Welcome to another edition of Music Meter Monday, where we profile bands who are climbing the MTV Music Meter. This week we caught up with Hunter Hayes, a country music wunderkind who started playing tunes at an age when most kids are still struggling to feed themselves.
If you are an O Music Awards fan, Hayes probably looks a little familiar, as he made an appearance during our third OMA show playing a gig with The Flaming Lips and Jackson Browne in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Since then, things have been on the up and up for Hayes, whose self-titled debut record dropped in October. Not only is he one of MTV’s 2013 Artists To Watch, he was also nominated for three Grammy awards: best new artist (in all genres), best country solo performance and best country album.
We caught up with Hayes a week before the Grammys hit the airwaves to talk about his musical upbringing, inspiration and whether or not he thinks he’ll be taking home any trophies come February 10.
So I always like to start off by asking musicians what their earliest musical memory is. What’s yours?
My first is not a good memory — because I was like two or three — but I definitely remember standing on stage at a festival in what I now know to be in my hometown, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. It was at the Crawfish Festival. There was this one guy — Wayne Toups — that I just loved listening to when I was a kid. I’m still a huge fan and we’ve actually become friends. I had learned a few of his tunes by ear — the best a two- or three-year-old could learn — but he pulled me up on stage and I remember standing on top of a road case. I got to stand on stage and play a song with him. It was pretty spectacular.
Did you sing or were you playing an instrument?
Yeah, I was playing accordion. He actually played all the parts because I couldn’t actually play very well, but I sang the song with him live on stage and it was a blast. I don’t really remember it, but I do remember standing on top of the road case going, ‘Why did they put me on the road case?’ I remember the video, now, watching it back — I got to play with one of my heroes.
So you were a musician before you were even conscious?
That’s a good way to put it. A lot of people ask me, ‘When did you decide to get into music?’ And I’m like, ‘I didn’t decide.’ It wasn’t decided for me. It just had to happen. From that age — standing on stage playing in front of a ton of people — that will get you excited about music pretty quick. At that age is when it got started and I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to play more. It just kind of fed the obsession, the passion for it.
Was there ever anything else you would have wanted to do?
There are a couple of things, I’m sure. I think when I was a kid I wanted to drive monster trucks or something crazy. I still have a little hobby; I want to get my pilot’s license and go flying. But I don’t think any of that was like a backup plan. I think it was just a hobby in my mind, because in my mind there was nothing but music. I could never make a living doing anything other than music. That’s what I’ve invested my entire life into. It’s been an ongoing thing — whether it’s been writing in the studio or in the studio with other people. Playing shows — that’s what I live for. I couldn’t do anything else if I tried.
What’s your process like for writing music? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My life — that is my journal. Writing is my way of bringing it out. For me, it’s like an extension of my Facebook status. I find myself lately even inspired by things like movies. I watched a movie and I was so moved, because it was a story that was really depressing and I was like, ‘I’ve totally been there before and I know exactly how that feels.’ And then it was a matter of conveying where I had been in that situation.
I just write about my life, as boring as it is. As simple and as basic as it is. But I feel like there are certain things in life that move you emotionally that move me emotionally and I’m not the only one going through it, you know? And that’s why I love writing, because that’s my way of sort of communicating to the world. The universal language as they say: music.
So what was the movie?
There’s been a couple. I’m not going to name any names. There’s been a few that have got me thinking and into the process of writing a song.
What effect do you think growing up where you did had on your music? Aside from the fact that you make country music?
I grew up around a lot of people that made music just on the weekends. So I think what it comes down to is that I was around people that made music on their off-time and that meant that they wanted to make music. I saw people who strictly made music because they loved it; they didn’t make a whole lot of money doing it.
They finished an entire day of work and they were probably exhausted and mentally drained — just hard-working people that were working not just nine to five, but before that and after that. I saw them leave their work, go home, pick up their gear and they went and played music because it was relaxing. It was freeing. It was a reset. It was a total new thing. That’s all I ever saw.
I was inspired by that because for me, that took all the pressure out of it. If I had grown up with people who made a living making music, it would have scared me at a young age seeing the dependable aspect of it. The whole, ‘I have to do it because that’s my living — it’s all I’ve got.’ But because I saw people who just loved making music — who didn’t make a lot of money doing it — I think I just respected that.
I wanted to make music for the love of music, because that’s what they did. Even though it is my life and it is my living, every day I remind myself not to do anything because it’s a job. I have to think ahead and make sure I’m not going to do anything that’s going to make it feel like a job. Because then it changes everything. It has to feel like it’s still something that I love to do.
So what does everyone in your hometown think of your Grammy nominations?
We’re all pretty excited. That’s something that I’ve dreamed about and talked about and quite frankly joked about. You think about it — the Grammys, that’s a big deal. That’s a major milestone. Never did I think I would be able to get to the point where I could talk about it as a realistic thing this soon after the first record. I’m honored and I’m so grateful. I do not take it for granted.
Do you think you’re going to win?
[laughs] I can’t think about it like that. To me, you can’t look at awards like that — as, ‘Am I going to win?’ That’s not what it’s about for me. Would I love to? Absolutely [laughs]. Am I going to jump up and down if I do and completely lose track of my words and my thought process? Absolutely. In fact, you’ll probably see a whole different side of me if I win any of them.
Image courtesy of Hunter Hayes, Facebook