When Hunter Hayes, the 20-year-old sensation just nominated as the Academy of Country Music's Best New Artist, has a day to himself, the first thing he does is find a music store. "I'm obsessed with gear," Hayes said recently on the phone. Look at the liner notes of his 2011 self-titled album and it's clear to see why: Hayes can play everything in the store. On the album, the self-taught Hayes plays 22 instruments, including the clavinet (an electronic keyboard) and the accordion. After opening for Taylor Swift last summer, Hayes hit the road for his own headlining venture, the Most Wanted Tour, which stops by the Recher Theatre for a sold-out show tonight. We spoke to Hayes about Swift, love songs and more.
What was it like growing up in Louisiana? Everyone I talk to describes it as a foreign country.
It is a totally different culture. I grew up in a fun-loving environment — you work hard and play hard. … We love to make music. We're passionate about so many things, particularly where I grew up [in Breaux Bridge]. There's a mini-Cajun industry there that contributed largely to my obsession with music.
What did you learn most from Taylor Swift?
There's so much. I'm glad I made the effort to watch her show every night. I made notes; I was studying every night. I'm a huge fan of hers. She takes a room of 15,000 people and you feel like you got to shake her hand, give her a hug. You feel like you know her after she leaves.
She's so cool. The most down-to-earth person you've ever met.
Will there be a collaboration in the future?
I don't know. I'd love to. There's a lot of people I'd like to write with, like Keith Urban or even as far out as Stevie Wonder. I'd like to [work with Swift] but I didn't push it. She has a lot of things going on.
Did you write "Love Makes Me" from a personal experience?
Yeah, I can't say I stole a Mustang or snuck out late. I just had this reckless feeling. It's just the crazy things relationships will make you do. It was about this one girl I was crazy about.
Are you still with her?
[laughs] It ended a couple of years ago. The only good thing I got out of it was this song.
When everything is said and done, what kind of career do you hope you have?
I remember sitting at a Paul McCartney concert a year ago. I saw an artist that's been through several different aspects of his career — with different groups, his own solo work. He could sit at home and say, "I've done it all. I'm going to take it easy." But I loved seeing him out there, still loving music. It wasn't about him making money. You saw someone living [his] dream still, even after he's done it a million times. It's a tall order, but those are the footsteps I want to follow.