Walker Hayes has had a long road to success but 2017 has been a breakthrough year for him.
His single You Broke Up With Me has been steadily climbing to the upper reaches of the charts in the US and it was recently certified Gold. Last week Hayes released his album boom. and in 2018 he will be making his first trip to the UK as part of C2C: Country to Country.
I caught up with him recently to talk about his new album, discuss his unique sound and find out how he’s feeling about his first visit to the UK.
You’ll be in the UK in March to perform at C2C. How excited are you to play that festival?
I’m just a guy from from Alabama from Mobile, Alabama and traveling abroad is, pun intended, foreign to me. I’ve been to Italy once in college and that’s as far as it goes in terms of me leaving the country. It’s been a long ride for me music-wise. Just a couple of years ago I would’ve never fathomed that I would have an album out or I would have a reason to visit the UK. I’m astounded that I have the opportunity to travel over there and see you guys, and play you play some of my tunes. I’m excited to say the least.
Do you have any idea what to expect from British country music fans?
I have zero expectations. I’m so clueless as to what the fans like over there and what the musical climate is – what’s popular and what’s not… what is Country music (to you guys) and how do you define it over there? I’m so interested in finding that out.
Well I can give you some pointers. By the time you come over for C2C everyone will know every word to every single song on your album and they will sing most of it back to you. You’ll probably maybe have written a new song before that and debuted it once somewhere and we’ll know that as well. We do our research.
So you guys do your homework?
Yeah, we’re the kind of audience that can be quite rowdy but we can also be quite quiet and reserved, which I think some artists find a bit unnerving…
I’ve talked to some friends who have travelled over there and played, and they have nothing but the highest compliment to pay to the listeners over there because they say there is a unique appreciation for music. That sounds like what you’re describing and what I love about that is that’s how I listen to music.
When I buy an album I listen to it cover to cover. I crave those deep cuts that may or may not be singles so that’s exciting. I hope my music has some sort of a viral impact over there and I just can’t wait to just meet fans in another part of the world. It’s pretty surreal to think that my music can travel that far. Those are some high expectations you just gave me but I’m looking forward to it.
We won’t disappoint I assure you! Let’s talk about boom. I like how fresh and different it is and the fact that it isn’t everything you hear on country music radio right now. It’s something completely different. Tell me about the concept behind the record and how it came to be…
My music, as you just described, is very unique for Nashville and for the longest time I thought possibly that I would be a songwriter in Nashville. I thought the best case scenario was that maybe large artists would cut some of my material. What I found is that I had something stylistically so different that it was very tough to get other artists to take a chance on one of my songs.
Eventually I was found by Shane McAnally, who is an incredible songwriter, and he basically just decided, ‘hey no, I don’t think any of these artists are going to cut these songs but the world needs to hear them so let’s make an album and you be the artist, you be the deliverer of this material’. I was encouraged by him and that’s where the conception of this album came from.
I just began to write with no rules or expectations of what it needed to sound like you, who I needed to aim a song towards when I was writing it, and it became even more a style of my own. boom. really is just a compilation of emotions that I have gone through with this struggle, hanging onto this dream and working for many years to find my place in this music business.
One of the things that I like about the record is that it takes a few listens to unpack. On the surface it sounds uptempo and quite peppy in places but once you listen to the lyrics, you realise this is incredibly personal stuff. Was it hard for you to be honest in the songs?
No. I think at first as we were writing I was just scratching the surface. There are some songs where I think I was having a little fun just writing the truth and then every once in a while a line will pop out that was just incredibly vulnerable and honest. At first it was scary but as people would react to those lines I was encouraged to continue doing so because those were the lyrics that really meant the most to them. I kind of internally thought, ‘well if honest is what you want, that’s the easiest thing for me to be on stage is honest’.
It got to a point where some of the lyrics are so honest that yes there are times when I’m standing on stage and it’s very quiet and I’m singing some of these lyrics and I’m thinking to myself, ‘wow, I’m almost uncomfortable telling this secret to this large audience’. Hopefully people can relate and that’s what I found about some of those deeper lyrics like Beer in the Fridge, Craig and Halloween. I found that a lot of people have been in that same situation and they appreciate me being vocal about my emotions.
Speaking of Craig, I found that song tough to get through and it’s not even about me. How do you know get through that on stage?
Goodness, that is one that I’ve yet to conquer live. We’ve done a lot of showcases here in front of my peers and Craig has come to a show. I promised him that one day I’m going to sing that song live in front of him but it’s a difficult song to sing right now because so many things have changed since that moment, and that moment is captured in that song. Every single lyric to that song is exactly how it went down.
It’s such a joyous thing to look back on those days and think, ‘wow we’ve come so far’ but it also is a little heartbreaking because I look at who I was then and I look at the times and how tough they were. I don’t want to relive those but I kinda do when I sit down and sing that song. There’s just this sense of humility, just such appreciation for people like that in my life that is so bittersweet that it’s a good hurt when I sing that song. Craig is a thankful song to a real guy who does exist and he did help us out with a vehicle. Even more so he just loved me when I was at one of my worst points in my life. He chose to look past all the bad that I was carrying and saw something that he loved about us and me and my family. That’s a tough song.
Congratulations on You Broke Up With Me being certified Gold, that’s an incredible achievement…
Yeah it’s pretty wild!
You’ve had, as you mentioned, a long journey to get to this point. Does that make this success feel even sweeter?
Yes a great feeling. It has been a long, long road and that makes me emotional. A gold record is just one of those things… a long time ago my wife and I, we drove to Nashville and we didn’t have specific goals. I never sat down and said, ‘hey I want a gold record and I want to number one song’. I really just desired a place among the music the music biz. The Gold record is just another thing that says to me, ‘hey you belong here. You’re doing what you were you were born to do’. It’s a huge achievement for me and my family. The plaque means nothing but just thinking to myself that I’m among the few who have an opportunity to receive a Gold record, it’s very humbling and it’s awesome.
What are you going to do for Christmas? Are you going to get some chance to relax?
Yes! My last show is on the 17th of December and when I come home from I get two weeks. I just look forward to hanging with my kids and my wife, and really just laying low. It’s kind of nice how it worked out. I’ll be pretty slammed until then but after that I’m just gonna have fun and savour these moments. When you’re so busy and you’re working I don’t really get a chance to sit around and just enjoy what is going on. We’re just going to take our time hanging out with the kids and just digesting all these great things that have happened to us this year. We’re just looking forward to everything that happens next, always. It’s good to just sit down and appreciate what’s now.
Walker Hayes’ album boom. is available now. Watch the video for You Broke Up With Me below: