Hunter Hayes is no stranger to arenas.
He spent much of 2012 and 2013 playing them, including the Covelli Centre, with Carrie Underwood. But on that tour, he was the opening act, which meant he had to create his show in the space available without disturbing Underwood’s stage setup.
Hayes returns to the Covelli Centre on Saturday as a headliner on his “We’re Not Invisible” Tour, and he’s looking forward to pulling out all the stops.
“I’ve been wanting to do arenas my entire life,” Hayes said. “A lot of the shows I saw living in Louisiana were arena shows. I always imagined building my show in an arena. There’s something magical about the energy in an arena.
“I’m excited about this show. When you’re going out on tour, you make a list of the things you want to do and assume you can’t do half of the things you want to do. This is the first time I’ve checked off most of the things on the list. In fact, we’ve added things and checked them off, too. I’m excited to bring it to everyone and hope they enjoy it.”
The Youngstown audience will get a sneak preview of Hayes’ second album, “Storyline,” scheduled for release on May 6. Hayes had five top 20 country hits from his 2011 self-titled debut album (and the expanded edition released in 2013). “Storyline” already is following its path with the lead single, “Invisible,” peaking at No. 4.
Even though the album is set for release in less than two months, Hayes said he’s still tinkering with the final tracks, and he’s looking forward to seeing how the audience reacts to them.
“It’s a strange feeling when you’re making a record and can’t get everyone’s thoughts on it,” he said. “I’ll be relieved to be able to play the music. It’s kind of fun. It brings everyone in to what we’re working on. There are several songs in the show that haven’t been released yet. Quite frankly, I don’t want to wait anymore.”
Following the chart success of songs like “Wanted,” “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and “I Want Crazy,” Hayes said he didn’t feel pressure to copy the success of that album.
“I’m really lucky. I have a great team that encourages me to venture out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t feel like I’m giving all I’ve got if I said, I have to write another ‘Wanted’ or another love song ballad. I didn’t want to go into the record going, ‘I have to do this.’ You want to give the fans something new. I’m trying to stay honest with where I’m at the moment.
As he did on his debut, Hayes wrote or cowrote all of the songs on the album. He toyed with different concepts and ideas while writing the songs, but most of the concepts were discarded, and the album was called ”Storyline” because Hayes described the songs as, “An honest series of journal entries … a 22-year-old trying to figure stuff out.”
A perfect example of discarding an agenda and following whatever path inspiration takes is that lead single, “Invisible,” cowritten with Bonnie Baker and Katrina Elam. It was the second song written for the album, penned after Hayes took a break from songwriting.
“We were going to write something totally different that day,” he said. “We spent an hour on this other song that just wasn’t meant to happen.”
They started discussing other topics and bullying came up, something all three had experienced.
“Growing up, I was a total geek, a total music nerd … What I went through wasn’t as bad as others have, but I went through some crazy moments. I’ve been blessed, I followed my dream and found my purpose.”
Hayes was surprised his management and record label picked “Invisible” as the lead single – “You look for certain things, and I never thought they would look to a song so personal to introduce this record,” he said – and he was more surprised when the producers of the Grammy Awards asked him to premiere the song on the January telecast.
“What a good feeling to have with a song like this that is so personal, to get that kind of support is the ultimate.”
In addition to exploring new ideas lyrically, “Storyline” also gave Hayes a chance to explore musically. Hayes said his guitar playing reflects some of the musicians who’ve inspired him most of his life, like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Brad Paisley, as well as newer influences. Ever since seeing Fleetwood Mac, who he got to hear when the band was playing the same arena the night before he and Underwood were there, he’s been devouring everything Lindsay Buckingham has done.
“For a long time, I never played with a pick,” Hayes said. “He doesn’t use a pick at all, and that inspired me to go back to the way I learned how to play.”
Hayes will be playing arenas with Danielle Bradbery, who won season four of NBC’s “The Voice” as a teenager, and Dan + Shay until the release of “Storyline.” A couple days after its release, Hayes will attempt to set a world record by playing 10 concerts in 10 different cities within 24 hours. The current record is held by Flaming Lips and Jay-Z, who each played eight shows in 24 hours.
Hayes played with Flaming Lips on one of those record-setting shows, and he’s been eyeing the record ever since.
“I got to open for one of their shows at like 5 in the morning,” he said. “I kept thinking, wondering if we could beat that. Essentially, on the way home, I started looking at the map and routing it out.”
By concentrating his tour in the heavily populated Northeast, he believes he can break the record. His run will start with an 8 a.m. concert for “Good Morning America” in New York City on May 9 and will end at 5 a.m. May 10 in Philadelphia with a show at the Trocadero club. In between will be shows in Boston; Worcester, Mass; Providence, R.I.; New London, New Haven and Stamford, Conn.; and South Orange and Asbury Park, N.J.
In addition to promoting “Storyline,” the tour also will promote ConAgra Foods’ Child Hunger Ends Here Program. For every digital single of “Invisible” purchased, ConAgra donated the equivalent of one meal to Feeding America, up to a million meals.
“Now it has a new purpose, it’s not just about wanting to play a lot of gigs.”