Two years ago, Hunter Hayes took the country world by storm with the release of his love song "Wanted." Now with his new album Storyline, the crooner, 22, is baring his soul to his fans with new tracks about faith, overcoming bullying and yes – love. He opens up about his music in a Q&A with PEOPLE Country.
PEOPLE: Your grandmother gave you a toy accordion when you were 2 years old. What’s your first real memory of playing music?
Hunter Hayes: I think my first real memory was Country Fest in 1997 in Dallas. There’s a video that’s on YouTube of me as a 5-year-old that I really don’t want anyone watching [laughs]. That’s my earliest memory, like full-fledged I-can-tell-you-things-from-that-day memory.
Have you always been a natural on stage or did you ever have stage fright?
I wouldn’t say stage fright necessarily, but I’m definitely always nervous. You can’t get nervous when you’re that young, but I just loved being in front of audiences. Nobody in our family’s musical and I just feel like I was blessed to fall in love with music really early on. Stepping on stage gives me a chance to really be myself, and writing and listening to music is my language.
Was your family surprised when you picked up playing instruments and singing so easily?
I think they’re still kind of surprised that it’s become my life. My parents never doubted me for a second despite the fact that it made no sense how obsessed I was with music. They gave me every opportunity they could to see me do what I wanted to do.
You performed your single "Invisible", which talks about bullying you faced, at the Grammys this year. Is it difficult writing about things you’ve been through?
It’s really been an interesting journey songwriting specifically for this record and saying to myself that nothing is off-limits. “Invisible” kind of set the scene for the rest of the record. I had high hopes and big dreams this song would find its way to even one person that needed to hear it. That perspective of “I know it’s difficult right now, but it’s all going to get way better” – I was lucky to see that in my story and felt like it was important to share that. Singing this song on stage and talking to fans about this song has been really life changing for me.
You write so many beautiful love songs. Is it therapeutic for you?
It’s somebody to talk to. It’s calling a friend knowing full well you’re wasting your time talking about whatever it is you’re talking about. You know that and you don’t care and they don’t care and they’re not listening, but you just need to get it off your chest. Sometimes you just gotta get it out, you know? Songwriting is that kind of feeling. I can spare my friend a long two-hour phone call about what’s going on and just write it into a song [laughs].
You’ve been open about overcoming bullying from when you were younger. What’s the key to feeling comfortable in your skin now?
I feel like if I had the answer, I’d be able to write a book because I’m always looking for that answer myself. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to get rid of my own insecurities. I worry about everything and over think everything. I think realizing that you’re going to be searching for that and that you’re not going to find that answer in its entirety is a very relieving realization. You’ve got to find it for yourself.