Hunter Hayes‘ music career was born not long after he was.
“By the time I was almost two, I was picking up everything and making an instrument out of it,” the Beaux Bridge, La., native recalls. “My grandmother gave me a toy accordion for my second birthday and I immediately began picking up Cajun songs by ear from the radio.”
Almost two decades later, the 20-year-old country singer boasts a similarly prodigious resume, having opened for Taylor Swift on her “Speak Now” tour this year; co-written songs for Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry; and, contributed a cover of “Almost Paradise” (a No. 7 Billboard Hot 100 hit for Mike Reno and Ann Wilson in 1984), with Victoria Justice, for the soundtrack to “Footloose,” the remake of the 1984 blockbuster due in theaters Friday (Oct. 14).
In a visit to Billboard’s New York offices yesterday (Oct. 10), Hunter Hayes discusses how he came to record “Almost Paradise” for the 2011 update of “Footloose.”
That hefty workload comes after his singing “Jambalaya” with Hank Williams Jr. in front of 200,000 people at age four; appearing with Robert Duvall (who gave him his first guitar) in the film “The Apostle” at age six; and performing for President Clinton.
Whereas releasing a debut album at 20 might seem premature for many artists, for Hayes, considering his range of accomplishments, it’s, perhaps, overdue.
Today (Oct. 11), Atlantic Records releases Hayes’ self-titled debut set. According to Billboard Country Update editor Tom Roland, the album is the first country release issued by a major label featuring an artist playing every note and singing every part, including background vocals.
The album’s lead single, “Storm Warning,” stirs 26-24 this week on Billboard’s Country Songs chart.
In support of his debut effort, Hayes launched his first headlining tour Saturday (Oct. 8), with several stops on the 15-date “Most Wanted” tour marking a return to markets where he opened for Swift. The jaunt includes visits to Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago and Nashville. Hayes relocated to the lattermost city two years ago and quickly signed a songwriting deal with Universal Music Publishing.
Hayes discusses touring with the supportive Taylor Swift.
How did Rascal Flatts come to record Hayes’ co-write “Play” for their 2010 release, “Nothing Like This”?
“I have no idea. It’s a miracle,” he says with a modest chuckle.
“A lot of my songs speak heavily to my influences, you can hear them, and in this particular song you hear a lot of Flatts. I was listening to a lot of their stuff at the time (I wrote ‘Play’).
“I wanted it for my record, but, at the same time, I had this crazy dream that they’d listen to it and like it,” Hayes remembers. “As a songwriter that had just moved to Nashville, I was really writing for me, but it’s so cool to get an outside cut. That was one of my dreams.
“So, I brought the song to my publisher and said, ‘This is such a Flatts song,’ kind of putting the bug in her ear, you know?
“A couple weeks later, she called and said, ‘I’ve sent it off to the guys in Flatts and I think they like it.’ It was a waiting game of about a year; it takes awhile for that process. But, they put it on their album.
“It didn’t click until one day I had my iPod on shuffle – and I’m used to hearing my demo version – and then, this time, I heard their version just come on randomly.
“It was pretty magical.”
With guitarist Sam Ellis, Hayes performs the ballad “Wanted,” from his self-titled debut album.
Despite his already impressive list of achievements, Hayes is humble about the numerous goals he’s still determined to realize.
“I’m 20, and that’s intimidating. I feel like there’s a lot to prove – just in general, as a young person going into any job,” he says.
“You’ve got a lot to figure out at the same time, so there’s a lot of pressure.
“But, what I find really cool is that I’m part of a class of younger country artists,” Hayes says, citing Swift, as well as such fellow youthful upstarts as the Band Perry, Gloriana and 18-year-old “American Idol” champion Scotty McCreery, whose debut album, released a week before Hayes’, is set to blast onto this week’s Billboard 200 at No. 1.
“I love that, because I’m finding new favorites that I love listening to. There are a lot of new ideas, (there’s) a lot of experimentation.
“Some branching out, some new grounds to cover.
“I love the vibe of it, the energy.”