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Interview: Walker Hayes on Introducing Nashville, UK fans and new music

We spoke to the US country star ahead of his latest visit to the UK as part of Introducing Nashville.

Walker Hayes
Credit: Sony Music

It’s no secret we’re big fans of Walker Hayes here at EF Country – and the rest of the UK seems to be of the same mind.

Since bursting onto the scene with his US Top 5 single You Broke Up With Me in 2017, he’s become one of the most talked-about acts in the genre, and won over UK audiences with his performances at C2C Festival 2018 and supporting Old Dominion on their nationwide tour. Now he’s heading back here with Danielle Bradbery, Travis Denning and Rachel Wammack as part of the Introducing Nashville series of concerts.

Ahead of his latest trip across the pond, I caught up with Walker to talk about Introducing Nashville, what surprises him about UK fans and his latest single, Don’t Let Her.

You’re coming over to the UK in October for Introducing Nashville – what can people coming to those shows expect?

[laughs] Well, you know, I’ve been told I can tell good stories. So a lot of people have told me they enjoy the setup as much as the song. So I love that. And for me that’s one of the most interesting parts of music in general as well. So I always talk a little bit and try to bring people up to speed about my story, because that’s what my songs really are about. They’re about my journey, so that’s nice. And then I’ve been called quirky – my lyrics are conversational and they’re very specific. Like I’ll talk about the colour of a car and what it smelled like and stuff like that. So I think that’s a lot of furniture in my music. And a lot of laughs. I don’t take myself that seriously. I take my craft seriously, but I don’t take myself that seriously. So yeah, I think it’s just gonna be a good time.

This will be your third trip to the UK. What is it that keeps you coming back?

Well the first time was honestly a whirlwind. It was about three days, it wasn’t long enough, but I got just a taste of what’s going on over there. And the second, I got to open for Old Dominion and that was a foreign city a day and I really, really got to meet the fans that time. That’s when I really found out what you guys are all about and how dedicated and loyal y’all are. I loved watching y’all watch Old Dominion every night, and I loved playing for you guys. But I just can see an appreciation for music over there that’s unique. I don’t know if it’s just y’all’s personalities or what but it’s a completely different experience than playing over here in the US. I feel like there’s a genuine appreciation and love for lyrics, which for a person like me that’s incredible. That’s who you want to play for. So I noticed that, and I’m so happy to get back and I hope year after year I can continue to build a group of people who are aware of what I do and appreciate what I bring to the table.

Is there anything that’s surprised you about the audiences here in the UK?

No, you know, I had been told by dear friends who had been over and played a lot – they told me I was gonna love it. They said, ‘you’re gonna love the crowds over there’. And it was one of those where I was like, ‘OK, let’s see, I wanna know why’. I feel like my music is genreless – people hear it on country radio and I’m here in Nashville and that’s the place that taught me to hone my craft. But I feel in the UK there’s no separation. Over there I feel like fans just love good music. They don’t care if you rap it, they don’t care if you sing. They wanna hear something new and love it, and if they do they’re OK with that. And for me that’s such a blessing. I love that. I feel like it’s a vibe. For me there’s really not a genre of music I don’t like – I either like something or I don’t – so I feel like you guys have more of that mentality. Obviously there’s loyalty to country music, but no-one over there has treated me like my music was on the fringe or wasn’t country. So that was nice. That was really nice.

Your current single is Don’t Let Her – can you tell us a bit more about that song?

Yeah, so that, it’s funny, I give the UK a co-write on that song basically because I began it in Scotland. I was over there with Old Dominion and I was missing my wife and kids. I was seeing so many amazing things, and I just wanted so desperately to share that with them. And then one night I just began to write a love song. Really what I was trying to write was a lot of specifics about my wife, because it’s always flattering when anyone notices the little things about you – that means they’re watching, that means they’re in tune with what you’re doing around them that they don’t think you’re even noticing. So that’s kind of how I started it.

And honestly I feel like the line, ‘and if she ever misses me don’t let her’, that basically fell from the Scottish sky. I was not looking for that to be the place where that song landed, but it actually made me think, ‘if she misses me, what do I want you to do? Do I want you to make her laugh, or let her miss me a little bit?’ So the hook became, no, don’t let her, because I love her that much I don’t want her to be sad. I want her to be glad that we had time together and I want her to have more of the same with someone else. So that’s how that song came about. It’s such a special song to me. I’m excited about it.

You’ve talked about the specifics and the personal aspect and that’s what I really love about it too. It’s something you don’t get in other genres – is that something that’s important to you in terms of your songwriting?

You know, for me a song doesn’t matter if you don’t have a few lines that are really specific. I feel like sometimes we overlook some of those details, but they’re what makes the song a lot of the time.

Is writing while you’re on the road fairly typical of your approach? Or do you tend to keep writing and touring separate?

I will say I start a lot of songs on the road – that’s kind of how it was with Don’t Let Her. I wrote the chorus of that song and then I finished it later. That is typical. But I’m always reminding myself of ideas. I have an ongoing text with myself and that’s kind of how I’m always jotting down ideas. I have a list of stuff in the text, so that’s pretty typical. But no, I normally finish stuff at home. But I’ll get an idea anywhere including on the road.

You and Laney [Walker’s wife] also recently did a series of YouTube videos talking about your relationship and Don’t Let Her. How did you come up with that idea?

Well, you know, I have such an amazing team, and they think out of the box. With my family and my kids and my wife there’s just so much to work with, and one day Laney and I were talking about – we were actually talking about the episode that went out recently about screen time and how we control how much time our kids are on their phones and stuff, like getting them to do pull-ups. I know it’s kind of weird. And I don’t know why but I mentioned this to one of my team members and was like, ‘I don’t know, it’s kind of weird, but it works for us’. And we were talking about that one day and they just said, ‘this is great, we should do a series with y’all sitting down and telling this stuff’. So I feel like that’s where it came from. I loved doing it. They’re different, and they make me laugh. The person who edits them did a great job.

Your last couple of songs have been a little more experimental – is that typical of where you’re taking your sound for the next record?

Yeah, a little. Honestly I don’t know. That’s the difficult part of my music, is that I’m very changeable and I don’t like doing one thing for very long. It’s kind of how I drive as well. I’m kind of all over the place. But I have a lot of music coming. I would say the stuff I’ve been doing lately kind of reminds me more of the first album, but I feel like I’ve also become a better writer. Like the songs all have a common thread, even if I’m all over the map. But I’m excited about it. Though there’s no other songs on there that sound like Don’t Let Her.

Are there any of the new songs you’re particularly excited about?

Oh yeah! There’s a song called Crush It that is just my kids’ favourite song. That’s the hit in our house right now. I’ve also got one with Kelsea Ballerini about accepting who you are, and others, so there’s so much. But yeah, there’s a lot. I’m excited about it.

What have you learnt from touring over the years?

You know, honestly, in Nashville you’re a little more self-centred and you write a song and think ‘oh this is so clever, the world will love this’. And then when you get out among the people you find out who you are, and you’re reminded of what you’re working for. That’s what I’ve learned. I’m sad that it took me so long to learn it, but I have this past year. I’ve learned that people out here need reminding that they’re not alone, they’re not lost. I felt like that was my calling, right now, and people have been so open about sharing their stories a lot too.

What does the rest of 2019 look like for you?

Yeah, it’s more writing, more touring. Coming over to see you guys, then going over to Australia with the whole family.

Can you give us an idea when we can expect some new music?

I hope Don’t Let Her kind of rises, but I would say before the end of the year.

Any chance you’ll play some of the new music when you come over to the UK?

Hell yeah! Absolutely. Hopefully I’ll be able to play some of the new songs for y’all.

See Walker Hayes live in the UK as part of Introducing Nashville (with Danielle Bradbery, Travis Denning and Rachel Wammack) this October:

16 October – RNCM Theatre, Manchester
17 October – Sage 2, Gateshead
18 October – St Luke’s, Glasgow
20 October – The Old Market, Brighton
21 October – Cadogan Hall, London (part of Country Music Week 2019)

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