Lyrics Uncovered: Sam Hunt, ‘Downtown’s Dead’
When Hunt pitched the idea to longtime co-writer Zach Crowell, he was at a point of self-reflection in both his career and personal relationship. "Downtown's Dead" centers around a man who is in the middle of a vibrant downtown atmosphere, but he's missing his girl. That was the case for Hunt, a 2018 Taste of Country Music Festival headliner.
"It was something he first mentioned with me a while back, and we started playing around with it, trying to come up with some musical ideas and talking the idea through,” Crowell tells Taste of Country of the preliminary process of writing the "Downtown's Dead" lyrics. "It was an idea that Sam brought and we chipped away at over the course of a handful of different writes."
Hunt and Crowell took the idea to Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, and that's when the song really began to take form, with the writing team experimenting with different musical styles before landing on the acoustic guitar-driven song that's quickly climbing the country charts.
"With Sam, you usually try songs in various ways. You try on different landscapes that can make the song sound a little bit different. There's definitely an evolution from the beginning to the end," Crowell explains of Hunt's writing method. He says that initially, there were versions of the song led by piano and keyboard before they determined the guitar-dominated rendition was the most natural fit. "He experiments."
One of the most intriguing aspects of the "Downtown's Dead" lyrics is the loneliness that pours through when Hunt professes: “Downtown’s dead without you / Girls walk by and friends say hi / Then Friday night it might as well be just another / Tuesday night without you / As long as you’re still in my head / There ain’t a way that I can paint a ghost town red / Downtown’s dead." Crowell says this is an authentic reflection of the way Hunt was feeling during a breakup with his now-wife Hannah Fowler and its correlation to his fast-rising career.
"There was a time where they broke up when his career was taking off. There were things going on around him that he didn't want to experience without her — him realizing that what he wanted in his life was to be back with Hannah," Crowell says, adding that the writers were conscious in finding a balance between writing a song that was commercial, but still artistic and true to Hunt's personal experience. "So it's a little autobiographical and where he was once the success had come, saying that, ‘It's going good all around me, but I'm not satisfied.’ That's where the truth of the song comes out and the phrase 'Downtown's dead without you.’ It's a little bit of a metaphor of his career."
Hunt is known for writing songs that make a lasting impression — see the trailblazing "Body Like a Back Road" as an example. Crowell attributes Hunt's resounding success as an artist to his ability to translate honest experiences in his own life into relatable and commercially viable stories.
"That's the whole purpose of the song is that it's an honest thing," Crowell says of the true-to-life "Downtown's Dead" lyrics. "Sam writes songs about his life and these are honest emotions that he's had for his career and relationships. These aren't made up things. This all comes from a real place with him, and that's inspiring."
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