Attention pop-country haters, please stop and read: while his style maybe ultra-contemporary, Walker Hayes is the real deal. Hayes typically incorporates conversational talk-singing and rapping, and while he’s often compared to Sam Hunt, he’s most definitely carving out his own path. His sound is perhaps best described as a blend of pop and hip-hop, layered with the traditional storytelling of country.
Hayes has had his share of heartbreak throughout his journey to Music City success, and he’s experienced his fair share of rejection. The result of his perseverance? A collection of 10 tracks (all written or co-written by Hayes) that is truly personal, honest and raw.
We spoke to Hayes recently about his album boom, released today. The title boom comes from every small success he saw along his journey. “These past two years have been so surreal and I’ve genuinely appreciated every fan, every step up the ladder in this business,” he says. “We started out two years ago with basically zero Instagram followers, so every time we got another thousand followers – ‘boom’ – and every time we sold a t-shirt, I’d text my manager – ‘boom.'”
At the age of 37, he is remarkably humble and thankful for his family including his six, soon to be seven, children and wife Laney.
Hayes grew up in Mobile, Alabama and says he always has had a love for music but never thought that it would end up being his career. With a father who at one time was a musical minister and was always singing, Hayes credits his father with eventually giving him the push to follow his passion. As a child, Hayes played the guitar, and was in many choirs and a school band. During his sophomore year in college after taking a piano course, which he says he found very therapeutic, he switched his major from Biology to Music with an emphasis on piano. Even after changing his major he says he still didn’t truly consider making music a career. Once he graduated, he thought about attending dental school and eventually decided to obtain his real estate license and began working with his dad. One evening his father heard him “Messing around on the guitar and trying to be funny and he said, ‘You need to do this in public,'” Hayes shares. “I said dad, I’ll do it one night if you will get off my back and then let me focus on selling real estate and getting my ducks in a row. I sat on a stool, in front of maybe three tables that clapped maybe every other song, but when I got up I knew that was what I wanted to do.” Hayes says he called his then fiancée, now wife, and asked her to move to Nashville with him. With her support they were off to Music City.
The climb to success has been a long and rocky one. After moving to Nashville, Hayes found success rather quickly, obtaining a publishing deal within a year and a record deal with Mercury Records within two and a half years, which he eventually lost. He continued writing and got another record deal with Capitol Records but lost that one after about four or five years. He says that although he was still performing at small venues and never stopped writing he couldn’t feed his family and ended up taking a job at Costco. He feels that his “stuff was so unique” at the time the industry wasn’t quite ready what he had to offer to listeners. “[I] was down to working at Costco and we had a Honda Accord and six kids and things got really, really hard,” he shares. “A lot of people say, well, why did you stay, and I honestly don’t know why. I felt like once you’re a part of the community and have a taste of what you love doing it’s hard to let go, it was my passion.” Hayes expresses his passion and why he didn’t give up in the YouTube video “Walker Hayes – Never Give Up” below.
On his way to the realization that something was going to have to change, he explains that a chance meeting with hitmaker Shane McAnally in a Smoothie King changed his life. “He’s an angel to me,” Hayes shares. “He is the reason I’m still here, he took the time to listen to my stuff. He listened at a time when no one else would listen, and I’m not dramatizing that at all. I would send a new song that I wrote or a demo I created to 30 people and honestly Shane was the only person that would listen. He told me that ‘Every time I see your titles, I try to imagine or predict what the song will be about but it’s never what I think it is.'” McAnally became intrigued with Hayes’ unique style and has been a strong supporter of his since. Two years ago, the songwriter, producer, and Smack Songs owner called Hayes and said that he couldn’t stop listening to his songs but couldn’t get anyone to cut them. It was then that McAnally suggested that the world needed to hear Hayes sing his own songs and McAnally decided to produce him.
Hayes’ honest lyrics and ability to capture emotion through his lyrics also caught the attention of Bobby Bones of the Bobby Bones Show. Hayes wrote an original song after hearing the story of Amy Brown’s mother Judy and her struggle with cancer. The ability of Judy to still find joy in life and her positive outlook is what sparked the #PimpinJoy movement. Hayes, being a fan of their show, wrote what is now the official #PimpinJoy song “Joy Like Judy” and Bones has been a huge supporter of his music playing his songs on the show, even taking him on his ‘Funny & Alone Stand Up Comedy Tour’.
boom is filled with songs that are not only honest, they are very personal and he truly opens up his life for everyone to see. With the support from his producer Shane McAnally and his team, he was able to truly be himself and do his thing. “The cool thing is no one can listen to my album and say that I’m lying or that I’m pretending,” he says. “My early stuff had me trying to be tricky or poetic and it wasn’t until I was working at Costco and no one was listening that I just said fuck it, I’m going to write it because it’s just the truth. Isn’t that what creativity is supposed to be anyway? It’s not paint by numbers. My team encouraged me to continue to dig deep. That’s what country music should be.”
“Beautiful” comes from his love affair with his wife Laney who’s always been his biggest supporter and has stayed by his side through the ups and downs, never letting him give up.
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Track 1… “Beautiful” – “Beautiful” – This song is a true story. My wife and I dated from eleventh grade until right after college and then we took a year off. This was back when we didn’t have any social media, so I couldn’t check up on her. I was in Chapel Hill and she was in Birmingham but we collided when I was supposed to sing at a wedding that she was going to be in. I warned this girl I was seeing: “Hey, I’m going to Mobile and Laney is going to be there. I haven’t seen her in a year. I’m pretty sure everything is good though.” Sure enough, when I saw Laney at the rehearsal dinner it made me nauseous and about six weeks later we were engaged.
Hayes admittedly uses quirky titles for his songs; if you choose to simply pass by the song titled “Shut Up Kenny,” you’ll be missing out. Hayes has a unique way of cleverly tying his titles into very relatable songs – “Shut Up Kenny,” for instance, is actually a tribute to one of Hayes’ musical idols, Kenny Chesney. “There are two things I wanted people to take away from the song,” Hayes says. “One, when you’re hurting and you hear a song it makes you hurt. You just press rewind on songs that make you hurt and you want to listen. Then you do but you don’t but you still do. Second, it comes from a sincere moment that happened to me. Kenny Chesney is an artist that Laney and I lived with and we grew up in that beach culture. Every song connects a memory, his music has lived next to my life.” Key lyrics: “Shut up Kenny, leave me alone, keep your songs to yourself. Why you gotta sound just like she felt? When your stuff was the shit we drove around to and even your sad songs were fun to make out to. Come on Kenny, man you know I like your music but I hate the way I love the way it hurts when I listen to it.”
The first song released off boom, “You Broke Up With Me,” sounds like a saucy response to an ex who sees you moving on and is re-thinking their decision. However, Hayes explains that it’s actually about those people in the industry who essentially turned their backs on him after he was dropped from not one but two record deals and suddenly began to resurface once he began to see success. Hayes, who recently wrapped up touring with Thomas Rhett on his ‘Home Team Tour,’ says that touring with Rhett was the best way to see the now certified Gold single, “You Broke Up With Me,” climb the charts. “The power and energy has been incredible,” he says. “Going Gold is like going Platinum to me – we stuck it out and it’s a dream come true.”
“Halloween,” featuring Nicolle Gaylon, addresses trying to be someone you’re not and likens it to wearing a Halloween costume, always trying to be someone else. He sings, “Before I even learned to play a note, I was on stage. Mastering the art of selling myself at a young age. Fear and insecurity drove me like a Maserati. High school was like showing up at a costume party. I was a comedian, an athlete, a golden boy, a black sheep, whatever I had to be to make the world throw candy at me. And college was the same act, different play it was October 31st every day. And the real world was an all too familiar street, another trick, another treat. Then I knock-knock-knocked on your door. Every mask I ever wore shattered like glass on the floor and it was like Halloween ended to all the people I pretended to be.”
Both “Dollar Store” and “Beckett” take a look at what’s important in life: the simpler things. With “Dollar Store,” he relates to the fact that you don’t need to buy extravagant gifts; the simple things are just as great, recalling taking his kids to the dollar store on their birthdays. While listening to “Beckett,” you are looking at life through the eyes of a child. It focuses on how children see the best in everything. Key lyrics: “When I grow up I wanna be like Beckett, eatin’ breakfast butt naked. Ain’t even tryin’ to be famous, just wonderin’ where his airplane is. Don’t know if he’s rich or poor, says it’s cool that the girl next door has skin like chocolate. When I grow up, when I grow up I wanna be like Beckett.”
“Craig” thanks the people who help you out when you’re at some of your lowest points and hold no judgment. It was also born from a life experience. At a low point in his life, he had a car taken away because he couldn’t afford it. A man he knew from church gave him a car and wanted nothing in return. It was big enough for the entire family and was a true act of kindness on the part of the man. This song is yet another example of Hayes opening himself up for the world to see – good, bad, ugly and most importantly, honestly.
The heavy hitting “Beer In The Fridge” is one of the tracks that will stop you dead in your tracks and force you to pay attention. It’s a raw and honest look at the struggle of an addiction to alcohol, one that so many people can relate to, either having been in love with someone who’s been addicted and/or lost people because of it or having faced it themselves. It’s a struggle that Hayes himself has had to deal with.
Standout Tracks: “Beautiful,” “Shut Up Kenny,” “Beer In The Fridge,” “Craig,” and “Halloween.” In each song Hayes sings about his own struggles and experiences. He explains that the album, “Opens me inside out and shows some of my real life problems and struggles and insecurities and I feel like if that helps or makes people feel like they aren’t alone that’s amazing.”
Being that Hayes has such a unique style and his music is so different from what people refer to as “traditional country,” the fact that you can’t please everyone has been a lesson he’s had to learn. He admits that he doesn’t like it when people don’t like his music and explains that, “Change is difficult on society just in general. I hope it [my music] changes music in a great way. I hope it’s a movement and not just another product on the shelf. I hope I have things to say that help people out in life.”
Hayes is often compared to Sam Hunt and Taylor Swift but embraces those comparisons because he loves their music and they are his hero, he says it’s not an insult to him in any way. He continues, “Anything that’s a threat to whatever is going on right now, there’s a strong, strong pushback and now with social media it’s just in your face.” In the past, Hayes has tried to fit into the traditional country mold but found that it wasn’t him and he felt empty doing it. “I’ve got to do what I do,” he says. “I have to write the “Halloween”s and I have to rap those verses, that’s who I am.”
Being a husband and father of soon to be seven children as well as pursing the dream of singer/songwriter can be a struggle for many; however, Hayes attributes what he, his wife and family have been through to being able to appreciate where they’ve come. “We both appreciate this so much that she’s so proud of me and I’m so proud of her for taking care of the kids. We are proud of where we’ve come. We know the value of me being able to care of the family.”
Track Listing for boom
1. “Beautiful” (Walker Hayes)
2. “Shut Up Kenny” (Walker Hayes, Pete Good, AJ Babcock)
3. “You Broke Up With Me” (Walker Hayes, Thomas Archer, Kylie Sackley)
4. “Halloween” feat. Nicolle Galyon (Walker Hayes, Nicolle Galyon)
5. “Dollar Store” (Walker Hayes, Scott Stepakoff)
6. “Beer In The Fridge” (Walker Hayes, Shane McAnally, Matt Jenkins, Scot Sherrod)
7. “Beckett” (Walker Hayes, Shane McAnally)
8. “Mind Candy” (Walker Hayes, Thomas Archer)
9. “Prescriptions” (Walker Hayes, Matt McGinn)
10. “Craig” (Walker Hayes)