Hunter Hayes speaks on authentic return to music

Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 12:07pm

Hunter Hayes

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After three long years, Hunter Hayes is back with the release of his new single, “Heartbreak.” Hayes released the tune in January as a preview of his new album, Closer to You, and in February announced the tour he’s about to embark on later this month.

Since kicking off his music career in his late teens, Hayes has created a name for himself in the country music sphere with over 40 award nominations and wins, including a CMA for New Artist of the Year. While he realizes most listeners adore the teenage love songs of his previous albums, Hayes is excited for fans to hear Closer to You, since, unlike any of his albums in the past, it comes from a more personal, sacred space. “I’ve probably worked for three or four years on this album, writing hundreds of songs. A lot of stuff was written to try to be like what I thought (the industry) wanted,” said Hayes in a phone interview with The Daily. “I scrapped everything at the beginning of 2018 and decided that I was going to make a record for myself. It sounds selfish and it sounds stupid, but actually that’s kind of the idea. You’re supposed to do that. As an artist, you’re supposed to start there because you know what’s on your heart, what’s important to you, what you write about, your experiences.”

Although diving into a new realm of songwriting was new to Hayes, he believes taking this album in a new direction has helped the process feel more worthwhile and fulfilling. “The whole project for me is about shedding weight and moving on,” Hayes explained, “For me, it’s one hundred percent the most transparent for sure, and it’s the most I’ve ever put of myself into music. I needed it. I wrote these songs because I needed to write these songs, not because I felt like I had to, and that’s a big switch. For several years I wrote a lot of stuff I thought I was supposed to, and had to, and now this record is just all full of stuff that I just wrote because I needed to write it, I need to sing it.”

Hayes gave fans a taste of his new style with his newly released single “Heartbreak,” which is one of the standout songs to be featured on his new album. “(‘Heartbreak’) started as a journal entry on a trip that I took by myself,” he recalled, “(I realized) this album doesn’t really have a love song, but (I wanted) for there to be one because I feel like (it was important) to write to my future better half and just saying, ‘I’m going through a lot to get to you, but I know that it’ll be worth it.’”

With nearly three million streams on Spotify, it’s safe to say “Heartbreak” has already been well-received by fans. “I love the optimism of it, I love the mystery of it,” Hayes said. “I think it’s something I’ve wanted to write for a long time and just never really was in the headspace to do it. It’s just different in the fact that I didn’t really feel I had to ask for permission to write (‘Heartbreak’) or anything else on this album. I think this is completely unfiltered.”

Although “Heartbreak” has already given us a glimpse into what the new album will sound like, Hayes said he will be playing his unreleased songs on the tour so fans can hear his new music for the first time at the shows. For the musician, releasing his music live is just an introduction for the music that’s coming. “We’ve been on the road this entire time, we’ve been doing shows, but we haven’t been able to stop and build a proper experience. And now we get to do that,” Hayes explained. “This is all of my inner child happiness (about) things happening at once. Just getting to build the show, start from scratch, convey a message. I’ve been waiting to do this for so long. We’ve played shows, but we haven’t been on the road like this in a while, and this is where my heart’s probably the happiest.”

During the planning stages of the tour, Hayes drew a lot of his inspiration from other artists and how they’ve approached their performances. “I love studying anything that I like. I love to figure out why I like it, what I like about it, what makes it so, and how it was made. I love knowing the behind the scenes stuff about records and stuff. I just love watching live concerts and really trying to understand it and trying to get behind the curtain and figure out how it works and how those things happen,” he said.

But his biggest source of insight are his own emotions and experiences. “I think the time away really made me hone in on what I love, what I love to feel and what I want everybody to feel when they leave the show,” Hayes described. “I think this will be the first show where we get to know each other and break down more walls than we have before. I’m really excited about it.”

Hayes will be performing at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on April 27th. After years of preparing this album and refining his sound as an artist, Hayes is excited to get back on the road and share what he’s been working on. “A lot of time has elapsed now (and that) allows me to kind of hit the reset button, which is a scary thing to do but also an awesome thing to get to do. I think the thing that’s giving the fire to this tour is that it’s a restart. Not a relaunch necessarily, but it’s a brand new day in a lot of ways.”