Whiskey Riff Exclusive: Meet Breakout Star Walker Hayes

“You Broke Up With Me” is only the beginning for this guy.

Walker Hayes has taken the country music scene by storm the past few weeks with the release of his debut single “You Broke Up With Me,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m already counting down the days until the release of his debut album on Monument Records.

If you’re just jumping on the bandwagon now, you may have missed Walker’s set of 8tracks that were released in May and August of 2016 through Shane McAnally’s SMACKSongs that earned him a slot as an opening act on Dan + Shay’s Obsessed Tour and a role on Bobby Bones’ Funny and Alone Comedy Tour. Let me just say, if you think you’ve heard the best of Walker, you haven’t heard anything yet if you haven’t listened to “Good Shit” and “Break The Internet.” And these are just the beginning of the catchy melodies and raw lyrics we’ll be hearing from him.

The rising star and I recently had the chance to chat about his 8tracks, Mariah Carey, and what’s coming up next for him, and I’m already excited to see it all come together.

When I saw you at CRS a few weeks ago, my first thought was “this is the next Ed Sheeran”.

He’s way better at that loop [pedal] than me, but I’ll catch up to him. I love that comparison and I definitely get it a lot, just since there’s not many people doing that. We just do it that way because the music I release on these 8tracks, are all these tracks I build in this shack outside of my pub company. They’re pretty stripped down and they just have a few things going on and I do a lot of beat boxing and stuff and that’s what sparked the idea to just use the loop instead of a band.

Before this single release, you put out two different 8track albums, for people who are just jumping on the bandwagon and haven’t heard them, how would you describe them?

Just like that. The 8tracks honestly are a therapeutic creative outlet for me. I really have no rules because when I write the songs for those 8tracks I’m just telling the truth. Some of those songs may live in some unique places, but I’m not really aiming for any genre, I’m just kind of enjoying exploring my creative space and where I can go and where each song really just needs to sit to be right and not necessarily thread a needle. We’re just really having a lot of fun and I think what we learned with those 8tracks is that people really respond to their authenticity and they feel the freedom that we experienced making them. What we’re doing now is taking a lot of the 8track songs into the studio and Shane McAnally, my producer, hired this incredible band and they kind of fill in the little holes. So the studio version isn’t much different, it’s just a little bit bigger and it fits the radio market a little better.

Who have been some of your music influences that got you into your style of creating music?

I would say the first writer/artist that I connected to big time growing up was John Mayer. I think a lot of people from my generation would agree he just kind of spoke to people in a different way. It wasn’t a lot of over-produced music, it was al ot of subject matter that really hit home and a really unique way of saying things. One of my favorite songs of his was always a song called “Comfortable”. I just loved how his lyrics were kind of like movies and you almost just forgot what you were doing in life. If you were driving, you just kind of went into this zone and got lost in the moment. And he had a way of making the world turn off and make you listen to stuff. I aspire to kind of have that effect with my music, it’s about the whole experience, and hopefully my song can be somebody’s escape.

Your sound is such a combination of different influences, what’s your opinion on the “that’s not country” debate?

I definitely can sympathize to people who are traditional and feel like something should be a certain way. I understand that change is scary and when you feel like somebody is changing something you’ve loved your entire life, but as a kid I don’t remember having those boundaries set. My favorite country song ever is “Don’t Take The Girl”. I love to talk about this moment in my life when people bring up this ongoing argument because I remember the first time I heard that song was in 6th grade and at that time I had a Grateful Dead tape, I had a Mariah Carey CD and I think I had one of my older brothers Phil Collins records, and I know I was an avid 2Pac fan, and so it didn’t even occur to me ever to put a label on anything. I just wanted to hear music that made me want to press rewind, it made me feel something…

The music that I create is the best when I’m not concerned about a genre, I’m just all about the emotion of the song. I hope there are a lot of listeners out there like me, because I admit my music doesn’t sound like Merle Haggard, I know that, but I liked Merle, but obviously my heart and soul doesn’t sound like that when the truth comes out. Lyrically, my stuff has a thread of Nashville writing in it, but there are definitely pop and hip-hop elements all inside of there.

What’s your guilty pleasure music or song?

Any slapstick song always gets me. But honestly, I’m so anti-guilty pleasure. I don’t feel like anybody should feel guilty if they turn up a song and it just blows their mind. I’m always trying to teach my kids, don’t love Willie Nelson just because everybody loves him, but also don’t love somebody just because nobody has ever heard of them. Just love who you like, turn it on and just give it a chance. But I mean honestly, my favorite female singer was always Mariah Carey, so as a dude I definitely don’t walk up into a bar like “Guess who I love, Mariah!” *laughs* I love hits and usually the ones that get on people’s nerves, like “Call Me Maybe” and stuff like that, I can listen to them more times than most people.

If you’re not working on music, where would we find you?
If I’m not working on music, first of all, that’s just odd, that’s just my drug. But if I’m not working on music, I’m always with my kids. They play a lot of sports and like today, I had a day off so we were just at the baseball field hanging out.

Storme Warren told me to ask you how you have time to go to the gym all the time with your 37 kids?

37 kids that’s hilarious *laughs* I know this is like a deep, weird answer but I was an alcoholic, but I quit drinking and I basically replaced that time with exercise, because when you quit something you have to do something else.. I definitely find a gym every day of my life. When I’m on the road, that’s the first priority of every single day.

What do your kids think of your career, do they think you’re cool or are they totally over it? (He has six of them)

*laughs* They’re definitely not little butt-heads about it yet, like they don’t make fun of me yet or think my music is corny. But one cool thing is they don’t know any different. It’s almost like my guitar is my briefcase and they definitely think I have a cool job. I will say they’ve started enjoying a lot of their friends who have been hearing “You Broke Up With Me” and they’ve been like “Dad, so and so came up today and they know all the words to your song”. You can tell they’re starting to be like “My dad’s cool”.

Has there been a specific moment that’s been the most exciting for you since this single blew up?

This [release] has been kind of a breathe of fresh air, there have been so many. I guess I would say the results of the first week sales. We didn’t release it to terrestrial radio or anything, and I guess when you get so close to a project and you’re working so hard on it, you think it’s amazing, but when you put it out there that’s you saying “I hope y’all think it’s amazing”. The response has been so amazing, so I maybe that’s not one moment, but that’s what’s really been rewarding and gratifying.

Can you spill any details about your upcoming album?

We’ve cut pretty much everything. I’d say 70 or 80% of the album are songs from the 8tracks, we just put a band around them. As far as songs, I can’t say which ones are on and off because those will change, but we’re looking at a fall release. We’ve definitely created a sound, obviously the 8tracks have their own sound, and the album adds a whole ‘nother element to the music and I think people are going to love it.

So you used to work at Costco…

*laughs* Yeah I did, those were some sad days.

Do you have any advice for artists who are still at that stage in building their career?

I know it sounds simple, but try not to give up, and surround yourself with people who believe in you. When I was at Costco, I wrote a song called “Pain” that touches on this guy I worked with named Mike, and there were a lot of times I felt like Mike believed in me a lot more than I did. I feel like we all just need people like that in our lives. You need that figure who you can kind of bleed to them and say “I don’t know if I’m going to make it”, and they can say “ No you are, don’t be thinking like that.”

Is there anything else you want your fans to know about you?

Just that I’m working hard, and that they need to go buy my single. *laughs*

Check out his 8tracks available now on iTunes here and here. Thank me later.

To keep up with Walker, visit www.walkerhayes.com and follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WalkerHayes.

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