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A week into the release of their heartrending duet "When Was It Over?" and Sasha Sloan and Sam Hunt are feeling good about its reception.
"My manager called me and is like, 'Skip rates super-low.' And I was like, 'That's great,'" jokes Sloan. "I think Sam may have saved me from getting dropped is what I keep saying."
Susanne Kindt; courtesy universal music group Sam Hunt and Sasha Sloan
While a collaboration between the singer-songwriter and the country star was something people didn't see coming, Hunt is excited to hear his fans have reached out to Sloan post-release to share they're now listening to her music, and vice versa with her fans. "The reason you and I connected was we have a lot of similar musical tastes and sensitivities," he tells his collaborator, "so I think that would reflect itself with our fans too."
Below, the pair talked to EW about working with superstar songwriter Shane McAnally, sharing the same aversions to what's asked of musicians nowadays, and making a breakup song sound fresh.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you guys meet, and how'd you start writing music together?
SASHA SLOAN: We met about two years ago maybe, through Diplo, weirdly enough. We were trying to write a song for him, but then it just evolved into us hitting it off and enjoying writing with each other. Shane was a big connector for us as well because he works a lot with both of us. So yeah, it kinda just happened, and we wrote, "When Was It Over?" over an EDM sounding track [at first].
SAM HUNT: Yeah, it's been like two years ago now. I heard your voice on a couple of things with Diplo and I was like, "Who is this singing?" And then we got together to write, and I felt like we connected. I was really blown away with Sasha. You were out West at that time, and I have not done a lot of writes outside of Nashville, so you never know if it's going to be compatible, and it just felt like right off the bat there was a connection there, and it was awesome. And I remember talking to Shane not long after that and being like, "You gotta meet Sasha. I feel like y'all would really hit it off." And I think that was another thread that really helped.
SLOAN: That's really sweet. Shane's the best, so thanks for that.
In addition to Shane, the other writers were King Henry and Emi Dragoi, who Sasha works with a ton. I've noticed though you both keep a tight circle of consistent collaborators. Why is that?
SLOAN: For me — it's also kind of cringy cause my closest collaborator is my boyfriend [Henry], which I've always said "I'll never date a producer," and here I am. But it's everything having a person who gets you, and [who] you can be honest with and say, "I don't really love that idea" or "I don't love these sounds." For me, it's all just about being myself, and with people that I already know and like before I like them as writers. It's a lot easier for me to be able to do that.
HUNT: Yeah. With me, I feel like I'm always aiming at such a specific thing. When I'm writing with folks who I've had countless conversations with, all of the directions that it could go that I wouldn't necessarily want to go are off the table before you even attempt to write the song because you've already had all the conversations that have brought you together, and put you on the same page. Having those people who you've just kind of grown up with, you can't create those relationships overnight. And they're really helpful, especially if you want to be more vulnerable, or like you said if you want to be honest. And a lot of times, people have great ideas and new co-writes, and they don't work for you. And it's hard to express that to somebody without making it sound like you just don't like their idea. You need to be sensitive around writers.
SLOAN: Especially it's like whenever I'm writing with an artist for them, it's different. I'll write with whoever they want to write with. But when it's for you and it's your voice, it's almost like picking your friends basically. Like, do you want to hang?
Sam, do you consider "When Was It Over?" your first official duet? I know you did Breland's "My Truck" remix, and sang "Heartbeat" live with Carrie Underwood a couple of times, but that wasn't credited as a feature. Has your mindset about collaborations changed, or was this really just you organically clicking with Sasha as a songwriter?
HUNT: Yeah, this is the first real collaboration I've done. And I would be open to doing [more] collaborations. I haven't been against it, but the idea of just deciding to do a collaboration with an artist that you've never met or spent any time around, that you just don't know, and hoping for the best, maybe I'm just intimidated by that. When things come along organically, I'm a lot more comfortable with it, and it feels like it has a place and is more meant to be. And with Sasha and myself, that's the way it worked out. We weren't "aware" of each other, and we didn't say, "Hey, let's do a collaboration together because it'll check these boxes," you know. "We think it might be a good idea." It happened without that intention, which feels more natural. And so, I've just followed that approach so far.
For you, too, Sasha, people you've collaborated with, like Kygo and Charlie Puth, are musicians who are very familiar with the songwriting camp experience and the balance between writing for people and being an artist. Is that shared experience something you gravitate towards when choosing collaborators?
SLOAN: Yeah, it's also about knowing the person. I've hung out with Kygo, and he's awesome. He's a super sweet dude, and we have similar tastes. We go back and forth on things before it comes out, and we're always on the same page, so that makes it a lot easier. Same with Charlie. Charlie and I had hung out before, we liked each other, we knew each other, so there's this easier thing of like texting someone and knowing their personality. Whereas Sam was saying, when you don't know someone, and someone's like, "Oh, I think you two would sound good together." I don't know. I'm following this new rule where if I'm not 100 percent about it before it comes out, then it shouldn't happen. I'm following my gut for the first time in my life.
How'd you guys record it? Did you have a chance to record together or was it a back and forth?
SLOAN: It was a pretty smooth but separate process, I guess. By the time I rediscovered the song and was like, "Hey, I love this. Would you feature on it?" it was [during] COVID. I didn't leave my house or see another human. So you cut it with your engineer and then just send the vocal back to Henry and me, and Henry took the track that the song was written to and just re-did the production. So I feel like those happened simultaneously.
HUNT: We originally wrote it to a track that [had] more going on with [it], and I loved how you guys stripped it back down. That felt right. And I think maybe I had sung a little on it from that original day. And I remember you put a vocal on it and then sent it over, and it felt good at that point. And it was just a matter of me getting a vocal on it, and we just went back and forth and got it, dialed it in over the course of the last four or five months, I'd say.
Sam, I saw you post a New York Times article that talked about your music, and how hard it is to innovate pop-country. I'd say the same can be said for breakup songs, which you've had a lot of success with. What goes into making one like this fresh?
HUNT: I think with breakup songs, for whatever reason, I've always tried to have this subtle shoulder shrug behind it a little bit. And it's obviously like a cover, like you're really hurt, but you don't quite want to just be in a puddle of tears about it. You're trying to be indifferent, but underneath there's a real heartbreak there. So that's one thing I guess I've tried to do when I write breakup songs is somehow make it fun on some level. And it just lightens it up enough so that it doesn't completely put you in a depressed mood necessarily when you listen to it. You maybe appeal to a broader audience if you put a little bit of that attitude in there as well. So I've tried to do that at least a little bit with some of my breakup songs.
You also mentioned on Twitter that you and Sasha have written more songs together. Is there any chance there's going to be more songs from you all? And also any chance of a "When Was It Over?" music video?
SLOAN: Not sure about more music. Let's see how this one does. No, but I personally hate being in music videos, like more than anything on planet earth. My management is always like, "We need a music video" every time I finish writing a song and I'm like, "Oh, I think this could be like a single." I'm like, "Oh f---." So yeah, I don't know if there'll be a music video, but I think maybe there'll be something. I don't know how you feel Sam.
HUNT: I hate doing the music video thing. I've walked that line too. When singers are in music videos, and they're acting, sometimes it can be cringy. I just try to avoid putting myself in that position. But yeah, I feel like we have some other songs that we wrote that were super cool as well, but who knows what the fate of those songs will be. Even this song up until just a few months ago, I would've not been able to anticipate that it would be out at this point in time doing what it's doing. So it's hard to say about those things.
SLOAN: Yeah, you never know. But yeah, music videos, I'm sorry. Maybe I was too honest.
HUNT: No, I'm with you. It's hard to come up with the idea, something that hasn't been done, something that's fresh, that serves a purpose other than just putting your face out there, which doesn't seem like a worthy enough cause.
SLOAN: I know, same. Maybe if I was like Beyoncé, but it's just like me and a guitar and lip-syncing. I don't know. I just feel super weird about it.
You both had the experience of releasing albums during the pandemic. What was that like, and has the inability to tour those songs led to you writing more?
SLOAN: Releasing an album during the pandemic was super weird just because it's all this work and build-up, and then it's just out and you don't get to tour it. So I have my next album ready to go, and it wasn't like, "Oh, it's time for my second album." I just have nothing else to do, so I've just been writing a lot. It's almost done, so it'll come out at some point this year. But yeah, it's been super interesting, and I don't love touring, but I am starting to miss it now that it's been almost two years. I was supposed to do Coachella, and I was actually really looking forward to it, and now it's been canceled twice.
It's weird making music and not really knowing when you're going to get to do it again. And it's also this weird TikTok culture now, and I feel like I'm old and I don't get it. Everyone's like, "You should make a TikTok." And I'm like, "I don't know how, and I don't want to." I'm not going to dance to my own songs and make them blow up. That's just not something that's going to happen. So it's been weird trying to be online and promote myself, but also hating it at the same time, and just trying to enjoy making music. So I'm ready for touring to come back. It's time. That's what I'll say.
HUNT: That's funny hearing you say that. That reminds me of some of the conversations we had when we first met. And I think our aversion to marketing ourselves was one of the first things we connected on, so I can really relate to everything you're saying. But yeah, I think with putting out a record last year, it had been so long since I had put out any music, it was hell or high water. I was like, "I've got to put this record out." But now, I feel like, "Well, nobody heard that record, so I gotta make a new record now," and put it out when hopefully people will hear it, not being as distracted by the pandemic.
You're able to gauge the connectivity of the songs that you're putting out when you get out and play live shows. So I really still have no idea if anybody listened to the record or which songs people gravitated towards. So hopefully, I can figure some of that out when we get back out on the road. But like you said, Sasha, I didn't have much else to do but write this past year and a half. So fortunately, I was able to get a head start on new music, and I have a good little batch of songs now. I'm excited about putting new stuff out.
courtesy RCA Records The cover art for Sasha Sloan and Sam Hunt's single 'When Was it Over?'
Listen to Sasha Sloan and Sam Hunt's new single "When Was It Over?" above.