By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 —
There should have been a storm warning before Hunter Hayes hit Nashville, even though the flags were flying.
Beginning with an accordion his grandmother gave him when he was two, Hayes began making music and has never looked back.
His debut, self-titled album hit the airwaves last spring and it’s been nothing but success for the 21-year-old Louisiana talent.
Since that album’s release, Hayes has received a platinum record, landed a number one single called “Wanted” and Thursday night his county music peers honored him with the CMA Best New Artist Award.
This past weekend, he continued his tour with superstar Carrie Underwo-od in Charlotte.
Hayes recently called into the SNAP and spent a few minutes talking about the year he’s had, his love of music and his love of his fans.
One of the things that sets Hayes apart is his genuine appreciation for his fans.
“I am one,” Hayes said. “So, it’s a no-brainer that these people are the reason I get to do what I do. I know that it sounds cliche, but it’s very real for me. And, I am a real fan and get to see it from both sides at one time.
“I get to step on stage when I open for Carrie in an area, but at the same time, I’m going to be standing on the stage watching her show because I love her record, the way she performs, who she is.
“I’ve realized that’s my life. That’s what I live for. These people who come to the shows and sing along. Even if it’s an album cut, they still know it.”
He said it is especially meaningful when fans tell him how special his music has been for them.
“They come to me and say, ‘This song means something to me,’ and they have a story for it. That’s why I make music,” Hayes said.
Hayes said his heart is one of a musician, but he loves the performing aspect of what he does.
“I love playing for people, even an audience of two people gives me a chance to do what I do,” Hayes said.
He said the person that gave him that first instrument has been able to enjoy his success.
“My grandmother got to come on my birthday recently when I did my first ever theater headline show in Louisiana, and she got to see the show with all the new lights and the new set,” Hayes said.
“It was cool to have her there getting to see what is essentially her fault,” he said with a laugh. “She got to come backstage and hang out with us for a while and we caught up and had dinner the next day. It was a beautiful thing.”
While most musicians can name one major influence, Hayes says there are just too many for him to list.
“There are tons,” he said. “I grew up listening to Keith Urban. It was funny we were having dinner at one of his shows. He was giving me the rundown of what he listened to growing up. And, he looked at me and said, ‘What did you listen to growing up?’ My answer was ‘Well...Kei-th...’”
Hayes says in addition to Urban, players like John Meyer and the Allman Brothers were people he listened to and admired.
“It goes from Stevie Wonder to Taylor Swift, Michael Buble, Train, Pat Monahan and people like Carrie,” Hayes said.
“She can just stand there and sing a song and it knocks you out cold.”
But, Hayes’ talent has shown through with that debut album where he played every instrument, sang all the vocal tracks, co-wrote every song and co-produced.
All that work was rewarded when the Country Music Association awarded Hayes the 2012 Best New Artist Award, one that had been won previously by no less talents than Ricky Skaggs, Clint Black and Garth Brooks.
He said he’s not had time to really think about all that’s happened in the last year.
“It’s like every day it sinks in more,” Hayes said. “The other day somebody brought back a printed copy of the music charts with my name at the number one spot and it registered even more. That stuff keeps happening and it keeps getting better and better. I’m loving the ride. It’s a blast.”
Hayes said he dreamed about this type of career during his days in high school.
“Now, here I am — we just loaded up my first truck and I’m in the back of a bus I’ve been in the entire year and we will have completed over 200 shows this year,” Hayes said.
“The number one was sort of the recognition of everything I have been seeing slowly but surely happening on the road and it’s amazing,” Hayes said.
His guitar prowess has even been acknowledged by the Martin Guitar Company which has named him their ambassador.
“I got to go to the factory and see my guitar in the making,” he said with childlike awe. “It is such a cool thing to experience.”
Hayes has even had his music in a couple of movies, “Act of Valor” and “Footloose.”
“When I went to the premiere and I hear my voice come on the background, it was so bizarre,” Hayes recalled. “You don’t quite ever get used to it, but it was awesome.”
He said he is working on music for another album, but with his touring schedule there has not been enough time.
“I don’t write all the time, because if I did I feel like I’d be forcing myself to do so,” Hayes said. “There are certain times when I tell myself I need to go grab a guitar and talk to yourself and write about what’s going on now.
“But, there are times when I’ve just said, ‘No, I’m not writing for a month. I’m getting away from it.’ I don’t want to force myself to the point of pointless, needless music. It’s good to get away every now and then and come back with a fresh thought and idea,” Hayes said. “That’s something I work hard on is getting a new perspective and not trying to reinvent the wheel.”
“I wrote a ton of stuff this summer, but I’m still sorting through it and I’ve got a studio in the back of the bus just for that,” Hayes said.
But for now, Hayes remains on the road, and having his coffee for which he admits to having an addiction.
But, even that is being used to, again, reach out to his fans.
“We began hosting coffee socials before our shows,” Hayes said. “That is a special moment for me in the day when I get to hang out with the fans. There’s no agenda, but we spend a little time just sitting around chatting.”