By Tricia Witkower
Hunter Hayes has the distinction of being one of the warmest, friendliest musicians I’ve ever interviewed. Right away, he called me by name, joked with me, and thanked me for my time. There’s no disinterested celebrity persona, Hunter Hayes feels like talking to a friend, a normal person. A normal person who is enormously talented at singing, songwriting, and at playing instruments. 30 of them (I asked). “I heard you can play 30 instruments. 30?! I can’t even name 30 without including a kazoo.” The kazoo, he tells me, is one of the few instruments he doesn’t play and invites me to teach him.
He started writing music while playing shows at festivals and outdoor events as a kid. With an equipment trailer full of instruments to keep him entertained on his down time, he started making up songs and music to go with them and ended up falling in love with songwriting. This time in his career coincided perfectly with portable studios being available. Since he wasn’t going to get a band together – he was only 8 or 9 years old – the only way he’d get a song written the way he wanted was to do it himself. This led to his endless discovery of new instruments at a young age. What started out of necessity is still part of his songwriting process. “If I hear a song in my head, I chase it until I can actually physically hear it,” he says. He commits to the sounds until they become a song. On his most recent album, he got into yet another new instrument – the synthesizer. He also doesn’t need to do all his own instruments anymore. He says, “I love working with bands and collaborating.”
Performing since he was a child hasn’t dulled the newness or excitement for him.
“Oh yeah. I get nervous, I get excited,” he shares. He feels most himself, he says, when he’s on stage performing. “I’m very introverted most of the time, ironically. His show at Fantasy Springs on Saturday, February 11 “will be our first show of the year. Totally new show design. I love building and creating shows.” Not getting to play or attend shows during covid has made him so grateful for live music now – whether he’s there performing or as part of the audience. If he can go see a show, he tells me, he’s going to. That audience experience reinforces how special it is when someone chooses to leave their house and make his own show a part of their night.
Hunter Hayes has been very open about issues around mental health. “It’s just so much a part of life. I think so many people probably see it that you only talk about it if there’s a problem. The more we can learn about ourselves, the better version of ourselves we can be. I’ve seen it firsthand.” When he and his two collaborators (Bonnie Baker and Katrina Elam) on the song “Invisible” were writing it, they drew inspiration from different versions of their lives. That song connected with so many people – a quick glance at the music video on his official YouTube easily proves that. With 23 million views, the comment section is full of people saying this song helped them, this song touched them, this song will always mean something to them. His 2019 song, “Dear God” was “a lot of things I wasn’t “supposed” to talk about or be that honest about. I don’t want it [talking about mental health] to be all I do, but it became a foundation. My fan group feels safe and there’s no need to hide. I don’t have to be the artist who has his shit together. Everyone gets to be all of themselves and love all the parts of themselves and their stories. I’ve unlocked deeper layers of connection with people and avenues of songs I can write.” Indeed, his fans appreciate this and count on the type of honesty and community his music gives them.
Hunter’s new album, Red Sky, has been in the works for 4 years and is his first totally independent album in 12 years. He asked himself, ‘What would I do if I can do anything?’ and that question guided him on this album. “I took more ownership with this album. I want to do the stuff I haven’t been able to do, do the things that make me laugh, talk about what I’ve never talked about or written about.” This album, he tells me, has a very adventurous theme, and comes from a place of vulnerability and confidence. “It’s about the fire inside and letting it burn. Letting people see all of you, the real you, embracing and loving that.” Hayes took “Sober” the first single off the album into session with the idea that he and his collaborators would do whatever they want to do that brings joy. That mindset reshaped how he worked on the whole album. “I want people to hear this. It really just turned everything upside down in a beautiful way and allowed the album to be made.”
Fans who see him play at Fantasy Springs on Friday, February 11 can look forward to hearing Hayes do what he loves by playing the music they love, along with some new stuff they’re about to love. Says Hayes, “I want to bring people joy by doing what brings me joy.”
Purchase your tickets at https://www.fantasyspringsresort.com/hunter-hayes/