Country singer Hunter Hayes tells tales through his music.
When he was four, Hunter Hayes got his chance to perform alongside country star Hank Williams Jr. Armed with an accordion, Hayes sang Jambalaya with Williams.
Hayes is now 22 and a full-fledged musician. His self-titled debut album opened at No. 1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart. His first single, Wanted, sold 3.5 million copies. He was the youngest male act to top Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. And he was nominated for four Grammys in 2012, including for Best New Artiste.
Hayes was in Singapore recently to promote his latest album, Storyline. Though he was fatigued – “I’ve had five shots of espresso!” – he still talked to us about his success. “I’m sure it looks like it’s been quick, but for someone like me, who's pretty impatient, it’s quite a nice pace. It’s been a dream. Right now, I just want to play more shows,” Hayes said.
The night before, Hayes had a showcase at the Star Performing Arts Centre for hundreds of young fans. If anyone had doubts about how country music fares in Asia, Hayes showed that there was a growing acceptance of it. He said he had no qualms performing country music in different parts of the world.
“I just really believe in this genre that I’m lucky to be part of. I love that I get to introduce it to someone who might not have heard of it. I want people to get attached to specific songs that mean something to them,” Hayes said.
When asked about the misconceptions most people had about country music, Hayes gave a general view on the subject. “Where do I start? I think there’s a tendency to assume that it’s all about the same topic. To me, it’s about life. It’s about what matters to you. Country music is a series of stories. It’s about everything that's going on.”
“That’s why I named my album Storyline. That, to me, is what I love about this genre. It’s about sharing a story and the connection you have with the people you’re sharing the story with. I think that’s what country music really does. There’s a tendency to assume that it’s all about one thing, but really it’s more diverse than that.”
For his first album in 2011, Hayes played every instrument on all 12 songs. The multi-talented musician can play 30 instruments, but he still can’t master the cello or the violin. “Every time I pick up the fiddle, I just pass because it’s scary and quite intimidating. I’ve been quite determined to figure out how to play it. But every time I've tried, it’s really bad. Wish me luck,” he said with a laugh.
For Storyline, Hayes did something he had never done before: work with other musicians. “I had to do a good bit of letting go and just learn how different people work. Obviously I’m kind of stuck in my own ways because I’ve been (recording) alone for so long. So all that was a series of adjustments.”
When talking about the end results, however, his eyes lit up. “It was so worth it. When you see the progress, the evolution you make when the music takes on and somebody makes it their own.... You just end up with a totally different project.”
One of the new tracks, Invisible, was inspired by his experience of being bullied while growing up. Hayes has talked before about how he was ostracised in high school because much of his focus then was on music.
“I’m always conscious to use the word bullying in my story because I know it can take on several forms. All I really went through was feeling like a complete outcast because I didn’t have a place to fit in. I feel lucky enough to be able to share this story.”
Hayes also sees Invisible as a song that will inspire fans to hold on to their dreams. “I want to give someone else the power to believe in themselves. You don’t go about changing your dreams, passions and beliefs. You should hang on to them.”
Hayes said he had never let naysayers stop him from living his dream. “The thought of giving all this up to experience a different life actually scares me more than anything else. I’ve been led to this path and this is my world. Any thought of life without music is frightening.”