Hunter Hayes (Photo: Frederick Breedon IV)Hunter Hayes is only 21 years old, but the rising crossover star has already built a resume musicians twice his age--or, really, of any age at all--would love to claim. This year alone, he's won a prestigious Country Music Association award, two American Country Awards (for his No. 1 country and Top 10 all-genre digital hit "Wanted"), and is nominated for three Grammy Awards--one in the all-genre category of New Artist.
Additionally, he's got a seasoned touring resume, having opened for such arena-packing artists as Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, and most recently Carrie Underwood. He can play a staggering amount of instruments, writes and produces his own material, and generally has proved himself seemingly effortlessly as a true musical phenomenon.
Hayes additionally gathered crossover attention when he charmed viewers at the 2013 Grammy Nominees Concert earlier this month by singing the single off of each nominated album in the Best Pop Vocal Album category. His fresh-faced good looks, enthusiastic attitude, and undeniable appeal have triggered talk that he's poised to conquer the world of pop music, as well as country. What do you think?
We talked to an upbeat, energetic Hayes shortly after his showstopping multi-genre performance at the Grammy Nominees show and found out what he thought about the whole matter, himself--as well as a few other things that happened this year!
Our Country: To say you've had an epic 2012 is an understatement. Is it possible to pick your favorite moment or achievement of the year?
Hunter Hayes: That's the issue, it's so hard to pick a favorite. Winning a CMA--that's kind of a big deal! That was amazing. Winning New Artist of the Year absolutely blew my mind, I'm sure you could see how shocked I was. That was a definite total milestone, a "you know you made it moment."
And then the Grammys, getting three nominations--the Grammys! I mean, I would not have guessed any of those. It's so exciting to me. The new artist category--where you have all genres, and I get to represent country, that's a big deal.
These are all things you dream about, that you hope for. To actually accomplish them--it just means the world to me. I consider myself pretty lucky just to be able to make music like I do, and to get recognized for it in those ways--I'm honored. I'm stoked. It's hard to pick a favorite, I guess is what I'm saying!
Our Country: Speaking of the Grammys, you attracted a lot of attention for your awesome performance at the Grammy Nominees concert--where you sang a song from each of the five artists nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album. You covered Kelly Clarkson, Florence & The Machine, fun., Maroon 5, and Pink...and didn't seem a bit nervous at all!
Thank you--Well, then, I should probably take up acting because I was as nervous as I could possibly be. I didn't know nerves until that! I've covered songs before, I love covering songs. I've got a chance to do a couple performances on a couple of really big awards shows, and that's nerve-wracking. But I gotta tell you--playing five other people's songs in front of them, on a show like the Grammy Nominations? It was such a task.
I remember when [the Grammys show organizers] called me, they were like, "So, here's our idea, here's what we want to do...are you in?" and I was like, "Okay, so I'll find out last minute about five songs, and I'll put together my own arrangement, in front of the actual artists...yeah, sure, let's do it!" (Laughs)
I love stuff like that. I think what blew me away was the trust they had in me to do that. The fact that they gave me that creative control and said "Hey, this is your thing, do what you want to do with it and make it your own." That's so fun for me from the creative standpoint and as a writer, to get to take songs like that and make them into my own little thing...well, not necessarily my own thing but basically put my own touch on it. That was a very fun performance.
Did performing any one of those songs in particular make you more nervous than the others?
They all did, because when you look at that category, they're all so unique. Especially the Florence tune. "Shake It Out"--that's such a unique and vibey thing. I was so scared to play it, because I thought "I will just not do it justice." They have such a style, such a thing. You just don't want to mess with it because it's so great the way it is. You just want to leave it alone. But at the same time, you're like "Eh, you know what, I'm gonna play it like I've been handed the song for the first time and had just heard it the first time." And that was the challenge. Trying not to play it like them, because let's face it--I'll never do their version justice. I just have to do my own version. But it was so cool to be able to do that.
You are starting to have considerable recognition out of the country genre. In fact, I have been hearing lots of talk about how you are poised to conquer the pop world as well. How do you feel about that?
Wow, no pressure! (Laughs) It's huge. The fact that "Wanted"'s been getting some airplay across all these different areas, it means a lot to me as a songwriter. A song that can translate into that many different areas and to that many different people; and to have even more people coming to the show and singing along to a song I wrote for a girl a couple years ago--it didn't actually work (laughs)--It's a songwriter's milestone, and it means a lot to me on the creative side of things.
You do share the fact with Bieber that you've achieved an amazing amount at a young age. Apparently, you are the youngest male country artist in Grammys history to be nominated in the categories you were nominated in.
I didn't know that. That's nuts. Are you serious? Wow. That's crazy. Unbelievable.
I am the first one to tell you that?
I believe you are!
Pretty cool! So, what do you have planned for the end of the year and the holidays?
We're pretty stoked I get to headline my first arena show. We're gonna wrap up the tour with Carrie, and we're gonna head back to Louisiana for a while. I really am looking forward to spending some time with my folks, and just chill and relax. And reminisce--my family, all four of my grandparents came to every one of my shows until I was 14 or 15, so it's so fun to get to go back to Louisiana after traveling so much more than I used to. Go back and share the memories of the year, catch up with them and tell them stories from the road, and just celebrate all the things that are happening--with them, my biggest supporters. There's nothing like it.
I love how you mentioned work before vacation when asked about your December plans! You aren't one to slow down much, are you?
You have to have your time off, whether you like it or not--you have to get away from it. But I very much see my world musically as three different worlds, and that's performing, writing, and studio. And I feel when I go from one to another, I'm giving myself time off from the other ones. I can get off stage and go to the studio in the bus and work on demos, and that's a relaxing place for me, believe it or not. To go from one creative world to another, it's relaxing for me. The cycle is weird and awesome, and I love it. If anything, I'm just lucky to get to do what I love. I never get sick of it.