Country singer Hunter Hayes was nearly finished with his fourth studio album a couple of years ago when he inexplicably scrapped it.
“That’s the smart thing to do, right?” he joked, and then answered himself: In hindsight, it was.
“In the grand scheme of things, I spent a lot of time writing for the wrong purpose,” he explained of the epiphany he had as he worked on that doomed project. “I was trying too hard to do a lot of things and to do what I thought I was supposed to do — write what I was expected to write or write what I needed to write versus what I really, really, really wanted to write about.”
Hayes, who has been singing and performing literally since he was a toddler and blasted onto the country music stage at 20 with the multiplatinum-selling ballad “Wanted,” just wanted to roll back the clock to his 2011 debut album.
“On the debut record, I was clueless. I was scared and I was just writing because I needed to and I wanted to,” said the 27-year-old Louisiana native. “I was writing about stuff I was going through and processing things. And it switched (on the second album) to me trying to please a business model of sorts. And that’s not how it works.”
So Hayes took a deep breath.
“I had to separate myself from that and just say ‘You know what? I need to go back to being scared and clueless, and whatever happens, happens,’” he said.
Hayes, who brings his “Closer to You” tour to the Rialto Theatre on Tuesday, May 21, quietly scrapped most of the dozens of songs he had written for the album and started from zero.
He did some soul-searching, truth-telling and letting go as he learned to love himself “and realizing that that’s OK to do.”
Along his transformation journey, Hayes got a military buzz cut — he said it signified a clean start that let him look in the mirror and “see me.” And he started writing from the heart and soul without the pressure of topping the charts or selling platinum.
“It is scary to do that, to start from scratch and kind of not backtrack your success and reverse-engineer another hit,” he said. “It’s important to start from that place of sincerity with your hands in the air going, whoever hears it and connects with it, great. But I have no expectations.”
The album is still a work in progress and has no announced release date, but Hayes said that for the first time since his 2011 debut, he has written a record that expresses what he wants to say and what he wants fans to hear, beginning with his months-old uptempo single “Heartbreak” — his first radio single in three years.
“This feels like a fresh start,” Hayes said. “It doesn’t feel like a new tour; it feels like my first tour. It feels like a totally new experience all the way through.”