Editor’s Note: CMT Hot 20 Countdown takes a look back on 10 years of incredible music with Decade, a weekly segment that features a modern country classic that made its greatest impact between 2010 and 2019. This week, Sam Hunt talks about his 2014 single, “Take Your Time.” CMT Hot 20 Countdown airs at 9/8c Saturday and Sunday mornings.
CMT: I know you co-wrote “Take Your Time.” Take me through where that song came from.
Hunt: Yeah. The idea for this song came up in a co-write with my buddy Josh Osborne and a third writer. That day I remember throwing out the idea to experiment with that sort of talking thing in those verses, and our third co-writer wasn’t really into it. Josh and I went with the flow and put the idea to the side. But after the write, Josh was like, “Hey, I did really like what you were doing. I think we should take that in with Shane next week when we write.” I think we were writing with Shane McNally the next week.
So they got into that writing and Josh was like, “Hey, do the thing you were doing in the write the other day. The ‘Take Your Time’ idea.” And so I started doing it. Shane really liked it and immediately got on board. The song fell out for me. A lot of times songs take a little while to finish, but that one came pretty quick. It was an experiment a little bit originally. I don’t know that I could have written it with any two different people other than Shane and Josh. It was a meant-to-be kind of thing. They jumped on board when the inspiration hit and we finished it that day.
I’ve heard you do that kind of talk/sing more than once. Is this the first song you did it on?
It was. Yes. I had messed around with it conceptually but it was a little bit outside the box, obviously, so a lot of my co-writers would look at me strange when I would attempt to do that in some of the earlier writes. But those guys, Shane and Josh, were the guys that were willing to experiment with me. All the songs we wrote early on were… Some of them were way further outside the box than “Take Your Time” ended up, man. But we found a sweet spot and it was a lot of R&B influence in my music. That song of captured that, I think early on, in a way that was authentic to me.
Well, the chorus is R&B-sounding but the verses have that unique talk-sing thing you did. How did you get that idea in the first place?
A lot of times when you’re writing, you try to conceptualize an idea that you have and you’re talking out the verse, you know? “What if the verse said something like….” Josh might’ve been playing the guitar and I started talking some of the lyrics — slash singing — and it sounded musical. They were like, “We’ll just do that.” I was thinking, “I was just kind of explaining how it should maybe go, but let’s find a better melody.” But the phrasing fell into a pocket that was musical.
We took the best moments of that and plugged it in and it just seemed to work. So, yeah, there’s more than just that encouragement I got from those guys. I guess it motivated me to pursue it even more, so I started doing that more often. A couple of the songs, I think I’ve had that approach, but a lot of it is just me not being able to think of a good melody. [laughs] So I start speaking the lyrics and singing a little bit here and there. As long as the story continues to progress, and people are following along, it seems to work.
When you were about to release “Take Your Time,” you had no way of knowing whether it would or wouldn’t work. Was there any anxiety about trying to get radio to play this, and hoping that it would catch on with the public the way you guys felt about it?
Maybe a little bit. You know, the reaction I’d get from people — and I didn’t play music for a lot of folks — but most people either really liked it or really didn’t like it. I thought that was better than a mediocre reaction. I was optimistic about it, mostly because it felt original, and more than anything I wanted to be authentic and original. How it was received came second to making sure I stuck to that.
What was that like for you when you got up to No. 1, and then stayed there for 11 weeks? That’s what everybody dreams about, but rarely has it actually happened.
I think it was most helpful for me because not a whole lot of people knew who I was at that time. To have a song being played as much as that song was being played was helping us make new fans. All of our fans were new fans because I was just getting started. Having that exposure early on helped to build the bedrock of the fan base we’ve been able to build since then. The strength of that early push was really helpful to us, in terms of being able to sustain the touring schedule and the career I’ve had since then.
Did it also validate the fact that you had the courage to go with what felt authentic to you, instead of maybe what everybody else was doing at the time?
Yeah. Well, I definitely had to look at a lot of people who were involved coming up and [tell them], “OK, just trust me, guys. I know it seems radical and I know you guys are worried about how this will be received, but trust me.” So, for all the folks who said, “I don’t know about this,” I never had an “I told you so” moment, by any means.
But I think it gave a little more creative control to me going forward because people that I was working with, within the industry, [could say], “Well, OK. He has his own thing. It’s gotten a good reaction. We’re gonna give him the benefit of the doubt going forward when he wants to be a little more experimental.”
Talk a little, if you would, about the music video. Where did that idea come from?
It was an idea that we had. My manager and my producer and I have been the board behind for everything that we’ve done from the very beginning. We sat around and talked about that song and that video. And we found a director who was done a couple videos for a band called The 1975 that we were listening to at the time and we really liked what he was doing. And it came to life from those meetings. I can’t remember exactly how the idea came about, but it was one of those things that naturally happened. … There was a collective effort. A lot of people put their heads together.
How far did you have to walk down that road?
Man, it was about 20 degrees that morning. And I probably made that walk 15 or 20 times over the course of two hours. You can see me bundled up in the video. It was cold!
You’ve already said that “Take Your Time” helped people know who you are. What did that song ultimately do for your career, and for where you stand right now?
I sort of understood it at the time, but even now, looking back, I realize that a lot of our fans, I wouldn’t call traditional country music fans, and they stumbled across my music a lot of times. The more non-traditional country music fans came on board through that song.
I have people come up and tell me, “You know, I wasn’t a big fan of country music until I stumbled across some of your songs.” Namely this one, for a lot of people. And then, “Now I’m a big fan of Carrie Underwood, or Dan + Shay, Keith Urban…” There are people who are country music fans now and I was their gateway. That means a lot to me.
I know that song has a lot to do with it because people have an idea of what country music is and they hear something that’s outside of that box. Country music is a traditional genre. We like to stick to what we do and do that. But I think people were a little more optimistic about becoming country music fans when they saw an artist who was willing to, I guess, break a few of the rules a little bit early on.