This 20-year-old country singer is on top of the world. The multitalented Hunter Hayes, who performs, produces and writes – not to mention knows how to play over 30 instruments – is just beginning his rise to stardom. The Louisiana native began showcasing his musical talents on national television as a child and eventually co-wrote songs for Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry in his teens.
What was running through your mind when you heard you were named USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the Year nominee?
Hunter Hayes: It totally caught me off guard! I was on the road when my management called…. It’s awesome. [laughs] I’m loving it up.
What did you want your fans to get out of your Storm Warning video?
Hayes: We didn’t want the video to be the song itself. It was an introductory video. It was my way of sort of shaking everybody’s hand and saying, “Hey, Hi I’m Hunter. Nice to meet you.”
In the context of your song, what exactly is a “storm warning”?
Hunter: That’s a deep question for pre-coffee. [laughs] It was about a girl I wanted to hang around with and I wanted to date. But I knew it was going to be bad news — it wasn’t going to work and it was going to hurt when it ended. My mind was telling me it’s a bad idea, but my heart was just like I really don’t care.
You play a variety of instruments in your video, from different guitars to the drums. How many other instruments do you play?
Hayes: I don’t think I could name them all for you right now, but yeah we counted 30 or 31. The most surprising [instrument] would be the pedal steel [guitar]. I played it on a lot of the songs on the record. It’s all over Storm Warning and Wanted.
What would you say is your favorite instrument?
Hayes:Guitar. I don’t even have to think about that. I’ve got one sitting in the back lounge right now looking at me. It’s what I keep next to me, it’s what I love to jam on, it’s what I write on most of the time. Guitar’s kind of my home.
Did you start singing, playing instruments, or writing music first?
Hayes: I started playing accordion and singing when I was like two or three. My grandmother gave me a toy accordion. That’s kind of what started it. It just started with accordion and a little vocals. I was singing with Cajun music back in Louisiana. It kind of just went from there and I found song writing after that.
You’re only 20 years old. What is it like to be nominated for a CMT Music Award at such a young age?
Hayes: It’s huge. It’s amazing to think just a year ago I was finishing up an album and hoping to God somebody would like it [laughs] and hoping I could start a career with it. It’s all thanks to the support of country radio and thanks to these fans that come out to shows. To think that I’m here and get to talk about nominations like the CMT award, it’s pretty rad. Definitely living the dream!
You performed on national television as a child. What was that like?
Hayes: I think whenever anyone told me I was going to get to play music when I was five or six years old, I was stoked. I didn’t care where I was and [performing on] national TV almost made me more excited. I didn’t really have nerves at that point, I just loved making noise. It was just another chance to make music.
You announced on Tuesday, May 1 you will be touring with Carrie Underwood. What about the tour makes you most excited?Hayes: A lot of things! She’s awesome and is so down to earth considering with what she’s accomplished. Her album is epic. It’s just good song after good song after good song. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been a part of a couple tours, but I’ve never been part of an entire tour or the entire North American leg of a tour like this. It’s a big deal.
Do you still get nervous performing?
Hayes: If you don’t get a little nervous you don’t care enough. It’s like you don’t have a beating heart. I definitely get a little nerve thing before every show, but I try to use that energy and put it back into the show. This is my chance to do what I love to do in front of these people. I want to show these people that I love music this much.
Who are your country idols?
Hayes: Not just for the guitar thing — because I know there are a lot of obvious comparisons — but Keith Urban is definitely one of my idols for song writing and for being an artist. Yes, he’s a phenomenal guitar player and yes we both have blonde hair. But he’s just a really cool dude. We relate on a lot of things. He’s an evolving artist. Every record changes and every record is accurately him.
Also Taylor Swift. I got to tour with her last year. She is absolutely one of my idols. She’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met in my life. Also one of the most supportive people considering all that she’s got going for her. She has nothing but good things to say. It’s really refreshing.
Are you influenced by artists outside of country music?
Hayes: Stevie Wonder. I got to meet Stevie Wonder a couple weeks ago and it was like meeting royalty. I’ve studied his music for a long time. He is definitely one of my absolute all-time favorite artists. He’s a brilliant songwriter and a brilliant musician. He’s a great musical mind.
You’re busy touring, writing, and recording. Is it easy to make time for your family and friends?
Hayes: I won’t say it’s hard because that like complaining, but it’s not necessarily easy. I do get to see my family every couple weeks. Something about living in Nashville and touring; you end up routing back to Nashville every few weeks. Every time I’m in town for Sunday we go out to lunch or sometimes go to service together. I get to spend time with family and see friends a lot. But the cool thing is I consider everyone on this bus my friend. It’s great. I have a really great crew. We have a good time whether we’re working or not.
What’s it like seeing your face on billboards and posters or your voice on the radio?
Hayes: It’s really weird! Every time I sign an autograph it’s weird and it’s like –wow! I’m sort of baffled by it still and I think that’s a good thing. It’s all signs of the fact that I’m finally getting to live my dream. Every time I see a poster or sign an autograph, I sincerely just want to pull them aside and let them know you’re the reason I’m living my dream right now, so thank you. I’m sincerely blown away. I’m living the dream and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.
What inspires you to write songs?
Hunter: Life. Whatever I’m going through. We were sitting there [Hunter and two friends] and we sat back and started talking about things and got on the subject of how it was like in high school. We were all music nerds and we wrote a song about that life — about being bullied and not really fitting in anywhere. We wrote that because that’s what I was living. It’s literally a form of expression for me.
Do you think you’ll ever want to put your music career on hold to attend college?
Hayes: Of course I’ve thought about it, but I literally don’t have time. We are so slammed in our schedule and I’m where I’ve always wanted to be. I planned on going to college, but things just happened so fast. I graduated high school and went straight to song writing. It became a full-time job and after signing the record deal I don’t think I ever looked back. I consider myself really fortunate of where I am and I get to do what I want to do. I’m just going to keep making music.
Hayes: Well One just came on the radio. We released that as our single and it’s doing really well. I can’t tell you how good it feels to see it climb the charts. I’m really excited for the Carrie Underwood tour. We have so many ideas; we’re going to be adding a lot to the production. More shows next year and we’re also working on another album. A lot of things coming up!
USA WEEKEND is proud to join CMT again for their awards as the media sponsor for the Breakthrough Video of the Year Award.
Take a look at the six nominees and cast your vote today! Then, tune in to the CMT Music Awards on Wednesday, June 6 at 8pm ET on CMT. (Check local listings.)