It’s been almost a decade ever since American soulful country singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Hunter Hayes, released his debut self-titled album in 2011, which rocketed onto the American music scene as well as both into the Billboard and country music charts.
His songs definitely earned the country music a new audience, blending genres in a way only a small percentage of singers were able to successfully do so. How did Hunter Hayes do it?
The Early Years of Hunter Hayes
Hunter Easton Hayes was born on September 9, 1991, at Larniurg Hospital in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. He is the only child of Lynette and Leo Hayes. But Hayes is no ordinary kid. Most kids would likely be more interested in playing with toy soldiers or trucks in the dirt, but not Hayes!
Hunter Hayes started his musical career at a very young age. He fell in love with music at the age of two when his grandmother gave him a toy accordion. By the time Hunter was four years old, he was already making television appearances and performing alongside music legends on stages all over the U.S.
One of his most notable performances was with country legend, Hank Williams Jr., on Nickelodeon’s game show “Figure It Out” in front of 200,000 people in Lafayette, Louisiana. The adorable four-year-old Hayes came out with his accordion. Hank asked him what he wanted to do, to which he replied in his cutest southern accent, “I, uh, wanna do something called Jambalaya.”
When he was seven, he was invited to perform for President Bill Clinton for a White House lawn party. His career skyrocketed from there! He was on America’s Most Talented Kid when he was 13 too.
He graduated in 2007, at the age of 16 and a year later, he moved from his hometown of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana to Nashville, Tennessee. Hunter Hayes signed into Universal Music Publishing Group as a songwriter, contributing to Rascal Flatts’ song “Play” included in their album “Nothing Like This”.
And did I mention that this young talent can play over 30 instruments? Well, among the many instruments that he plays skillfully, he managed to learn the accordion, drums, bass, and keyboard himself, without any professional help. He then expanded his range to include guitar, mandolin, bass, and percussion, and as a teenager he assembled a home-recording setup, learning more about the rudiments of record-making. Now that’s talent!
In 2010, he signed a record deal with Atlantic Records Nashville to work on his major-label debut album, he co-written every track, sung every vocal track and played every instrument including some preternatural guitar solos that revealed the depth of his abilities in the album.
His hard work paid off as he made it to the top of the U.S. Billboard, earning the title of the youngest ever male to top the charts and the self-titled album went Double Platinum when he released it in 2011. The album spawned his first number-one single, “Wanted”, went to No. 1 on various charts and went quadruple platinum in 2012. Another single, “Somebody’s Heartbreak,” peaked at number seven. Hayes’ debut absolutely became a strong success story.
This led Hayes in the public realm for years, and with every passing year, he keeps getting better as a musician.
“We have a deep-rooted culture and our music is just coveted,” Hayes said. “I really got into country [music] when I started writing because I found the lyrics meant something to me, even as a middle schooler. I told my little, sad, middle-school story. And it went on from there. My second instrument was drums, then there was a guitar, and that’s when I really felt at home.”
In September 2012 he was inducted, as the youngest member, into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in New Orleans, Louisiana. He posted more new records in the same year, including being the youngest solo male act to top the Hot Country Songs with “Wanted”. He was also named the CMA’s New Artist of the Year in the same year.
In 2013, Hayes was one of five country music stars who’ve been named CMT’s 2013 Artists of the Year. He admitted that “it’s mind-boggling” to be on a list of honorees which included Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, and Tim McGraw.
“I’m so honored to be in this group of artists. I looked at the list and thought, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’” Hayes said.
Hunter Hayes returned in May 2014 with his second album Storyline, featuring the single “Invisible”. Hayes said that Storyline is an open book about his feelings. “In some shape or form, I have gone through all the moods, all the emotions of these songs. There are pockets of emotion, there’s love, there’s too much love, there’s maybe not love,” he said.
But as often happens in the music business, a hugely successful first act can be tough to follow. His second album didn’t have the same momentum, and a few singles released to radio failed to make it to the charts.
So Hunter quickly followed it with the 21 EP in the summer of 2015. The single “21” sold well and he accompanied it with The 21 Project — a set of three EPs where the same songs were recorded in three different ways.
In 2017 Hunter Hayes released “Rescue,” which is a dark yet uplifting tune about relying on the strength of other people as he was going through hard times. Although he didn’t go into detail about his rough patch, frustrations with the industry come together as he was struggling to adapt to changes in his own voice, which was the result of many years of live performances, acid reflux and allergies.
It must have really been totally nerve-racking for Hunter Hayes to walk onstage and without knowing how he was going to sound. He spent months working with his vocal coach and changed some keys in his live show so he would be more comfortable.
On Hitting The Reset Button
The “Wanted” singer’s life got complicated that he needed hit the reset button on his life in early 2018. His long-term relationship had just painfully ended. He had parted ways with a trusted business associate. And the country singer started questioning his group of friends. His house no longer feels like home to him.
But of course, music to Hayes never fails to save the day. So in 2019, Hayes made his return to music by releasing his highly anticipated album “Wild Blue”. It is his first album in three years. The familiar echo of his previous hits that everyone missed could finally be heard again on the album.
“This was my chance to start over as if no one was watching,” Hayes said. “Wild Blue” was a title he wrote down years ago that was inspired by a dream he had about flying. He knew he wanted the album to evoke the feeling of flying, he said, turbulence included.
The albums features “Madness”, “In “My Song Too,” “Dear God”, and “Still” which is the last song on the album, was written Dec. 16, 2018. The lyrics came with much soul-searching on who he was, who people thought he was, and who he wanted to be. The struggle dates back almost a decade.
The singer hopes fans will realize “Wild Blue,” is the most honest music he’s ever made. He hopes they see he’s grown up but is still child-like in his vulnerability. He hopes they find the music intentional without a formula. He hopes they see he’s adventurous without boundaries. He hopes he can continue to be those things for himself.
“I hope that this is a new bar in transparency for me,” he said of “Wild Blue.” “I hope this album is the starting point from here forward. I also hope that internally for me this proves I can be. I feel like ‘Dear God’ showed that to me. I was painfully honest with the world, and the response was awesome.”
Things You Probably Don’t Know About Hunter Hayes
1. He adopted a retired racing dog
In 2015, the country singer adopted a retired racing dog from Greyhound Pets of America. He introduced the pup, named Cole, to his fans in an adorable YouTube video.
“I’m very excited about him. All the research I’ve done on retired greyhounds, I think the bus will be a happy place for him and the road too, he’ll have lots of places to run around safely backstage. I’m also fixing up the house for him, so he’s going to have it made!”
Now, he also has Ella, a whippet-beagle mix.
2. He has a passion for flying
Hunter Hayes’s music is not the only thing that soars. “I love flying planes,” Hayes said. “I’m working on my pilot’s license. I’m loving it. I was on a flight simulator all the time as a kid. It was something I kind of forgot about when I came to Nashville, but a friend of mine gifted me with pilot lessons.”
3. He’s fond of Converse sneakers
Hayes owns an amazing collection of about 20 pairs of Converse in all colors. “It’s my thing,” Hunter Hayes said. “They stand for all the things I love – they are timeless, they are stylish, they are cool They are simple, and it’s not trying too hard.”
4. Hunter Hayes made the wish of one very special young lady when he showed up to be her date for her prom
Rachel Rogers is a member of the Tennessee Chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that offers various services to those with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Rogers wanted her crush, Hayes, to join her for the annual prom, and asked him in a video.
The singer decided to surprise Rogers and showed up on stage at her prom, where the two sang Hayes’ hit, “Wanted,” with Hayes even reaching out to hold her hand during the performance.
5. A Sheeran documentary on songwriting brought Hunter Hayes back,
Ed Sheeran’s documentary reminded him of what really matters. For Hayes, the numbers like chart positions, ticket sales, streaming figures are goals, but they aren’t a measure of success, and that, he says, is a change from earlier days. Now he measures success by longevity.
“In 60 years, am I still making music and are people still connecting with it?” Hayes said. “That would be success.”
Hunter Hayes decided the wait is over as we expect more of him on the following days. Music has always been Hayes’ comfort, something he can never leave behind.
“It’s the way I speak ’cause I’m not comfortable in a lot of ways in social settings,” he admits. “This is about as comfortable as I get, making music. That’s my way of expressing. That’s my way of getting all the feelings in and out of my system. That’s my language. It’s just a magical thing and I love making music. I wake up every day just wishing I can keep doing it.”