Among the many extraordinary things about Hunter Hayes, the nineteen-year-old singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, perhaps what is most astonishing is that in truth, he’s just getting started. And it is that fact which holds the promise of Hunter Hayes becoming one of the most significant musical talents to emerge, not just from Nashville, but from anywhere, in a long, long time.
Already, he has accomplishments beyond most musicians wildest dreams: Singing “Jambalaya” with Hank Williams Jr. in front of 200,000 people (11 million YouTube views) at the age of four; appearing with Robert Duvall (who gave Hunter his first guitar) in “The Apostle” at the age of six; playing with Johnny and June Cash, and Charlie Daniels at a BBQ; performing for President Clinton and many more. You might say that he’s lived a charmed life. But those experiences are simply the natural result of Hunter’s prodigal talent, one that’s been there from the beginning as though a gift from God, and one that he’s always conscious to be in service to.
Having moved to Nashville two years ago, Hayes was quickly signed to Universal Music Publishing Group where he has co-written songs for Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry. At the same time, he was introduced to Atlantic Records’ Chairman/CEO and music visionary Craig Kallman, who he signed with at Atlantic Records. “I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who appreciate music and support what I do.”
Born in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana in 1991, Hunter has been making music since about the time he learned to walk. As he recounts, “By the time I was almost two, I was picking up everything and making an instrument out of it. My grandmother gave me a toy accordion for my second birthday and I immediately began picking up Cajun songs by ear from the radio.” While both of Hunter’s parents are music lovers, neither are musicians, so as he says, “The way I picked up music was out of left field, but, I suppose, a pleasant surprise for them.”
For the Hayes’, most Friday night’s in the early part of Hunter’s childhood were spent at a Cajun restaurant a couple of blocks from their home that featured live music, and it was there where Hunter joined his first band at the age of four, first as the accordionist, and then as the front man at the age of five.
Taking up guitar at the age of 6, Hunter’s ability to pick up instruments (including bass guitar, drums, keyboards, and more) became evident. He says, “I’ve never had the patience to sit down and learn from anyone. So with the guitar, and with every subsequent instrument and piece of studio equipment, it’s been a process of experimentation – pressing every button I can.”
Songwriting, too, has been a constant undertaking of Hunter’s. “I wrote my first song at 6,” he recalls, “I spent every day with the guitar and I just made up songs.” Hunter’s songwriting has been informed by an eclectic grouping of influences. “When I was really young, Garth Brooks was enormous, and I was a huge fan. I always loved LeAnn Rimes and especially Clint Black for his soulfulness. As I’ve gotten older, my influences have broadened – John Mayer, Michael Buble, Stevie Wonder, Keith Urban, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Beatles – all of these artists have somehow been a part of my development as a songwriter.”
Like playing and songwriting, performing has become almost second nature to Hunter who, in just his short life, has shared the stage with the likes of Hank Williams, Jr, Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins, Leann Rimes, and Lady Antebellum . “I’ve been doing at least thirty dates a year for the past fifteen years. I’ve done a lot of the festivals several times and built up relationships with the people that go every year.
Now Hunter, in the producer’s chair with Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Trace Adkins) has just delivered what he calls his debut album. “I’ve released independent records before, but this feels like the first real record – with the high stakes,” he says excitedly. For Hunter, even with those high stakes, he was committed to doing it his way. “playing everything on the album, having fun and experimenting,” he stops, and then says with a smile, “I literally lived in the studio.”
The expectations may be high, but no one has set higher expectations and ambitions for his music than Hunter himself. He declares, “I want people twice as young as me and twice as old as me listening to my music – I want it to live forever and for my audience to feel like they have a friend in my music.” He continues, “Music is a spirit. It heals. It’s an amazing thing to be loved and appreciated, and sometimes, music has not just been my best friend, it’s been my only friend.”
In 2011, Hunter Hayes will be releasing his debut album and the world at large will finally have an opportunity to see this prodigiously talented artist, a young man who respects the gift his talent is, and has already learned how to give it the honor it commands. He says, “I’ve been lucky as a kid. I’ve met some of the greats, and whether it’s Johnny and June (Cash), Charlie Daniels or Brad Paisley, you could sense they were in it for the love of the music. That was the thing I took away from every single one of those people.”
“I don’t know if I’m worthy of being considered of ‘carrying the torch,’ but I would love to be told that by somebody someday. A lot of the decisions I make are from answering the question ‘are we doing it for the right reasons?’ I want people to say about me, ‘I know he’s making music because he loves it.’”