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Things just keep getting "more fantatsic" for Hunter Hayes

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2013

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In Hunter Hayes` recent hit "I Want Crazy," he sings that "it doesn't get any better than this."

And that's how the 22-year-old country singer has felt about his career -- several times over.

"It's funny, 'cause just when I think it can't get any better, it does," says Hayes. "Every time I turn around something new and more fantastic seems to happen. It's way more than I could have expected, especially this early in my career."

Hayes' stats certainly back up the formidable success the Louisiana native has been enjoying since he moved to Nashville in 2008 and actually had his first break as a songwriter, co-writing "Play" for Rascal Flatts. His self-titled 2011 debut album hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Albums charts -- and so did an "Encore" version that came out in October with five additional tracks, including "I Want Crazy" and the Jason Mraz collaboration "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me."

Hayes has scored three Top 10 Country singles and dueted with Victoria Justice on a remake of "Almost Paradise" for the 2011 "Footloose" soundtrack. He was the 2012 Country Music Association New Artist of the Year, and this year he's won a CMT Music Award and a Teen Choice Award, with an American Music Award nomination for Favorite Country Male Artist and two American Country Award nod still pending.

Hayes, however, is the last to analyze why his high-energy brand of country is connecting so well with fans.

"I'm kind of glad I don't know -- that way I don't have to think about it," he says. "I'm just there making the music. I just want a connection. I want the songs to mean something. I want to be the soundtrack for somebody's life the way my favorite records are for me.

"But I'm not trying to figure it out. I just hope to God that every song I make at some point becomes something for everybody."

Hayes and the "team" he likes to credit of managers and producer Dann [cq] Huff did make a calculated, and wise, move with the "Hunter Hayes (Encore)" release. Hayes acknowledges that he "really wanted to be back in the studio, but I wasn't ready for a (full new record." The expanded album, then, represents a kind of half-step, with a nod towards new styles but still fitting the context of the album.

"I felt like this was an opportunity to finish my introduction and say, 'This is who I am. Here's what I'm feeling right now and how the music has evolved after I've toured it,' " Hayes explains. "It's an update -- not the Facebook update where you go, 'What happened?' but the IOS update where after this much time of doing this I could bring more energy to the record."

"I Want Crazy," the platinum hit he "stuck up for" even after the original version of "Hunter Hayes" was out, is a great case in point, Hayes says. "I really believed in it. I really wanted it to be on a record; I didn't know if it would be on the next one or whatever, but I told (Huff), 'I don't care what we're doing. We're doing this song!' It's a new direction for me musically, a lot of new territory, and I was excited to tap into that territory.

"We tried it and it evolved so quickly and sort of on its own that halfway through the process everybody felt the same way I did. That was the first time I let my own intuition stand up for the music that strongly, and it worked."

Hayes acknowledges that he's "very conscious about the next album" and the expectations that will greet it. And that's why he says there's no hurry, even though he has "60-some songs" he's been working on already.

"The timetable is flexible, and I'm keeping it that way," he says. "I feel like my team's done a good job of giving me a ton of space. I've got some demos I'm finishing up now. I finally feel like I've got enough material to pick my favorites from and go, 'OK, once again I feel like I"m honestly representing myself, I'm saying what I want to say. Nothing's missing.'

"But we're not going to rush it. It'll come out when it feels right."

Hunter Hayes and Ashley Moore perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50 and $32.50. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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