Hunter Hayes is letting his inner geek shine.
That wasn’t always the case, of course. In middle school, he tried to bury it deep inside, crying himself to sleep and wondering why all he wanted to do was play music.
“I spent a lot of my time feeling like an outcast — a lot like an outcast,” Hayes says by phone from his Nashville home.
By high school, he was done pretending that music wasn’t important, and he convinced his family to move to Nashville when he was 16. From then, it was just a matter of time before the musically gifted Louisiana native got someone else to buy into his dream. The executives at Atlantic Records Nashville did, and the label released his self-titled debut album in October, 2011. Major hits Wanted, Somebody’s Heartbreak, and I Want Crazy have followed.
He comes to Toledo on Friday night as a former wunderkind who is now one of the brightest stars in country music. But as a 22-year-old, he also comes to town with the memories of middle school and high school bullies still fresh in his mind.
His current single, Invisible, is a powerful message to teenagers struggling with similar self-esteem issues. He debuted the single at the Grammys last month. The song begins: “Crowded hallways are the loneliest places for outcasts and rebels or anyone who dares to be different.” But in the chorus, he promises brighter days ahead: “Hear me out, there’s so much more to life than what you’re feeling now. Someday you’ll look back on these days and all the pain is gonna be … invisible.”
“I am a music geek. I’m an absolute dedicated, obsessed human being when it comes to music,” Hayes says. “But it’s given me such a purpose. I feel I can share my story, and I can look back at those times when I cried myself to sleep or I couldn’t figure anything out and I felt like I had no place. I can look back at that place and know that is what has built me, shaped me, made me the person who I am.”
The search for one’s identity is prominent on his upcoming album, Storyline, which will be in stores on May 6. Invisible is the first single from the album, but the title track also has a positive message.
“My favorite song on the record is called Storyline. It’s a celebration of trying to write your own story rather than trying to model it off of someone else’s. It’s actually about a relationship, saying, ‘Right or wrong, we’ll write our own storyline.’ ”
Besides offering positive messages, the record will also be Hayes’ continuing quest to stretch himself musically. On his debut, he played dozens of instruments on the record, constantly experimenting to create unique sounds.
“I really wanted this record to have that same sort of search for whatever I’m trying to find — musically or lyrically,” Hayes says. “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I don’t want to put out the same stuff over and over. I owe everyone some new stuff.”
Toledoans will be among the first to hear much of the new music. Hayes kicked off his current tour one week ago in Pikeville, Ky. Toledo will be the fifth stop on the tour.
“This record has a lot of energetic music and passion, so this show is going to have a lot of energy,” Hayes says. “I can’t wait for fans to see it.”
And at this point, Hayes, who is one of the most excitable guys you will ever talk to, launches into a detailed explanation of the diamond-shaped stage, and the long list of things he wanted to include in the show, and a bunch of technical things the common fan might not understand. Listening to how excited he gets discussing it, he kind of sounds like … a bit of a musical geek.
“I love being labeled a music geek,” he says with a chuckle. “I guess I want to share the positive side of the story because that’s a perspective I wish I would have had in the past, knowing that in the future [a geek] would be a good thing.”
Hunter Hayes, along with guests Danielle Bradbery and Dan+Shay, will be in concert at the Huntington Center on Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at the box office, all Ticketmaster locations, at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 1-800-745-3000.