Country music phenom Hunter Hayes made it easier on himself the second time around.
For his 2014 sophomore record, Storyline, the 22-year-old – who played all of the instruments and wrote or co-wote every song on his 2011 major label debut – decided to accept some musical help on his recently-released Storyline.
“I got to work with my band instead of just doing all the stuff myself,” said Hayes who plays the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alta., on Friday (Aug. 1) and the Boots and Hearts Festival in Bowmanville, Ont., on Sunday (Aug. 3)
“So I got to take advantage of the spirit that exists between us all because we’ve been touring so much. It feels like we’ve been touring together for 10-15 years and it’s only been three years.”
Hayes ended up writing close to 80 songs for Storyline and spent three months in the studio.
The first single, Invisible, debuted at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
“It was nutty, it was crazy,” he said. “It was my first actual performance on the Grammys right so you definitely don’t want to mess it up. And you kind of hoped it was a song that you’ve had a lot of experience with as opposed to a brand new one that no one’s heard. So it was all the nerves in one.”
We caught up with the Louisiana-born, Nashville-based Hayes in Toronto recently where he was being followed by a camera man who uploads the material as episodes on Hayes’ #ForTheLoveOfMusic YouTube channel.
What’s it like for you to play in Canada?
Oh man it’s so much fun to come back. We don’t get to come here nearly enough. So any chance to come and hang and do shows, especially our summer shows we‘ve completely redesigned the whole thing obviously around the new album. There’s a lot more energy in our summer show right now which I know is hard to believe talking to me. But there is. There’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of fun stuff, there’s a lot of emotion too.
The songs on Storyline sound like you went through a breakup and then entered another relationship?
I don’t (talk about my love life). That will change as I go forward. At the moment, these songs are songs that were written about people that quite frankly I don’t want to be that guy that talks about them. It’s a combination of a lot of things, mostly respect. And just kind of feeling like, they didn’t ask for that, good or bad.
With all that you’ve accomplished, you seem like an old soul in a young person’s body?
There’s not a moment to be wasted especially in the record world. Yeah, you got to take advantage of pretty much every minute you got. We had a big learning lesson on this record. ‘Cause with Invisible, I don’t know if a lot of people really realize this, but we cut that song and we completely scratched the whole thing. We re-cut it within four days. We took two months to record it the first time and four days the second time.
What was wrong with the first version?
It was just too much. I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize that. Somebody else pointed it out to me. I felt it in a sort of way but I hadn’t really paid attention to my own instinct. It was too big; I was trying way too hard. And it was the result of overcompensating for that whole sophomore thing.
I heard you got props from Paul McCartney backstage after the Grammy Invisible performance?
I saw him walking past and I wasn’t going to stop him. There were so many people around. I wanted to say something but I was like, ‘There was so much going on... If there’s another time, good Lord willing, I’ll be able to say hello.’ Sure enough, as soon as I made that decision, he made his way towards me. And he looked at me twice, sort of a double take kind of thing, walked over to me, and shook my hand, complimented the performance, complimented the song, and yeah just said a lot of really cool things. And ironically, I was standing outside of Lindsey Buckingham’s dressing room so I could say hello to him. So that was pretty friggin’ cool.
And your emotional connection to Invisible runs pretty deep?
Yeah. I spent my whole life essentially not fitting in. I love music. I’m obsessed with it. And so therefore I’ve always had this one thing that’s consumed me but in a really cool way. But I didn’t really fit in.
Aren’t usually the “cool” kids into music?
You would think that would be the case but I think it’s because I’m just so obsessed with it. It’s a totally different kind of thing. And all the people I might hang around with in high school were all creatively driven towards something. We were all just sort of single-mindedly into whatever we were into. So the whole social scene was a real challenge for me. My brain was just taken elsewhere. And the thing I get to say before the song everyday at every show that we do, I introduce it by saying that: ‘I’m a music geek. I always have been and I always will be. And that’s exactly what I want for my life.’ For a long time, I didn’t fit in because of it, and now I fit in because of it – in a big way. And the importance of Invisible for me... if somebody needs to hear that in this moment, they’re going through whatever they’re passionate about, I want them to see whatever it is that makes them different is a good thing, not a bad thing.