Sam Hunt admits to feeling the heat from fans and his record label to finish up his second full-length album, but he’s not letting it affect his creative process.

Speaking to Taste of Country and other media aboard the cruise ship Carnival Splendor, where he and his band performed while the ship was docked in Cozumel, Mexico on Oct. 20, Hunt said he not only feels pressure to complete the project, but also to match or beat the success of his Grammy-nominated major label debut album, Montevallo, which produced five hits.

“Of course I feel pressure to keep the bar up,” he says, responding to a question from Taste of Country. “Fortunately the music from the first record really connected with people, and I was really proud of that. I put a lot of time into that record before putting [it] out, and now I have a lot less time to devote to the second record,” the result of a busy touring schedule and other demands of stardom brought on by his success.

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“I’m trying to figure out how to be efficient as a songwriter with … new obligations and a new lifestyle that prevents me from being as free to write,” he adds. “I’m sort of figuring all that out. But it’s coming along. I don’t want to rush it.”

Hunt played his last show of the year last weekend, so he’ll have more time to devote to writing and recording over the next couple of months. To get it right, he’s willing to buck the Music Row system a bit.

“There’s this model that exists in Nashville that we kind of think we have to abide by that you put out a record and two years later you’ve got to put out another one,” Hunt explains. “There’s all these rules that I’ve just sort of thrown out the window. … I’ll put music out when I feel like it’s ready.”

But his fans may not have to wait for a full album to hear some new music. “I’ve got a few songs that I’m excited about that I’m going to put out even if that’s a long time before the next record comes out,” he says. “Everything’s changing right now with how we put out music, and how we consume music, so I’m going to try to adapt accordingly.”

Hunt plans to have a hand in writing every song on his upcoming album. “I want to be more vulnerable and more honest than I was on the first record, and that’s obviously going to require me to write the songs,” the 2017 Taste of Country Music Festival headliner says. “I’m going to tap into my own life.”

He’s working with many of the same songwriting collaborators who helped out with the last album, while also trying to branch out a bit. “For the most part, I’m kind of sticking to the original model with those few guys that I wrote most of Montevallo with,” Hunt says. “I spent several years in Nashville finding those relationships that … sparked the beginning of my [last] record. I have two or three guys that I’m really close to. We have a great friendship, and I think that helps our songwriting relationship. It’s hard to start … with new people and cover the ground that I’ve covered with those guys. But I’m trying to write with some new guys, [get] some fresh perspective and create new relationships.”

There’s all these rules that I’ve just sort of thrown out the window. … I’ll put music out when I feel like it’s ready.

Meanwhile, he’s dealing with the stress of speeding things up. “I do feel pressure internally and externally to put out music, but that excites me because I love songwriting, and this brings me back to why I got into music in the first place,” he says. And he understands why his record label, MCA Nashville, is eager for new music.

“That’s part of their job,” he acknowledges. “They have a business that they run and it’s based off of putting music out and making money, so I get that. But I won’t ever let that influence the way I go about creating the music.”

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