The song comes from the band’s second album, Story, released last year. A Texas native, Smith picked up a guitar full-time after retiring his cleats as punter for the Indianapolis Colts, starting the Hunter Smith Band in 2012. The group, consisting of Central Indiana musicians Justin Langebartels, Alex Reiff, Ethan Ehrstine, and Kyle Whitely, has since released two albums and opened for big names such as Rascal Flatts and Trace Adkins.
Smith tells IM why he was “elated” when he learned his song had received the bicentennial honor.
What inspired you to write “Indiana Moon”?
Well, one of our guitar players [Ehrstine] had the idea for a song called “Indiana Moon.” I felt like that was a really good title, and titles are to be given a good melody and a good hook. One night I was out on the trampoline in our backyard—my kids can vouch for this. The sun was almost down, and the moon was up pretty bright, and I just started singing the chorus. It just kind of came to me. And it’s funny because if you listen to the song, the way we were bouncing and running around was kind of in rhythm with the song. And I probably sang it while chasing them around and wrestling with them for 30 minutes, until one of them finally said, “Dad, stop!” So at that point, I couldn’t tell if it was really good, or if it was just really annoying. I sat down later and penned the rest of it, and it’s proved to be a really strong song for us.
What was your reaction to finding out “Indiana Moon” is the official song of Indiana’s Bicentennial Celebration?
I was elated. When I got to Indiana when I was a [17-year-old] kid, I drove up through the state and just fell in love with the place and fell in love with the people. I’ve been wanting to write some kind of a tribute song, and so for this to be selected as the official celebration anthem of the bicentennial is a very special thing to me on a number of levels.
What’s your favorite thing about Indiana?
I love the people. I come from Texas, and there are great people in Texas, but there’s something that I love about the honesty of the Hoosier population. The people here, they will do anything for you. And that’s a real special trait of the people here. I think it’s born out of the generations of people honestly working, loving their families, and bringing them up the right way.
How did you first become interested in music and being a musician?
I was introduced to music probably about the same time or earlier than I was introduced to sports. I grew up in a musical household, had fairly musical parents, very musical siblings. We grew up singing a lot.
Are your siblings musicians as well?
No. They’re very musical, but they did other things. I have the most options—let’s say that.
What was the switch from being in the NFL to starting a band like?
It was actually pretty natural. I had been playing in a band [Connersvine] while I was playing in the NFL for a time, and had somewhat of a career there. And so when I [retired from the NFL], I had been a part of something that was successful. So it kind of made sense to jump into that and pour more effort into that. It was pretty natural.
How would you describe your style of music?
We get that question a lot. To give you a little bit of a backstory: There was a time when I was in a band that was signed to a record label, and they wanted very much to know who we were and what we were going to sound like. Every record, they wanted it to be the same thing. And when we started the Hunter Smith Band, the goal was to be independent and to write and perform what we wanted. When people say, “What genre are you?” I kind of sarcastically say, “We’re Indie-Euro-Folk-Pop-Rock-Country.”
I would say we are country rock.
“Indiana Moon” appears on your sophomore album, Story. Would you describe the style of that album? Whom would it appeal to?
If you listen, I think you’ll see it’s really a broad kind of thing. I’m a big storyteller. I kind of have an old soul in that sense, so I think there’s a lot of stuff that comes across to people who have children, people in their late 20s to 50s. But then we try to really have, sonically, some moments that appeal to people that are more into the indie-rock scene. And even some high school kids get into it. I feel like it’s musically mature, so I think it lands well on quite a few people.
The thought behind the album—if you listen through, you hear a narrative of stories. I feel like every song says something.
Are there any future plans for the Hunter Smith Band that we should know about?
We’re writing our third album, and we just continue to book shows. We’ve had a mantra from the beginning: Less will happen in one year than you want, but more can happen in five years that you ever dreamed. We’re in our fifth year, and we are seeing things happen if you told us were going to happen five years ago we might have not believed you. We’re going to keep on doing what we’re doing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.