two of the most personal songs he's ever written, as he draws from his own life to paint candid portraits for listeners.
But the country star admits he wavers when it comes to spilling his own tea in song form.
"I'm torn at times about how much of my own life I want to put out there," he said.
"Southside," the 35-year-old's sophomore album out Friday, opens with "2016," a remorseful, rueful song that recounts a variety of misdeeds, including chasing other women. It evokes classic country with lyrics like: "Put the tears back in your eyes/'Cause all my lies could still come true." The album closes with "Drinkin' Too Much," a confessional apology where he namedrops his wife. Hunt, who apologized last November after he was arrested for driving under the influence, released the song on SoundCloud in 2017 a couple months before they were married.
"Sometimes you hear a song or a lyric and you say, 'OK, this person couldn't have made that up, that has to be really about them,'" he said. "The whole honesty is the best policy approach is what I end up circling back to, especially in this genre of music that has always been described as three chords and the truth."
But not all of the 11-track "Southside" is a first-person narrative: "It's definitely not autobiographical."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hunt — whose multi-hit, Grammy-nominated 2014 debut "Montevallo" was named after the hometown his wife grew up in — talks about getting deep on songs and testing the waters with pop and rap producers like Diplo and Murda Beatz, who worked on Drake's massive hit "Nice for What."
AP: "2016" is a poignant story. Was it hard to write?
Hunt: Yeah, that one is the closest thing to a more honest reflection on my own life experience over the past two years. It touches on a story that I talked about publicly, in terms of what I had going on between putting out the last record and putting out this record, especially year three and four. This song touches on that a little bit and kind of closes the chapter I think more than anything.
AP: "Drinking Too Much" reminds me of Usher's "Confession" from 2004. Did you purposely put it at the end of the album?
Hunt: I think it's the only place on the record where it felt appropriate. It just didn't feel right to put it anywhere else.
The biggest conflict I ever had was about putting that song out. Now that I have put that song out, it's a lot easier to put out songs that are more honest. That was about as honest of a song as I'll ever put out, or I could ever put out.
AP: Your wife is playing the piano on the song?
Hunt: I didn't want to make a big deal over it, but I wanted her to. I wanted the song to have her blessing. Just her playing that part, I felt like it brought an energy of healing to the song — more than anything, her approval of it. I wanted to end the song on a hopeful note. I didn't want it to be a complete down-and-outer. I wanted the listener to hear the redemption in the song and not just ... the dark place that the guy's in as he's singing it.
AP: It's also nice to somehow involve the person you're singing about in the song.
Hunt: Yeah. Feels like it could be exploitative. That's the main thing I wanted to avoid is doing that or it even feeling like that.
AP: What was it like trying out recording sessions with pop and hip-hop producers?
Hunt: I wanted to branch out and find some new inspiration. One of the beauties of writing with the same two people for a long period of time is that you really get to know each other and there's a level of comfort in the room. There's a clear understanding of what I would say and how we should approach writing the song. At the same time, you can get too comfortable with your co-writers, so it's nice to experiment with bringing new people in, writing with new producers to find some new inspiration.
That's what I was attempting to do for a time there. I wrote with some great writers and wrote with some great producers. (But) I never found that click the way I did with Zach (Crowell).
AP: Who were some of the people you worked with?
Hunt: I worked with Diplo a little bit, trying to find the right song or the right sound. Another girl, Sasha Sloan (Camila Cabello) ... Sasha is one of the best writers I've written with in the past, or ever, really. A guy named Charlie Handsome (Post Malone, Kanye West) was in town for a few weeks, somebody introduced me to him.
AP: Your wedding anniversary is this month — how will you celebrate since we'll still be stuck at home?
Hunt: I have thought about it. I don't have a plan yet. I'm sure it'll have to be something creative. ...We both do pretty well at the house. At least we have each other to keep each other company.