“The Justin Bieber of country” is an unfortunate label Hunter Hayes has been tagged with a few times. Let’s try to put that to rest right now. Yes, he’s young (21). Yes, he’s something of a teen heartthrob. But he also has real musical talent backing everything up: Last week he received Grammy nominations for Best New Artist, Best Country Solo Performance and Country Album.
Hayes played every instrument (30 of them) on his self- titled major label debut. He also sang every vocal part, and co-wrote every song. And “Hunter Hayes” isn’t his first album, it’s his sixth. His first, “Through My Eyes,” was released when he was just 8 years old.
“I think I just got tired of singing everyone else’s songs,” Hayes said during a phone interview. “I wanted to say my own thing, but I was 6 when I wrote my first song and didn’t have a lot to say. I found out it was this whole other hat I could wear. When I get tired of one thing I can switch hats and try out a new title. It makes the music stay interesting and keeps me doing it for the right reasons.”
“Hunter Hayes” has already spawned a top 20 hit in “Storm Warning,” and a No. 1 with “Wanted.” Hayes has toured with Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts (who recorded Hayes’ song “Play”). He’ll be on tour with Carrie Underwood well into next year.
He’ll likely headline his own tour after this round with Underwood.
Hayes doesn’t come from a family of musicians. He picked up guitar, piano, drums and numerous other instruments on his own and is self taught on all. He hated taking lessons, but could play accordion at an age when most kids are still mastering shoelaces. He heard a world of music over the radio and wanted to be a part of it.
“I’ve never been adventurous, until it comes to music,” Hayes said. “I wanted to learn at my own pace, and learn it very quickly. I wanted to play the songs I heard on the radio, because I got tired of listening.”
So when Hayes takes the stage at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night, it won’t be as some flash-in-the-pan flavor of the minute. He’s got 17 years of experience performing in front of big crowds, dating back to when he sang and played accordion with Hank Williams Jr. when he was just 4 years old.
Hayes is soft-spoken when he’s not performing, but when he takes the stage he said he’s never had fear. Even back then.
“I think I was too young to know what stage fright was. For a lack of a better word, I was kind of clueless,” Hayes said. “The biggest thing at that point was I was getting to play music for tons of people. I don’t think I knew what nerves were.”
Carrie Underwood with Hunter Hayes
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, 730 Third St.