Music has always provided Hunter Hayes with a way to “fit in” — even if he’s not quite sure how it all happened.
The Louisiana-born country pop singer, now 21, was a shy kid, but he found solace in music and performing early. By age 4, he was performing with local bands and taught himself how to play everything from accordion (his first instrument) to guitar to drums to piano. He had cut four albums by himself by the time he signed with Atlantic Nashville in 2010.
While his parents were supportive, even moving to Nashville in 2008 to help him kick-start his career, neither were musicians themselves. Hayes’ deep interest in performing is a first for his family.
“It’s funny; I don’t know how I got into it,” he said from a tour stop in Pittsburgh. “. . . I’m a very shy individual. I’m naturally a very shy kind of guy, I think, and I started becoming obsessed with music and it quickly became my communication with the world, my way of fitting in.”
Carrie Underwood, with Hunter Hayes
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
How Much: $63.50, $53.50, $43.50
More Info: 487-2000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
‘The most myself’
Between his shyness and his abilities in multiple aspects of the music business, one might think he would be more comfortable in the background as a songwriter or session player. In fact, it’s just the opposite — to the surprise of even Hayes himself.
“I think I just fell in love with being onstage — I love everything that’s wrapped up in it,” he said. “I’ve always felt that onstage, I’m the most myself. . . . Onstage, I feel like that’s all accepted, it’s OK. It took me a while to figure out why that is; [or maybe] I still haven’t quite figured it out.”
His self-titled debut, released last year, shows off his instrumental and songwriting prowess — he performed every instrument on the album himself, partially because of his shyness, and wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s 12 songs. So far, the album has spun off three singles, including the Billboard U.S. Country No. 1 “Wanted” and the most recent single, “Somebody’s Heartbreak.”
In mid-September, Hayes embarked on his biggest touring opportunity yet, as the main support for the North American leg of Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away Tour, for 95 dates. The two country stars will be at the Times Union Center on Tuesday night.
“This to me is a really big deal, because of the fact that I’m not opening for the opening act — this is my first chance to be the real opening act,” Hayes said. “And for a superstar like Carrie to choose me, that says a lot for somebody like me. I feel more like a part of it this time. . . . I feel like I’m an extension of the tour and not just part of the tour. There’s a family vibe going on.”
Fans’ reactions have been positive on the tour, as well.
“As the opening act, you expect to walk in and play to a half-empty place, with tons of people still finding their seats by the time you finish your set,” he said. “But with this tour, everybody is getting there early and getting into the show. It all contributes to what I was just talking about — it’s a really good vibe, and everybody’s on the same page.”
Going with what works
With a band on the road now, Hayes is able to stretch out from the parts he recorded by himself on the album. The decision to record all the instruments himself wasn’t so much an ultimatum from Hayes himself, but an experiment, backed by the record label. After recording four songs in this manner in four weeks with producer Dann Huff, everyone decided it was the way to go.
“My label saw how I made my demos,” Hayes said. “I was making demos [by myself] out of necessity, and it had become a habit. Because of that, it was a comfortable way to work, and the label took as much notice and brought as much attention to that being a factor as I did. We were all guessing, though — I didn’t walk in saying, ‘I’m going to do a record like this, like it or not.’ ”
He and his group like to switch things up live now — no two sets have been the same on this tour.
“We are starting to get really comfortable playing off of moments in the show, without feeling like we have to do a certain thing,” he said. “So the songs in the show are a little different, and we change some things around. We’ve made sure to keep the evolution that we love.”
Hayes will be on the road with Underwood through Dec. 21, after which he will start thinking about recording again. He’s been working on new demos on the road and is interested in bringing other musicians into the recording process this time. But as with his previous album, he’s looking at the next one as another experiment.
“I’ve definitely given a lot of thought to different processes, trying different things on the next record, things I’ve never done before,” Hayes said. “I like the first record; it’s very experimental and I love that I can do that. It’s one of the things I can do — there’s no right or wrong answer. I can be free to try some new stuff and see if it works. If it does, we’ll all be glad we did it.”