Hunter Hayes made waves with his self-titled debut album in 2011. In addition to having a hand in writing each song on the album, he performed every vocal and played every instrumental track on the Platinum-selling LP. Making music is something that is more than close to the Louisiana native’s heart – it is his heart. The “Wanted” singer guests on the newest webisode of Inspired By, a series produced by music instrument company Ernie Ball. The Hayes episode will be released Tuesday (Aug. 14), but Billboard has an exclusive first look at the clip (below).
“The only true addiction I’ve ever had was music. I’ve come close to some others, but that’s the only one I can’t get rid of. Everything else feels foreign, but for some reason, when I grab an electric guitar and start laying down parts, that’s when I feel like, ‘Ok, this is my voice.’ It allows me to live and see the world from a new perspective, to go places. It gives me experiences. It gives me stories. It’s the one place where nothing is in my way — the diving in, and just trying shit. It was the first true vision of freedom. The guitar is my wings.”
Hayes, who plays a Ernie Ball Music Man custom made Cutlass guitar, confesses that playing music wasn’t something that he knew instantly that he wanted to pursue, but says that he eased into it gradually over time.
“I wish I could say I watched Jimi Hendrix as a kid, and knew ‘That’s all I wanted to do,’ but I didn’t know. I’m kind of embarrassed about that, but at the same time, I’m glad I found it accidentally.”
As proficient as Hayes is with the guitar, it wasn’t his first instrument. “I started with the accordion, and for some reason, we got along, but it was kind of like the friends that leave high school and never talk again. I love it, and am grateful for the part in my story that it plays, but that’s kind of it for a minute – until we catch up at the ten-year reunion…. The drums were my second instrument, but I got a guitar for my sixth birthday. I never put it down. I think that’s what I love about it. I can’t reason myself into it. I can’t tell you exactly why. It’s not really a thought process. There’s just an emotional connection. Every time I hold the guitar, I think ‘Ok, finally, I’m me again.'”
Though Hayes grew up on country and Cajun music, he says that one of his favorite records growing up was from outside of those musical streams.
“One of the most unexpected records for me to grab on to and to hold on tight was a MercyMe record. I had listened to country and Cajun music all of my life, and if you’ve ever heard the Coming Up To Breathe (2006) record, it’s nowhere close to either of those things, it’s very heavy and dark – but beautiful. They had gone through a lot of things to make that record. The song ‘Coming Up To Breathe’ starts with ‘I’m in way too deep,’ and who in middle school doesn’t feel like that every day? That record saved my life. I would come home and crank it on my speakers – I would destroy those speakers listening to the MercyMe record. Every day, I would look forward to coming home and listening to that record. That’s when I fell in love. I want to make music like this. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I wanted to make music that moved me that much.”
The entertainer has been in the studio working on new music – and he hopes his fans will feel the same emotion that he did listening to MercyMe. The songs definitely strike a chord with him.
“I didn’t move to Nashville to make money,” he says. “I moved to Nashville to make music. Once I started achieving the things that I wanted and making a lot of my dreams come true, I started worrying about things that I didn’t intend on worrying about. I think that this next album will be therapy for me. It has been therapy for me. These songs were therapy. I’m excited for the world to hear them. I mean every word. Nothing about it has been written. It’s been spoken. These songs came to life in such a beautiful way that was very unintentional. That’s what I wanted. Because it’s not honestly about the album, it’s about the story. It’s about talking about it, and the people that it’s connected me to in ways that have changed my life is immeasurable.”