Hunter Hayes wants you to know that you’re not alone. Or at least, that’s the idea you get from listening to his most recent output: “Dear God” sees Hayes at his most vulnerable as he attempts to reconcile his failures with his faith, and “One Shot” reminds listeners to ignore judgements and live a little. His newest single “Heartbreak,” released Friday, continues in this trend, throwing a love song’s curveball at the traditional breakup narrative. How has Hayes been able to find the silver linings in so many relatable woes?
As he’ll tell you himself, it’s taken a while to come around to such an optimistic place. At the beginning of last year, Hayes scrapped all of the music he had been working on in order to start fresh. “I spent a lot of time trying to write or be what a lot of people wanted me to write or be,” Hayes tells Paste, “and it just wasn’t working or fulfilling my soul. I was just searching for the wrong things.” Since he cleaned his slate, he’s been making a conscious effort to write more about personal growth, necessitating a change in the actual recording process.
“This has been the most free I’ve ever felt creatively, working on this album,” Hayes says of the change of pace. “We’re not really cutting stuff in studios, we’re just in the basement of the house. The process is very different for me, and it’s kind of odd. It’s so freeing, and so safe.” Hayes mentions how grateful he is to finally be working with producer Sam Ellis on the single, as well as his co-writers Thomas “Tawgs” Salter, Gordie Sampson and Simon Wilcox. From his tone of voice, it sounds like he’s not only appreciative of his close-knit team, but also of everything that’s lead him to working with a more stripped-down and familiar crew. Hayes seems to relish the present, actively thankful for everything that’s brought him to where he is. “The music’s happening in such a pure way and I’ve never had that experience before. It’s uplifting and world-changing. Man, I feel just like I’m flying right now.”
From this comfortable new environment, Hayes has begun to feel as though he can start writing what he really needs to be writing: songs like his latest. “‘Heartbreak’ took a while to get right, but it’s totally worth it. We’ve started playing it live and the fans have learned it already, which is always a great feeling,” he said with an affirmative laugh. “My favorite thing in the world is that the part they scream at every show, and I mean scream, is the line, ‘I’ve been in some shit relationships but I remain an optimist.’ And by God, if there’s one quote I’ll be remembered by, I’m okay with that being the one, you know?”
Finding positivity in the hardest places does seems to be Hayes’ calling card. The main theme of “Heartbreak” is progress: There seems to be no doubt that Hayes has faith in where life is leading him, and he hopes this mood can be contagious. “I really hope that it kind of takes people my age going through the whole dating scene and/or just feeling really fucking lonely, and puts things in perspective. We’re all meant to search for a little while, you know? What I love about this song is just that it was literally meant to say, ‘look, yeah, you go through some shit, but that’s the point! How else am I gonna grow into that person that I want my dream girl to meet? And how am I gonna be the person that I want to be for her?’”
Hayes talks a mile a minute, pouring his heart out in a way that makes interrogation obsolete. He’s a diehard believer in trusting the process—his passion is evident. The hard times are the formative ones, the ones that build you up for success. “When I stopped trying to make things happen, the right things started to happen,” he recalls. And I’m learning how to embrace that and learning that that’s always better for me than the plan I had for myself.” This is what “Heartbreak” is all about, and this is what he hopes his forthcoming work can encourage in others. “I’m excited about this project because it’s about that journey of getting from one side to the other. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been through that.”
Listen to “Heartbreak” below (or via your streaming service of choice here), and watch Hayes perform “Dear God” and “One Shot” live at the Paste Studio further down.