Celebrity Drive: Grammy-Nominated Country Star Hunter Hayes


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Quick Stats: Hunter Hayes Grammy-nominated country music singer
Daily Driver: 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500 (Hunter’s rating: 8 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Hawaii’s Big Island
Car he learned to drive in: 2001 Chevy Suburban
First car bought: 2012 Range Rover Evoque

Country music singer-songwriter Hunter Hayes decided at some point he wanted to get an older car with more character—one that needed work, but the effort would result in a reward. That car ended up being the 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500, which he bought as a birthday gift last year.

“I told myself a couple years ago the next car I want to get was an old G wagon,” he says. “It was this past summer, and it was right before my birthday. I knew that by the time I had fixed all the things I needed to fix on it, I would finally be able to drive it around my birthday, which is in September. I’m looking at it right now, and I’m super proud of it. I just wanted something really interesting, and I like quirky, interesting things, especially older cars. Part of the lure of the G is that it hasn’t changed in 30 years as far as aesthetics go, you’ve got subtle things but it looks brand new.”

Hayes rates the G500 an 8 or 9 for practicality purposes. “I’m super stoked about this interview because this is one topic I never get to talk about,” he says. “I’ve always been an SUV guy, my first car was Suburban, my next car was a Yukon XL. I just love anything with character.”

He often needs to haul gear and now has a greyhound, so SUVs best fit his criteria. “I’m not really that guy with the Mercedes G spending budget,” he says. “I just started looking online because I know a lot of the ‘80’s ones were available for a lot less, but they’re standard, I’m not really that great driving standard.”

Photo: Brenton Giesey

But Hayes really wanted a G500 because he’d driven a few and really loved them and the charm of an older car. “It drives like a truck or like a school bus, but it feels really sturdy, and I like the boxyness of it,” he says. “And it’s spacious enough for the gear that I need to travel with, and it’s great for Cole (his dog). He loves it.”

Hayes especially likes that the G500 has good visibility. “I’m a really paranoid driver, so I like that I know where all the corners of the car are,” he says. “I could see every square inch of it. It’s awareness, I know everything that’s going on at the car at all times.”

The only reason Hayes doesn’t give it a perfect 10, despite it’s character and charm, is that the G500 is a rough ride. “It only bothers me when I’ve got Cole in the car, or if I’ve got gear that’s really fragile because I drive super cautiously,” he says. “But I personally love it. That’s part of what’s really charming. If it was a little softer that’d be awesome, but I don’t know if I care that much. And I’ve talked about putting a GPS unit in it, but I find myself not really using that, needing that, or thinking about that.”

Photo: Brenton Giesey

Hayes likes to focus on being present while driving and being in his surroundings. “When I drive, I’ve gone from somebody who loves all the gadgets to I just want to drive,” he says. “I don’t want any distractions. My phone is not even within view or reach. I just want to focus and just be there.”

When Hayes needs to go somewhere new, he will look it up on a map before the drive. “That’s how I operate on the daily now,” he says. “That’s how I drive. I love the challenge of navigating somewhere. I got that from my dad. I really like just figuring it out. So even when I have a GPS now, like in a rental car, I find myself rarely using it. Not even looking at the map as I’m driving. I like experiencing a place and not being caught behind a screen. I like the road trip aspect about it.”

Car he learned to drive in

Hayes grew up in south Louisiana, where he was eager to learn to drive in his dad’s 2001 Chevrolet Suburban. “I kind of bugged mom and dad,” he says. “Mom was a driver’s ed instructor when I was younger, so that helped. It was great, and also a bit obsessive sometimes.”

When he got his permit, he mostly drove with him mom because they would drive to school together, and she would let him drive. “She taught at my school for one year,” he says. “She taught PE and health at a couple different schools, and she taught at my school for one year. We would trade off that year I got a permit, so it worked out great.”

Hayes also got his permit at around the same time he started making frequent trips to Nashville from his home in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was about a 10-hour drive. “So if there was mom and dad and I, we were trading off driving,” he says. “So I got a lot of experience on the interstate, and when I turned 16, we actually moved to Nashville. So during that year, having gone from my permit to my license, I made my first trip back home by myself because I was still commuting.”

The Suburban was then given to Hayes when he moved to Nashville as a junior in high school after getting a music publishing deal. “When we first started renting a house here and I started writing and doing my thing here, the Suburban was that car that got me here,” he says.

Hayes had it for five months before trading it in for a slightly newer Yukon XL, which he thought was the coolest thing in the world because it had a six-CD changer and auxiliary input.

First car bought

A 2012 Range Rover Evoque is shown here.

“The first car I bought after seeing success was a 2012 Range Rover Evoque, and I loved that thing,” Hayes says. “That thing was so epic because it was everything I loved—it was sporty, roomy, spacious enough for me to carry everything. When I got my dog I needed something a little bigger, had an LR4, loved it, but I think I was just in an artistic phase. I really wanted something old and with character, something really interesting.”

His debut record had come out, and he’d been touring for a year and a half when he bought the Range Rover. “We were into the second single, we had gone from one bus to two tour buses. Life was good,” Hayes says. “We had a lot of people on the team at that point. I rented my first place on my own and bought my first car with my own money at the same time, and it was a massive head trip. It was like, ‘What is the world right now?’”

Hayes wanted an SUV that was also sporty, and he had his eye on the Evoque because he liked Range Rovers. “I liked a lot of their stuff in the past, and this one really caught my eye because it was really unique,” he says. “I had a feeling when they came out with the two- and four-door, that there wouldn’t be as many two-doors on the road. I was right … I had only seen one or two two-doors in town and to me the two-doors looked way cooler than the four doors. So that’s what I got.”

He didn’t mind buying a used Evoque. “I’ve never bought a new car,” he says. “I always buy it used with a little bit of mileage on it.”

He just had to upgrade when he got his dog. “It wasn’t enough room for my dog, so I bought a used LR4,” he says. “I think they’re really freaking cool. I wanted more room for sure and at the time I was renting a house way out of town, about an hour’s drive, and I wanted something that super comfortable to drive long distances because I would do it on a daily basis. It was awesome. I loved it.”

But when Hayes moved back into town, it was time to buy what ended up being his current daily driver. “It made more sense—maybe this was the era to do something older that might need a lot of work all the time,” he says. “Where my studio is now, most of the driving that I do is from the studio to my apartment, only just over a mile, so I thought maybe this is the chapter where I try the thing that I’ve always been curious about where I get an older SUV and start saving up for maybe a little sporty car. I love this thing. It’s awesome. I think the LR4 was a 2014, so it was either keep that or try the older car with a little bit of character.”

Favorite road trip

Hayes recently took his first trip to Hawaii and made sure he had a day before and after his show to enjoy the island with his girlfriend.

“When I’m on vacation, my favorite thing to do the first day is to get in a car and literally explore—look at a map, get your bearing, and then just hit the road because when you’re not looking at the map, when you’re not focused on where you think you’re going, you discover all kinds of cool places,” Hayes says. “You discover cool little towns along the way to somewhere else, so I did that in Hawaii. I rented a car, and I looked at the map. Some people told us kind of where to go ,and I was like, ‘This looks like the kind of thing that we just need to take a big circle and take our time and have fun.’”

With no destination in mind, and deliberately not having done much research, Hayes was on the west side of the island and started driving the circumference around it. The road trip became one of the best days he’s ever had.

“We started out having lunch by the water. It was beautiful—palm trees, the quintessential beach thing, then we drove through this giant lava field, then we drove through what felt like the rain foresty vibe that was super tropical, lots of trees,” he says. “We stopped off at a coffee plantation—I’m a big coffee fanatic. That was a really cool experience. We had a 3,000-foot, up-in-the-air view of the ocean and the coastline at the coffee plantation while having a shot of espresso. It was incredible.”

As they came around to the other side of the island, the climate completely changed. “Every 30 miles the scenery, and the climate changes drastically,” he says. “It’s pretty phenomenal, and we saw a totally different kind of coastline and then we had dinner by the volcano and watched the lava come through the sky as the sun set. It was miraculous.”

The road trip came at a good time in what’s become a busy life for Hayes. “I remember I really needed a break, and I’m not one to take a break when I’m working,” he says. “I just like to keep going, and I think that was a huge blessing to me and it was good for my soul just to experience things without any expectations because we didn’t have any. We didn’t know where we were going or what we were going to do, and it was one of the best days I’ve ever had. Just driving around the island. It was awesome. I knew as long as we stayed on that one road, it would peel off at one point, but that as long as we stayed on that one road, we’d be where we wanted to be.”

Hayes has also been making an effort this year not to look at his phone as much, so the road trip was just a wonderful by-product of being present when driving and exploring.

“I think for me at least, it’s become a habit,” he says. “I love looking at Instagram, I love reading the news, I look at my news app once a day, but I also find myself looking at it when I should be focused on where I am. How many times are we among friends and are uncomfortable or quiet, and so we get on our phones? And to me, on a road trip especially, I don’t want to miss experiencing something that I’ve never experienced before.”

For example, he says they didn’t know the coffee plantation existed. “My buddy told us, ‘Hey, look out for some coffee plantations,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that looks like,’” he says. “We were craving coffee. We saw a sign for this very familiar looking coffee brand, and we turned off and it was a coffee plantation. We had this gorgeous view of the ocean, had an incredible cup of coffee and just sat there just pondering life. It was awesome. And stuff like that doesn’t happen when you’re following a GPS.”

New single “Yesterday’s Song”

Photo: Robby Klein

Although his new album isn’t out yet, the first single released is “Yesterday’s Song.” “It’s funny because the (Mercedes) G kind of ties in for me,” Hayes says. “Talking about the decision to dive into a character car that would need a little bit of work, that would be a little but more energy spent, but something with a story, very much reflects this record and where my heart’s been to make this project. We’re getting closer to the finish line of this thing, we’re not quite there yet, and I’m really stoked that I can see the thing taking shape.”

Around the time he got the G500 for his birthday, Hayes also decided to release the first three songs from the new album: “Yesterday’s Song,” “Amen,” and “Young Blood.”

“I felt like it was time,” he says. “I felt like it was time for me to feel the freedom of this music. I’ve been working on this record for three years. It’s been a very long and very heartfelt process.”

Hayes always has a certain image in his mind when he hears “Yesterday’s Song,” but he hopes fans enjoy it for what it means to them when they hear it.

Photo: Robby Klein

“‘Yesterday’s Song’ is the first single for a lot of reasons,” he says. “It’s a break up song. It’s not what a lot of people expect from me at this moment because I’m very happily in a relationship. But it’s for those times that I have been through that and it’s also about moving on, it’s about leaving some things behind. Every time I hear the chorus, I picture a convertible 1965 Cobra on a desert road, just flying down the road because that’s one of my dream cars, and that’s just a feeling that this song has for me, is a feeling of freedom from whatever it may be. Maybe it’s a relationship, maybe somebody hears it and it’s more of like, ‘I hated my last year, I want to move on.’ Whatever you need it to be, let it be that.”

For more information and his upcoming tour dates starting in June, please visit www.hunterhayes.com.


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