If Hunter Hayes wasn't making music, he'd be a Lego master

After making his mark in country music, Hunter Hayes had dinner with an executive looking for some guidance. Instead, his artistic talent was torn to shreds. “It feels like everything that makes me special is wrong,” Hayes told me in Bust’s office on a recent Monday morning. "As an artist, I felt like that was something I should lean into instead of trying to water down and paint over." Hayes didn't take those words to heart, however, and instead left the major label system and wrote about that meal in "Wallflower," an inspirational anthem from " Red Skies ," his fourth studio album and first as a solo artist.

Not long ago, Billboard named Hayes "the leader of the nation's youth revolution," praising him for releasing crossover hits like "Wanted" and "Invisible," playing as many as 30 instruments, and providing music for Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift opens the 2010 Speak Now tour. ("Everyone was at the top of their game. That set the standard for where I want my team to go going forward," he said of the latter.) He has no regrets about his early career and says he would have loved to have sang An old song for the rest of his life. But after more than a decade under Country Records, it was time to try something new. "I think any time you're in a system you feel your creativity is limited, which in some cases is a good thing," he said. “But at some point I realized that I was missing out on a huge part of what I was doing because of these limitations.”

Hayes started working on Red Skies in 2020 and quickly realized that to break out of his box, he would have to leave Nashville and find inspiration elsewhere. “I just feel like the same conversation is going on all around me,” he said. "I needed to be shocked. I needed to be scared." Eventually, Hayes found his way to Southern California, which set the stage for his new album's soundscape. Country music was still there, but Red Sky fully showcased Hayes' musical ambitions, blending a vast alternative rock soundscape with catchy pop melodies.

Hayes has always considered himself an outsider in country music, but as his folky new single "Rose" shows, he's no longer limited by the genre. “I think if you do it right as an artist, you’re always going to feel like an outsider,” he said.

Below, we'll learn more about Hayes, from his celebrity idols to the surprising TV shows currently inspiring him.

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in a noisy stall

What was your coffee order?

There's a place in Nashville where a lot of their income goes into building wells and providing clean water to the community. They were very experimental and ended up with blueberry and basil [coffee]. It's either that or just four espresso shots.

What weather locations are saved on your phone?

Topanga, because that’s where we made the album and that’s where I live. Malibu, because I'll go there all the time. Nashville and London, because I love London. And Hawaii, specifically Hilo.

What's your zodiac sign?


What's your favorite overused movie line?

Or "Did we just become best friends?" [from "Step Brothers "] or "Let's get on our bikes and go" [from "Family Guy "].

What’s a movie or TV show that you’re currently obsessed with?

The Mandalorian .

What was your favorite cartoon as a child?

I'm obsessed with Mickey. Anything Mickey Mouse related.

Who is your current celebrity idol?

Chris Martin comes to mind. I just love how friendly and clear he is in interviews. And Elton John. I made a tribute album to him and he remains a mentor to me. He checks once or twice a year.

What are your favorite karaoke songs?

I might sing a Michael Bublé song, like "Home."

What has inspired you recently?

The group of people who made The Mandalorian. We talk a lot about how to create a more community-based environment for creatives and allow everyone to contribute their resources, strengths, and work together in a less competitive environment. We each have something different to offer, and we often get into a competitive race to see who can achieve the most.

If you had to be on a reality show, which one would you choose?

LEGO Masters .