When it came time for upstart country music star Hunter Hayes to record an album to follow his chart-topping 2011 debut, conventional wisdom would have said to do more of the same.
After all, that self-titled disc went platinum, produced three platinum hits — “Wanted,” “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and “I Want Crazy” — got Hayes four Grammy Award nominations and won him the Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year.
But doing more of the same for the sophomore disc “Storyline” was precisely what the 22-year-old Hayes did not want to do, the singer says in a telephone call from his Nashville home, where he’s getting to spend a rare day during a tour that Saturday brings him to Allentown Fair’s grandstand.
“The purpose of ‘Storyline’ was to tell more of the story,” he says. “Go deeper. No excuses, no hiding behind something that’s already worked — just absolutely adamant not to repeat history.
“I’m so sick of hearing ‘follow-up record.’ Because everybody was like, ‘What’s the pressure like on a follow-up record?’ Well, first of all, isn’t the idea not to write a follow-up record but to give a new record? You know, isn’t the job of this record, really, and its arch, to present some new information, and to find something new, sound-wise, too?”
After all, Hayes says, what made his first album so successful was that it was “if anything, if you study it, it was a clueless search. So why not take the same approach on the second record?”
That approach even led him to scrap two months of work on the album’s lead single, ‘Invisible,’ and totally redo it, Hayes says.
“‘Storyline’ was a continuous search; it definitely was a few processes,” he says. “And with that in mind, I went into ‘Invisible’ trying to make as big a record as I could. … I had a string arrangement from some people from my favorite records — a massive string section, with everything based around that and so it started to just get huge.
“But at the same time it wasn’t very much me. Like it just didn’t feel honest. And I had felt weird about it, and someone finally spoke up. And luckily we had just enough time to go, ‘You know what? Yeah, that’s not quite honest enough. Let’s go a little deeper, you know?’ “
The song was re-recorded in four days, throwing away a hundred vocal takes in favor of a demo he did after first writing the song. “It’s pretty fun to have a record that was that sort of experimental,” he says.
It looks like those decisions were the right ones. “Invisible” went to No. 4 on the country chart, and “Storyline,” released in May, became Hayes’ second chart-topper and even crossed over to No. 3 on Billboard’s overall albums chart — higher than the debut disc.
Hayes says the subject matter for “Invisible” — being bullied and not fitting in — came from his own experiences as a musical prodigy who appeared on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” Nickelodeon’s game show “Figure It Out” and “America’s Most Talented Kids” by the time he was 13.
“Being an outcast — being someone who didn’t fit in for a long time,” he says. “I would never sit here and say I was really bullied, [but] I had a hard time in school — I cried myself to sleep, for sure. And even as hard as it was for me, I know it’s 10 times harder for a lot of people these days.
“So it was important for me to share the story … saying, ‘Hey maybe we won’t fit in, but fitting in right now is not important.’ I found my music obsession, and my heart was there, and I realized it was important for me to follow that and pay attention to that. And because of that, I now feel like I fit in, and it’s a very specific place. On stage or writing or doing music, I feel like myself; I feel like I can really be myself.”
Hayes found himself on stage a lot May 9-10, when he promoted the new album by breaking the Guinness World Record for the most concerts played in multiple cities in 24 hours by performing 10 shows — the last at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre at 5 a.m.
Hayes says he’s thought about the Guinness record ever since he was an opening act for The Flaming Lips on its record-setting run in 2012, when it played eight shows in 24 hours.
“It just looked like so much fun,” he says. “When we get off stage, the first thing I want to do is get back on stage. It doesn’t end when we finish a show. When we get back on the bus, we’re talking about tomorrow. We’re working the next show.
“And this one sort of proved that, I believe. Ten shows in 10 different cities in one day sounds exhausting, but it was a blast. I didn’t have coffee till, like, show six or seven, and that was only because I was getting a massive headache. We had all the energy we needed, and it was because of the fans. It was just one of the most favorite things that’s ever happened in my lifetime.”
That’s still a relatively short life, even for all Hayes has accomplished. So at 22, does Hayes have a personal life?
“Oh, I definitely have a personal life,” he says. “I don’t know how you would be musically inspired without one.” He offers no further details, even when asked specifically if he dates.
With all his success, what does Hayes hope to do in the future?
“Just more,” he says, laughing. “More touring, more records, more stuff. Just more fun, you know? I’m living the dream and I don’t take it for granted. Not one day. So I just want to keep letting people in at the shows.
“We’ve got everything — we got a party aspect to it, but we also don’t hide behind that. There’s also just stuff that’s serious. We’re going to get serious for a minute; we’re going to feel all the feelings — we’re going to go through all of them. Because that’s life — we’re going to experience life together.”