Hunter Hayes Says ‘Encore’ Is a ‘Second Chance at a First Impression’
Hunter Hayes‘ debut album has been a success by almost every industry measure. At one point, fans seemed to be scooping it up faster than McDonald’s hamburgers. Critics mostly praised the then-20-year-old’s songwriting and musicianship, and the three singles helped find him nominated for three Grammys, four ACMs and a dozen or so other honors. But Hayes wasn’t quite satisfied, so he’s prepared an ‘Encore.’
Spend 10 minutes talking to the Louisiana-born child prodigy and you’ll find that A) you’ll actually do very little of the “talking,” and B) he’s unlikely to be satisfied with any amount of recognition and success that comes his way. Hayes doesn’t come across as an egomaniac, just someone who’s very driven to produce to the fullest of his abilities — and then a little bit more. Perhaps he’s a perfectionist. Or perhaps he’s just more talented than anyone else his age in country music.
On June 18, Hayes will release ‘Encore,’ a mix of songs from ‘Hunter Hayes,’ including re-recordings and new songs. ‘I Want Crazy’ is the project’s first single, but other gems include a reworking of ‘What You Gonna Do’ with Ashley Monroe and ‘Everybody’s Got Somebody but Me’ with Jason Mraz. Unlike his debut, Hayes allowed other musicians to participate in this recording. In fact, he encouraged it, often calling upon Nashville’s top session players to add their sound.
“‘Encore’ was an experiment. ‘Encore’ was the second chance at a first impression,” the young star tells Taste of Country, laughing. “‘Encore’ was not completely planned.”
While he has 60 to 70 songs penned for his sophomore album, Hayes says he’s not ready to record it yet. But he had some time and a studio, so he went in with his producer and began working with no agenda. “I’m not gonna release (a new album) just for the sake of releasing another album,” he says, perhaps unaware that he’s skipping a stone as entrenched in the path of a new artist as an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. Typically, someone like Hayes — one of over a dozen on the Taste of Country Music Festival lineup — would get three singles and be “encouraged” to record another album quickly. He’s fighting the machine by not rushing a project between tour dates on Carrie Underwood‘s recently-wrapped Blown Away Tour.
Fans won’t find the song Hayes wrote with Stevie Wonder on ‘Encore.’ The two gathered after April’s ACM Awards and began jamming in a rehearsal room at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. “It’s a crazy story to tell because even I don’t believe it,” Hayes says. “It was like one of those things. It went quickly from like ‘Come be a part of this awards show’ to we’re tossing ideas musically back and forth.”
To an outsider, the ACMs would seem like a mixed bag for Hayes. Sure, he was on stage as much as anyone (aside from hosts Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton), but he went zero for four on awards, making him zero for seven on the season after coming away empty-handed at the Grammys. The sting — if there was one — quickly faded.
“That was easily the best weekend of my life,” Hayes says. “Why wouldn’t it be? I got to start the show sitting in with one of my guitar player heroes (Brad Paisley). And then Stevie Wonder … I mean, come on! I’ve been a fan of Stevie’s for a long time.” It’s cliche, but being nominated might just be enough of an honor as very few newcomers can claim similar recognition.”
He adds, “The team kind of laughed, because we didn’t think it would be possible. He is, after all, Stevie Wonder. But he was nice enough to take a meeting; my team surprised me with it. We met a year before the ACMs, and I played him something and he played me something that he was working and we just started talking music and he was like, ‘We should do something together.’”
In the 50 days since debuting ‘I Want Crazy’ at the ACMs, the single has gone Top 20 and produced perhaps Hayes’ best music video. The love song was inspired by an actual long distance romance the singer went through, during which he’d throw common sense out his bus window, hop a plane and spend a few short hours with his girlfriend on his only day off.
“I truly believe that when you’ve found the one you’re searching for, you become a better version of yourself. You’re better for it,” the singer says. “You kind of go through this stage where all your friends look at and are like ‘You have absolutely gone crazy.’ And you sort of laugh at ‘em. You’re kind of proud of it.”
Now that he’s finished with Underwood’s tour, Hayes’ schedule is full of festivals this summer, including a stop at our own ToC Music Festival in New York on June 15. He’ll take the stage just before Billy Currington and headliner Lady Antebellum. Want to see him? Get tickets before it’s too late.