Photo: Andrew Zaeh

Hunter Hayes

Who is Hunter Hayes today? One may ask.

The now 31-year-old Grammy-nominated artist and multi-instrumentalist, who broke out onto the music scene in 2011 with his smash hit “Storm Warning,” went on a soul-seeking journey to create what is known as Red Sky, the artist’s long-awaited fifth record set to release on April 21.

Red Sky marks the artist’s first record released as an independent artist in 12 years. Releasing music independently has its perks such as creative freedom. Hayes admitted that it took a while to understand how big of a deal that was. “For so long I was making these projects where I was in some kind of creative control. It starts with the songs I write 50 to 100 songs per project and this project I was writing two or three projects ahead,” Hayes tells EUPHORIA.

“For the longest time selecting the songs for the album kinda led to what the album was going to be. The song selection process was done with a large group and there’s a lot of advantages to that but I think what it left behind was the quirkiness of what I do. On this project, there was so much more intentionally around the personality of each song and so much more to uncover. It took me three or four years because with an independent album you can do whatever you want which is great and on the flip side it’s kind of daunting in the beginning you have to start this trial and error process. There was a lot of taking ownership of things,” he continued.

“If I’m freaking out about the song at the end of the day, someone will. If I’m laughing because of how much I’m happy I am with something there’s a chance that someone’s going to connect with it; and if nothing else people will feel my joy, my sense of purpose in every song… not that it’s about me, just trusting the creative guidance of where every song naturally wanted to go and being brave enough to not ask too many questions or overthink it. This entire process was about taking ownership and finding confidence within myself and being convicted about what was on my heart, and trusting if it was on my heart it’s because someone else needed that song and I needed to follow that song all the way.”

The singer-songwriter recruited a team of respected pop songwriters and producers for his new project. With names like Kevin Griffin (Taylor Swift), Dan Brook (Britney Spears), Rollo (BTS, Ava Max), Alex Delicata (Beyonce), and Aaron Zuckerman (LANY), you know you’re in for a treat.

Hayes reveals that the chorus of “Lonely Loves Me” was written by himself on a trip he went on where he was the only single guy and highlighted a sense of loneliness and brought it in to a friend (Delicata).

“We wrote a verse and a chorus, a verse and a chorus because it’s not something that I believe is true. I think a lot of these feelings that are represented in this song are moments of weakness. The whole thing is based on voice. There’s no instruments in this song, it’s all human voice because I wanted it to feel what it’s like when all these voices are yelling at you and how overwhelming it can be in the moment. I also wanted to cut it off- it’s cuts out in the middle very much on purpose. It throws you in the depth of these feelings but also allows you practice saying ‘this isn’t true. I’m gonna walk away from these feelings,” Hayes details.

On the other hand, “Normal” is a conversation with yourself saying something is not right in my world/life and is it me? It can’t be me because I’ve done so much work. It’s an internal battle where you realize that there’s more to your experience than meets the eye. Hayes said this feels the most timeless production wise. “In the track listing of the album it sits on the slot of supernatural aid because I felt like it was the chance to ask deeper questions of yourself,” he says.

There were a few tracks that were challenging for Hayes to create that unfortunately didn’t make the cut. “Someone Will,” a track featured on the record, was born in a different era he said. “A lot of this album spans six or seven years so it covers a lot of ground.  ‘Someone Will’ was written in a time where we were working on it make it a country radio single and I think the song was never meant to feel quite like that. It needed its own identity and Ruslan (co-producer) was incredibly patient. We created easily six or seven versions of the song and it ended up being a total greatest hits package of all the different versions,” he says.

Fans and listeners alike will be surprised when listening to “Sober,” which is actually less shocking now that people have heard the track. “Feelings” will be a huge surprise as well as “Wallflower,” which the singer-songwriter is really stoked for everyone to hear. He’s never done anything like it. “Lonely Loves Me” is a big statement piece for Hayes in which he says is uncharted territory.

Red Sky is a such turning point for him as it’s really a chance to do all his favorite things in one place. This album became a combination of all three projects.

“A lot of this album was written about my experience with the industry and bigger topics but necessarily don’t represent that way in the lyric. I was able to express things I felt while telling stories and allowing other people to have these songs as their own; not write something so specific that it’s a solo conversation. It’s more talking about the common threads of humanity, experiencing feelings for the first time and learning how to work through them,” he explains.

The album truly represents independence as a human and learning how to embrace different parts and sides of yourself. Most importantly, loving it.

Hayes knows how to keep listeners on their toes. A lyric featured on the last track of his album Wild Blue hinted to Red Sky, “Oh, and the fire you hide was born to burn.”

The theme of Red Sky is turning inward, taking the things you sort of hide from the world about yourself that make you unique while letting those things shine. “I hope when fans hear this album… I hope it feels freeing, invigorating, enlightening and empowering. Self-love seems to be a popular topic but I think there’s a reason for that. We’re all turning the corner on where we would like to be in our life, emotionally versus where we’re made to be as a result of the world around us. We can do big things but only once we realize what we’re capable of,” he says.

As far as what’s next for the uber talented musician he hopes to put out even more music and play more shows.