After remaining relatively quiet the past two years, Hunter Hayes is making a much-anticipated return to the country music industry following the release of three new songs and an upcoming summer North American tour. Included in that tour is a stop at Joe’s Live Rosemont on May 13.
The “Wanted” country artist spoke on the phone with The PHOENIX about his new music, future releases and recent philanthropic endeavors.
Hayes’ most recent work was “The 21 Project,” a seven-track project released in three different forms — studio recordings, acoustic and live from Lady Antebellum’s 2015 Wheels Up Tour, which he was an opening act for. While Hayes said he loved and was passionate about that music, he was also simultaneously working on his current project.
Following “The 21 Project,” something he described as a sort of vacation from what he’s been working on, Hayes spent the better part of the last year and a half in a backyard studio in Nashville. While working in this studio, Hayes said he wrote over 100 songs, many of which the world will never hear. The decision to make this his home allowed Hayes to approach his music from a slightly less conventional way, while also providing him the opportunity to do some self-discovery.
“It allowed me to collaborate with a lot more people because I was just way more free timing wise,” Hayes said. “I had a lot more resources and could take a lot more liberties musically and when idealizing concepts.”
Hayes moved to Nashville at 16 years old, hoping to make a living singing. Now 25, the country artist has undergone significant change. But for him, the biggest thing has been continued “gut checks” to make sure his priorities are still straight.
While many artists get caught up in numbers — whether that be a dollar sign or chart success — Hayes says he is concerned solely with with making music that makes him happy.
“Music that matters to you as the creator will matter to the right person and to the fan. They will feel it when you feel it. But they won’t feel it if you’re just calculating; if you’re just recreating yourself so that you can make sure that you match these numbers.”
This gut-check process is what he followed while working on this next project. While it has certainly elongated the process, Hayes said it was worth it and necessary for him in order to get to that point where he was truly satisfied with where his work ended up.
For his 25th birthday last September, Hayes decided to do some gifting for his fans. The country artist released three new songs on Soundcloud: “Amen,” “Yesterday’s Song” and “Young Blood.”
Hayes described “Yesterday’s Song,” which he released a music video for last month, as the song that started this newest project. It’s a song that marked a period of moving on and saying goodbye to parts of his music process and himself that were keeping him from making the music he wanted to make.
“I feel like we all have those chapters where it’s like, man, I would give anything just to say goodbye to this current state of mind,” Hayes said. “And for me, that’s what ‘Yesterday’s Song’ was. It was definitely the time the switch was flipped and I was like, ‘OK, this is a massive hurdle and I’ve got to get rid of this.’”
As for “Amen,” Hayes admitted it was partially inspired by his current girlfriend Libby Barnes, but that it was about those other people who unknowingly inspired him and kept him strong while working on this project.
“[‘Amen’] is about somebody that kind of keeps me glued together and keeps my head sort of pointed in the right direction and focused and the heart in the right place, which can be difficult with all of the stuff that’s going on.”
So when can fans expect more music from Hayes? For the country artist and now co-producer, he said it’s not looking like there will be a single release date for a new album. Rather, if all goes well, there will be new music released throughout the year — something Hayes said he’s excited about from a creative standpoint.
“There’s a lot of my heart that’s come out of this project, and that’s why I didn’t want it to be just 12 songs,” Hayes said. “No, let’s keep releasing stuff and let’s keep working on it. Let’s not just shut it down and go home. Let’s continue building this record and finding more and continue to discover.”
Aside from staying busy touring and making new music, Hayes has been working closely with veterans, a cause particularly close to him. The singer-songwriter has several veterans in his family, including his father who was in the Army. Hayes, who has a “profound appreciation and massive respect” for the service and sacrifices of our military men and women, recently did a two-week tour of military bases in Europe and is in the process planning another similar tour — one he hopes that will be even longer.
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Hayes also recently teamed up with Heartgard Plus and the Warrior Canine Connection, a non-profit organization that provides canine-assisted therapy to Service Members and Veterans affected by the invisible wounds of war, in order to lift veterans up, share their stories and raise awareness about the ways dogs can bring about healing.
“Essentially, the program trains puppies to be service dogs and all the while involving veterans during their different forms of readjusting after getting home. Because we know the healing power a sweet dog can be for us,” Hayes said. “And for me, it’s like yeah, anything we can do for our vets is a top priority. And through this Warrior Canine Connection’s program, there’s so much that they’re doing.”
General admission tickets for Hunter Hayes’ May 13 show at Joe’s Live Rosemont (5441 Park Pl., Rosemont, IL) cost $35 and can be purchased online at joesliverosemont.com.
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