If you’re a Hunter Hayes fan, you know that it’s been a long time coming to hear some new Hunter material (his last release was 2015’s The 21 Project). Fortunately, the wait is almost over.
“This summer there will be a lot of things,” Hayes laughs to Billboard over the phone. Remaining rather cryptic beyond that, Hayes is gearing up for a big summer with a North American tour this spring, having just wrapped a stretch of shows in the U.K. and Europe.
While Hayes was overseas, he took part in some special concerts for U.S. troops who are stationed abroad. This is one of the many ways the 25-year-old has been involved with veterans and active service members during his career so far, and his latest venture brings together that passion as well as another: dogs.
Hayes is teaming up with Heartgard Plus and Warrior Canine Connection for a new campaign called “Heartgardians,” which is designed to raise awareness about the positive impact dogs have on veterans and service members. “Veterans are training these dogs for a couple of years so they get to know them, and then they’re trained for service for veterans,” Hayes explains. “It’s this awesome full-circle thing.”
With summer quickly approaching, Hayes has a lot to look forward to, and Billboard caught up with him to hear about his involvement with Heartgardians as well as what fans can expect from his new music.
You’ve done a lot of things involving veterans — do you have a personal relation to veterans? Or what makes you so passionate about supporting them?
My dad served in the Army, and I kind of grew up hearing stories about that and adding a massive respect for military men and women, kind of getting to know his way of life when he was in. That was before I was born, but I feel like I kind of lived it through his stories and through his experiences, and learned a lot from him sharing it with me.
It has to be pretty amazing to be able to give back to veterans with what you’re doing.
It’s the best feeling in the world, when the thing that you love can do something so good and so powerful. That’s a dream come true right there.
I would think your dog Cole was part of the inspiration for working with Heartgard. What does Cole mean to you?
He taught me a lot about myself when we got him and taught me a lot about understanding. I grew up with dogs around, but Cole is a completely different experience for me in the last couple of years. He’s been so good for my soul — getting to know myself through him. He makes me aware of so many things about myself that I wasn’t aware of before him. I think our best friends do that, all of our pets do that in some kind of way.
You guys know how much I love my pup and retired racer, Cole, and what an incredible impact I believe a dog can have on a person’s life. That’s why I’m teaming up with the maker of HEARTGARD® Plus (ivermectin/pyrantel) to help bring the healing power of dogs to our nation’s Service Members, Veterans and their families. Now through June 30, you can nominate a deserving U.S. Service Member or Veteran to win an all-expense-paid trip to Nashville and a year’s supply of HEARTGARD Plus for their dog. For every nomination, the HEARTGARD Plus team will donate $10 to Warrior Canine Connection®. The HEARTGARD Plus team will contribute up to $100,000 to @warriorcanineconnection in 2017. To make your nomination on Insta, just use the hashtags #NominateAVeteran and #Sweepstakes. Click the link in my bio to learn more. #ad
You’ve said that making this album has a been a creative journey — can you elaborate on that?
It was all about just human stuff. It wasn’t necessarily a study of the music; the music grew because the team kind of grew as people. I feel like I went through a big change going from 18 to 25. I went through a lot of figuring it out, and the music was driven by that. Also, identifying hurdles — the things that keep me from getting creative. This record has been about getting rid of all those things in the way and being truly creative, like I was, in the deepest way, with the first record. But never trying to re-create the first record — never trying to re-create anything, trying to make sure that we don’t stay anywhere because it feels safe. We search because art’s not easy to find.
Is there anything you’re hoping to do lyrically or musically in your new stuff? Or anything you’re doing differently this time around?
I don’t know if I can put that into a sentence at the moment because it’s been a pretty serious search in a good way. It’s been a lot of big changes and embracing. Trying not to overthink, and then realizing that you’re not supposed to try to do anything… you’re just supposed to put your heart into it. You’d be surprised how many times you can get in your own way when you’re working on that, and I did. It’s been an ongoing effort to learn that it’s okay to struggle with that and it’s OK to be vulnerable. I think that’s why I’ve entered into this sort of era where it’s just like, I’m ready. There’s nothing about me that is scared or feels like anything is sort of missing. My heart is full. I’m so freakin’ ready to have this stuff out right now, you have no idea.
How is the tour going? Does anything feel different about this tour than past ones have?
It feels new, everything just feels more settled. There’s a lot of anticipation before each show now with new music, a new vibe and an ecstatic nature of “I’m ready to get this stuff out, I’m ready to play this music, I’m ready to tell you about it and what I’ve been through.”
Did you say that you’re playing new music?
Absolutely, we’re playing a lot of new music that’s not out. It’s been an awesome experience to see their reaction — I’m seeing those connect even more than stuff off the first record. I’m seeing “Yesterday’s Song” have an energy comparable to that of “[I Want] Crazy.” That’s a big statement to make and I’m kind of nervous to make it, but it astonishes me in the best way. I’m floored, and I feel re-energized and I’m ready. It’s new chapter time.