Lyrics Uncovered: Sam Hunt, ‘Break Up in a Small Town’
Sam Hunt‘s “Break Up in a Small Town” lyrics are bringing a cinematic quality to country radio, but according to one of its co-writers, the song didn’t come easily.
The song began with Hunt coming in to a writing session with the idea, co-writer and producer Zach Crowell explains. “Everything in Sam world is rooted in his brain, his ideas and his lyrics,” he tells Taste of Country. “He’s the backbone of all of this, because they’re all real situations that happened to him. They come from real things.”
Hunt is unique among Nashville songwriters for his slow, methodical work process, which stands in sharp contrast to the rapid-fire writing sessions that often go down in Music City, where songs are normally written in a few hours and sometimes pitched that very day.
“Writing with Sam is a slow process, in a good way,” Crowell states. “He’s very slow; he’s not about trying to write hundreds of songs. He waits for the right idea, and then spends a lot of time on it, and I think you can tell on ‘Break Up in a Small Town.’ We wrote on it that day, and probably another day or two, trying to figure it out, and then we called Shane McAnally to come in and join us on it, because he’s the best there is, and we knew he would be the guy to get us to the finish line with it.”
"We were all willing to try something different, and thank goodness, it’s working."
It was actually Crowell’s idea for Hunt to speak the verses, after hearing Hunt just speaking some ideas out loud over chords he was playing on the guitar. Once McAnally got involved, the “Break Up in a Small Town” lyrics began to take their final form.
“He was just on another level lyrically,” Crowell says. “He knows how to write emotions, he knows how to write feelings, and real situations, and he does it in a very direct way, a very descriptive way. What he brings to the table lyrically just fits right along with what Sam naturally does.”
The “Break Up in a Small Town” lyrics draw a very precise picture of the narrator gradually finding out that his former flame has a new relationship with someone he knows: “But there’s only so many streets, so many lights / I swear it’s like I can’t even leave my house / I should’ve known all along / You gotta move or move on / When you break up in a small town.”
Crowell says Hunt’s dogged work to bring a song to its full potential knows virtually no limits.
“On his first hit, ‘Come Over,’ he wrote a third verse to it after the song was a No. 1 song and had been released by Kenny Chesney. He went and he wrote another verse to it,” he shares with a laugh. “That sums up Sam. The song is No. 1, he’s got the plaque on the wall, money in the bank, and he’s still writing the song. He’s a songwriter. He has something to say, he has art to make. He’s the real deal when it comes to that stuff. He is truly genuine. And I think the world can sense it. I think that’s why it’s working so well. I think they can hear an honesty and a truth in it.”
Crowell says “Break Up in a Small Town” is “my favorite song I’ve ever been a part of,” and the success of it is even sweeter since it could have been such a huge risk to release a song that edgy to country radio.
“That’s the thing with him; he’s truly willing for it to fail,” Crowell observes of Hunt. “He of course wants it to succeed, but you’ve got to be willing to fail. He was willing for it to flop, and so was I, and so was Shane, and so was Sam’s manager. We were all willing to try something different, and thank goodness, it’s working. It’s exciting. It’s amazing. I’m very proud of that song, and honored to be a part of it.”
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