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Hunter Hayes Works on ‘Big Dreams’ and Being Himself With Debut Album

Hunter Hayes
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Hunter Hayes won’t say it, and perhaps he hasn’t even thought it. But Lauren Alaina‘s prom invite (that a radio station convinced her to extend) was somewhat of a lose-lose idea. Hayes — whose debut album is in stores on October 11 — is 20-years-old, and Alaina is 16. There aren’t very many fathers who’d approve of that arrangement, even if (or especially if) it was only for one night.

Hayes mostly dodged the invite, but he doesn’t dodge talking about it, nor is he weary of similar confrontations with other teenage fans. “I mean, I suppose we’ve been in some interesting situations,” he tells Taste of Country. “I suppose my instinct has served me right … I used to think there was a scientific way to do things. Like a proper way to answer a question or that kind of stuff. It’s like, there’s not! There’s not a method, there’s not a science to it. The secret is [to] be you!”

“I feel like my best instinct is to just be myself, and it has served me right more times than not,” he adds. Hayes — who is currently offering Taste of Country readers the chance to win a personal phone call from him — is nothing but grateful for his fans, no matter what size, shape or age they come in. He’s humble but has big dreams. He loves coffee and talks like he’s just sucked down two venti mocha lattes. Being somewhat of a child prodigy — Hayes opened for Hank Williams Jr. and appeared on national TV talk shows before his 13th birthday — has only further fueled his motor and sharpened his work ethic.

The Louisiana native called in to Taste of Country the morning of the ‘Footloose‘ movie premiere in Los Angeles, Calif. As he has a song on the soundtrack, he was preparing to walk the red carpet that night.

Are you the kind of guy who really pours over his outfit, or do you wear whatever someone throws your way?
I don’t know. I think it’s a terrible combination because I feel like I’ve got to be me. Like if someone hands me an outfit and it’s like, “Guys, be serious. I would never wear this.” But at the same time we collaborate. Because I’m big on that kind of thing … It’s a careful balance, I like to weight in [laughs]. I’m not gonna lie, I like to weigh in.

On your Twitter page, fans have begun to send you creative tributes. Like the ‘Countdown to Hunter Hayes’ calendar.
[laughs] I saw that last that last night at the airport. I was running from one place to another, but at the same time I saw it really quick and I was like, “Oh no, I’ve got to retweet this. This is so cool.”

Are you starting to get more and more of these type of unique, sometimes strange tributes?
It’s always cool. It’s never strange. To be the name on somebody’s shirt that they’ve made themselves in preparation for one of your shows — it doesn’t get much cooler than that. They’re singing along to all the songs, they’re coming to the shows. You see them at several shows, you start to recognize the familiar faces and it’s like, man, that’s the kind of stuff you really can’t prepare for. It’s just so cool to have people so supportive and so dedicated, so true to you and loyal fans. It just doesn’t get better than that.

We’ll assume most of these types of fans are younger, but are there cougars out there that are just waiting to get their claws into you?
[laughs] No, it’s cool. What I love about my fans is they’re around my age. I feel like most of them I could have hung out with in high school, besides the fact that I was the shy guy didn’t really socialize with a whole lot of people, you know.

And even those that are not, it just shows that music transcends an age group. To have a song that somebody my age can relate to as well as their mother and father can relate to, that’s awesome! That’s exactly why I write music, because I want people to relate to it.

Enter to Win a Phone Call From Hunter Hayes

Are you competitive?
I have a string of competitiveness in me. It’s really strange ‘cause it’s not something that I would even expect myself to have, but every now and then it kinda sneaks out, you know.

With that in mind, are you satisfied with how far your career has progressed?
It’s been a phenomenal summer, between the single coming out and this album release which I’m so nervous and stoked about at the same time. It’s been fantastic and nothing could be going better. At the same time, yeah, there’s definitely a different place I want to get to. I’ve got some crazy, stupid big goals. I really wanna headline arenas. I wanna have such a big crew that we’ve got to have 20 or 30 buses on the road because that’s how big the show we’re putting on is. I wanna get to that point where we’re doing a show [with] 8,000 people in an arena because that’s how many people in that city sort of attached themselves to a song that I wrote.

These are big dreams, but that’s where I’ve always wanted to be in my life and I feel like at this point, we’re in a tour bus, I’ve got a band, we’re in a different city every day. Right now I’m living a dream, but I definitely got some big goals and big plans in my just dreaming about it.

Who gave you your first guitar?
Robert Duvall. I was sitting there with a cajun band at a restaurant in my hometown, blocks, literally blocks from my home … Robert Duvall walked in one night while I was playing, and he loved the cajun music and here’s me, just going nuts on an accordion, and he asked my parents if I would wanna be in a movie, be a little part in this movie (‘The Apostle’). So we got to be friends with him. And for my sixth birthday, which is shortly after the movie was made, he flew down to Breaux Bridge and came to my birthday party and he gave me a little black Samick electric guitar with a matching black, Samick amp. From then on it was the instrument I took to the most.

Is there a song on the album that is really autobiographical?
Ummm … ‘Somebody’s Heartbreak’ [laughs]. I constantly find myself getting into situations where it’s like, “Hey, I really like the idea of this. Oh, it’s a bad idea, who cares?” Just the hopeless romantic, I guess. I heard Taylor [Swift] use that word a couple of times on tour and I related to it. I was like “Yeah, I get that. I totally get that. That’s me.”

Taylor Swift is similar in age, and she’s got that superstar status. While on tour did you just sort of follow her with a notebook and a pen taking notes?
I mean, I might as well have. Absolutely! We got to talk a little bit. It’s not like we went out for coffee every day but, you know, I got to hang with her a couple of times which is really cool ’cause she’s a really cool individual. We’re close in age and she’s living the dream that I’ve always had, so I really look up to her. And the last day we were hanging out I told her, “I’m still a little starstruck, I’m not gonna lie. I’m still a huge fan of you, like even though we’ve been on tour together.” It’s like I’m still a big fan, I’m still a little shy, I’m still a little sort of speechless. Because I still see her as this icon.

There are a few heartbreak songs on your album. Have you had your heart broken quite a few times?
[laughs] No, but the few times I did I wrote every song about it that I possibly could. I’m kind of hoping the next record has a little more sunshine than it does [on] ‘Storm Warning’ and ‘Rainy Season.’

Do you have a celebrity crush in country music?
[laughs] Put it this way. I’m so shy that if I did I probably wouldn’t even admit to it. But it changes daily. I mean, come on. I’m 20. It’s gonna be a different person every day.

Watch the Hunter Hayes ‘Storm Warning’ Video

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