Hanging out with Hunter Hayes
Country music may not be for everyone, but there’s something about the lyrics that will grab you.
While some songs draw you with their beat and melody, a country tune tugs at the heartstrings.
Hunter Hayes is a country musician through and through yet his songs transcend musical genres. The 21-year-old’s résumé is very impressive. He has been nominated for three Grammys and is the youngest male country artist to be nominated in his categories.
His self-titled debut album reached platinum status in the United States, and he has already been inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
He has opened for Taylor Swift (some call him Swift’s male version), Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, and The Flaming Lips.
Hayes’ album was a one-man show—he cowrote all the tracks, played all the instruments (all 30 of them!), and did the vocals.
Super flew to Thailand to catch Hunter for an exclusive interview before he went onstage with Jason Mraz at the Sonic Bang music festival.
What have you done so far in Bangkok?
We just spent some time walking around, the first day, saw the sights. It’s my first time to travel to Asia. It was great to walk around and just check out the local food. Love it here.
Were people coming up to you to say hi?
They did, yesterday on the TV show. We had a bunch of people there who apparently knew who I was, which kind of blew me away.
When are you coming to the Philippines?
We’ve talked about it. I know we’re going to… I’ve heard so much about it; I’ve had friends who have visited so I’m excited to play some shows there.
You’ve got quite a collection of instruments. Where do you store ’em?
Some are in the truck that drives around the US, following us around. Some are at home, others are in a little studio basement I have somewhere. It’s crazy because two years ago, I had three guitars onstage—one acoustic and two electrics. Now I’ve got close to 15 electrics and 4 acoustics that I love dearly. I’m a big acoustic guitar fan.
You’ve also received accolade at such a young age. What keeps you grounded?
Knowing how far-fetched all this stuff is. How sort of dream land it is. A couple of my friends texted me last night, “Hey you’re on the radio,” and I texted back, “Hey, I’m in Thailand, check it out!” The simple luxuries like being on a tour bus.
I used to drive my Suburban down the road with all the band guys in a trailer. Now I’m on a bus, we’re on two buses, going on three soon. The team grows. We get to bring production, we get to bring lighting. I actually get to design a show now… How lucky we are to get to do this.
Who came up with the name “Hayniacs” for your fans?
I didn’t have anything to do with it. But I love it. It’s a fun name.
I don’t know if you’re into “Game of Thrones,” but you look a lot like Joffrey Baratheon.
I’ve never had the time to sit down and watch it. I need to check it out apparently because I’ve been told that a couple of times. They say that he’s not a well-loved character, but I’ll take it, thank you (laughs).
How did your collaboration with Jason Mraz happen?
Through fate. I’m a fan, I love what he does. We met at the Grammys. We talked about maybe working together in the future. I mentioned there was one song I’d love for him to be on… I figured it went one ear in, one ear out; we were so busy that night. But he heard the song and he liked it.
Next thing I knew, our production managers were going back and forth with e-mails and then I had vocal tracks from him in my inbox. He had sung his own thing, did a lot of cool harmonies and stuff—it just fit in so easily. It felt like home. I’m stoked that he did it… Getting to know him, going onstage with him, it’s pretty sweet.
Who else do you wanna team up with?
Tons. I just wanna go back and work with Stevie Wonder again. That was a blast. I love collaborations. We just did a remix for “Crazy,” I gave it to Ryan Tedder of One Republic. I’ve loved the band for several years now, and he’s one of my favorite vocalists. When we talked about doing a different version of the song, I knew I had done everything I could do to it. We needed someone with a different perspective, we needed a different sound on it, so I gave it to Ryan. He rocked it.
This is a perfect example of how much I enjoy collaborations, because it’s fascinating to me how much music can change from one person to another, in the same room with the same gear; two minds thinking of the same thing. It’s just drastically different and I love that.
You recorded your original album by yourself, playing all the instruments and the vocals. What was it like to do all that?
Lonely (laughs). It’s strange. Now that I’ve worked with other musicians, it’s strange now for me to work by myself and look back on that… At the time that was the only way I was comfortable working. I had never worked with other musicians.
If I worked with other musicians on my first record, I wouldn’t have input quite as much probably—just sit back and let them do their thing. Whereas working by myself, I had a lot to prove to the label and myself; I was determined enough to do that. That’s seven months everyday, making the record alone with (producer) Dann Huff. But it was fantastic; it was vulnerable and comfortable at the same time… I would probably do a combination of both in the next record. I’ll probably bring in some musicians carefully.
Would you say you’re a control freak?
I would (laughs). Musically. I’ll admit to that.
Which bands or artists did you enjoy opening for the most?
I don’t like picking favorites because it’s so hard to compare, but I really loved my first tour. To get to open for Taylor Swift, for her audience, there was a lot of energy and excitement. That was really fun. The thing I loved about opening up for Rascal Flatts was that I’ve been listening to the band’s music my entire life… I remember there was one song I wrote on one of its records and I didn’t do it on my show out of respect… The members actually told me after the second night, “You should totally do that song.” Easy. Done.
Are your songs autobiographical?
Very. It’s sometimes uncomfortably close to the heart. But that’s what I write about… because I need to… It pays off when somebody else says, “Man, that’s my song.” That’s the only thing you hope for when you write a song.
Do you really want a crazy kind of love like in your song “I Want Crazy”?
I think so. I think everybody kind of secretly does, whether they admit it or not. I definitely do. That’s exactly what I said in the chorus, because I felt that it needed to be said, I don’t want this sort of settling, I don’t want the good enough. I think it’s important when you’re in a relationship to feel this sort of unbalanced feeling because that’s when you know you’re inspired. You know things are really flying when the real feeling comes to you that way—that’s what I’m looking for.
Is that the way you feel about music, too?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. For sure.
Hunter Hayes’ album is available on iTunes.