Hunter Hayes is one of those artists who make the rest of us mere mortals think, "Gosh, what the heck have I been doing the past few years with my life?" At 20 years old, he's already got a couple of years working professionally in Nashville under his belt--but that's not all. This kid has been busy at the business of music since he was, literally, a kid growing up in Louisiana; having started performing for audiences at the tender age of 4.
Music's all he's ever wanted to do, and he's excelled at it--to say the least. Not only can he play just about every instrument on earth (in various styles, too, including cajun and blues), he's an extraordinarily gifted songwriter who has written for Rascal Flatts, among others. All that early practice on stage led him to an opening slot on Taylor Swift's Speak Now tour this year. And, oh yeah--he's got his debut, self-titled, album out this week, on which he handles just about everything himself.
As you might imagine, such an accomplished young musician as Hayes is also a very smart one. I had the pleasure of chatting with him about his new record, rapidly exploding career, and where he plans to be when he's all of 30 years old. Enjoy!
Our Country: You are part of a currently growing group of country musicians who are starting out in their careers while still in their teens (Taylor Swift, Scotty McCreery, etc.). Obviously it's great to know what you want to do and be able to do it at such a young age--but do you feel there's any disadvantages to starting young?
Hunter Hayes: Absolutely. It's hard to be taken seriously at such a young age. I have so many days where I even feel like I may not be experienced enough to do what I'm doing. But at the same time, I guess being young gives me a sort-of "ignorance is bliss," where my fears stay so far away from me because I'm so busy dreaming and scheming. I look at that youthful cluelessness as a blessing, and I enjoy it while I feel I still can.
Speaking of Taylor Swift. Any fun stories from your stint on the Speak Now tour?
Well the very first night, after I came off stage, she was standing in the back and was like, "you were great!" and was so complimentary. I thought, "well that was nice of her." I found out that she had actually watched the entire show at the side of the stage--which I'm kind of glad I didn't know about. Because that was, after all, my first night in an arena and on tour with her, so I was nervous enough. But it meant the world to me to know that she took the time to come and check out our set.
You were barely out of high school when you first moved to Nashville and began working, right? Was it scary or intimidating at all to make that move--or really no more frightening than going away to college?
Yes, it was frightening. It was a perfect combination though. It had elements of going off to college, like leaving the small town I grew up in, moving away from tons of people I knew so well, and a way of life I was used to. It was a brand new place, bigger, faster and very much centered on the music I dreamed of spending my life dedicated to. But, it had other elements, like I had a parent that moved up with me. I had a job opportunity already in the works with Universal Publishing. So it was a perfect combination of scared to death and "dream-centered." I was not paying attention to the risks.
You've been songwriting, playing for audiences, playing with other artists, making TV appearances, etc. since you were a little kid, so I'm sure most aspects of the music industry are familiar to you by now. Given that, what specific new things have you learned about your craft in the past two years?
I always thought I'd move to Nashville and find "the method" or "the secret" as in the "right" way to do certain things or to the proper way to work. What I've learned though is that there is no right or wrong. There are categories of things that work versus things that don't, but there's no set way of doing some things. There are traditions and ways to do some things, but when it comes to performing and the art at the heart of it, it's all about finding your way. It's about figuring out who you are and what works for staying true to that. If there is in fact a secret, it's "BE YOU," because that has to be the foundation for whatever you do musically--or, for that matter, in anything you do.
What surprised you most about making this specific album, if anything?
SO MUCH! How fun it was! I was thinking and preparing for being in the room with a guy like [producer] Dann Huff, which was a lot of pressure being that he's one of my musical heroes, having produced several of my favorite albums ever. So I was prepared for a very intense musical learning experience. And while it was that in some ways, in others, it was just us having fun in a process I've already grown accustomed to and am comfortable with.
Do you have a favorite song off the album, and if so, why do you like it?
Yes, but it sorta depends on the day. I have a special place in my heart for "Somebody's Heartbreak" because I feel at 20 it is my theme song. I also love this tune because in the live show, this is where I get to do some serious guitar jamming and cut up quite a bit.
You began writing songs when you were really young. Do you remember any of these? What they were specifically about, etc. Are you embarrassed by any of the songs from when you were really little--or particularly proud of any of them?
My first song I ever wrote was called "six years old" and that's probably because I was SIX years old when I wrote it. What's so funny is I can't stand listening to it now out of embarrassment; however, country stations in Louisiana actually played it quite a bit!
How many instruments do you know how to play? Which one are you most comfortable using for songwriting?
On the record, we counted that I played 30. I love guitar. It's like home. I always pick up a guitar first and piano would probably be a close second.
Is there an instrument you'd like to learn that you haven't mastered yet?
I'd love to get some brass/wind instruments in some how. Love the saxophone and trumpet sounds for background textures and accents for blues stuff. It's a nice thing I'd like to be able to throw on something on a future album.
If you had to choose a non-country artist to open up for, or have open for you--who would be your pick?
Stevie Wonder. Such a fan, it's ridiculous. I also feel like he loves to collaborate and i just get the vibe that it would be an amazingly deep musical experience.
What do you hope to be doing or have accomplished in 10 years, when you are nearly 30?
In 10 years I want to be headlining my own shows in arenas. Would love to put together a production of that size and have control over things like lighting and video production and all that jazz. That would also be a great milestone to be able to see that somehow something I've done has hopefully connected with THAT many people. That's a dream of mine, always has been, always will be.
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