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HunterGirl Talks Putting Her Dreams on the Line With Intimate Debut Single ‘Ain’t About You’

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“You’ll never know unless you try.”

Throughout history, some form of that advice has been given to people who doubted their own entertainment ambitions. Almost no one gets a movie part without auditioning, or has a hit as a recording artist without stepping up to the microphone.

But the competition is stiff and there is no sure-fire metric to guarantee that following the path pays off. So nearly every creator who has chased their dream for any length of time questions periodically whether they should quit.

That makes HunterGirl’s debut single, “Ain’t About You,” one of those personal songs with universal relevance. In 2021, she had been in Nashville for five years, playing the bars, writing songs and networking with other aspiring artists and musicians. As some of them made important steps forward, she continued grinding it out with no visible opportunities on the horizon, and as her fatigue increased, so did her pessimism about the road she had taken.

“Nothing was really happening, and a lot of my friends were getting record deals and publishing deals,” she recalls. “I was honestly just kind of the friend falling behind and not really knowing if I was on the right path or if I made a mistake.”

One day in autumn 2021, HunterGirl seriously contemplated giving up on her dream. She gritted her way through a lunchtime performance at a bar on Nashville’s Lower Broadway, which she thought might be one of her last shows in Music City. At 6 p.m. that same day, she faked a smile during a Tuesday-night Zoom writing appointment with veterans, whom she regularly helped process their experiences through songwriting in the Freedom Sings program. One particular woman, who had been holding back for months, announced that she was ready to put her story into a song, and HunterGirl helped her find the words and begin to release some of her turmoil. As often happens in those sessions, they ended the exercise in tears, and the veteran offered a heartfelt thanks: “Hunter, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

After the call, HunterGirl shed more tears, and she instinctively picked up her guitar and began questioning what it would have meant to this veteran if she had given up on music. She began writing about her feelings — essentially processing her inner world the same way she asked the veterans to do it.

“I call this one my 45-minute conversation with Jesus,” she says. “It was supposed to be my thinking-about-leaving-Nashville song, and ended up being my staying-in-Nashville song.”

She crafted an opening line about how she had begun the day, reviewing all the reasons she should quit. But the feedback from the veteran about what a difference HunterGirl had made for her changed the journey in the song.

“That’s where the thought, ‘What if it ain’t about you?’ came from,” recalls HunterGirl. “It’s about how many people that you could be letting down, or the people that you can touch.”

That line would become a key part of the “Ain’t About You” chorus, which she decided should change each time it occurred. The first chorus was easily written about a little girl who needed encouragement to believe in herself, the second chorus acknowledged a young boy who needed permission to cry — and the final chorus, about providing hope through her music, was written with the veteran in mind.

She devoted the second verse to the trap of comparing one’s life against other people, a problem compounded by social media. She felt that it needed a bridge before she could conclude, and that posed the biggest hurdle — though with “Ain’t About You,” that lasted only a matter of minutes. She ultimately decided to put quitting in a spiritual dimension, cinching her decision to stay in Nashville.

“If you throw it all away, you’re telling God He made a mistake, but He never makes ’em,” she says. “Whatever He was planning was bigger for me than anything that I could imagine and greater than I could come up with, and I just had to be patient.”

HunterGirl had no intention of ever playing it for anyone, but it at least changed her mindset. During the next week, friends encouraged her to audition for American Idol. Days later, she played another bar show, and at the end, a former Idol crew member suggested she tryout. She took it as a sign, and the audition led to participation in Idol’s 2022 season, where she finished runner-up and earned a recording contract with Wheelhouse.

She still had no intention of sharing “Ain’t About You” until a barbecue where fellow Idol alums Noah Thompson and Chayce Beckham asked her to play something she had never played for anyone else. Their overwhelming reaction made her more open with the song, and at a later event, BMG Nashville president Jon Loba walked in as she was about to play it again. He insisted it needed to become a single.

So HunterGirl cut the song at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios with producer Lindsay Rimes (Nate Smith, LOCASH), who helped her make “Ain’t About You” a little more consistent by repeating a prechorus melody that originally appeared only once. The session was her first time to record in a significant studio, so he gave her a mini-tour to make her feel at home and took efforts to get her comfortable with the musicians. Since “Ain’t About You” was so personal, he asked her to perform it for the band so they could fully understand how it fit her.

Guitarist Ilya Toshinskiy fashioned the acoustic foundation similarly to the way she played it, forming an intimate undercurrent.

“I didn’t want to take away from the guitar, and the vocal — that was sort of the DNA of the song,” notes Rimes. “I wanted it to sound like she was sitting there playing the guitar, even though obviously, Ilya was playing the guitar. That’s the foundation of the song.”

Only three musicians played prior to the first chorus, when the entire band joined the proceedings, though they still approached it lightly. Electric guitarist Sol Philcox-Littlefield weaved in faint atmospheric touches, then hinted at an emergency siren in the background of the decisive bridge.
HunterGirl recorded the final vocals at Rimes’ studio, where he again took steps to make her feel comfortable. They revisited the difficult emotional circumstances in which she wrote “Ain’t About You,” and she ended up in tears again as she delivered those feelings in her performance.

“The most important thing is whatever is happening in my room here between the mouth and the microphone,” Rimes says. “That’s the magic. I think the environment, my energy — everything contributes to a great vocal.”

Wheelhouse released “Ain’t About You” to country radio via PlayMPE on Oct. 2. HunterGirl is believed to be the first female country singer on a major label to appear as the sole writer of her first single since Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1989. The experience has affected the way that HunterGirl writes songs.

“Sharing the most personal parts of my life -— like all my insecurities, everything that I was dealing with at the time — it made other people feel comfortable to feel that way, too,” she says. “And so this song completely changed the way that I wrote from here on out. Everything after this is going to be full heart, my full honesty, everything in me 100% because there’s no telling who else is going through the same thing.”

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