Following Music Row Rejection, Walker Hayes Created A DIY Studio


Many decades ago, producer and songwriter Shane McAnally fulfilled Walker Hayes, a country singer from Alabama who was struggling to discover a hit while signed to Capitol Records Nashville.

“He had a song or two who hadn’t worked and they were like, ‘We just need a hit,'” said McAnally, who’d composed No. 1 tunes with Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney. “There’s nothing organic or fair about telling somebody which you need a hit.”

Hayes, who had a wife and six kids, left Capitol after his album fizzled without a radio success and also chose a side job at Costco to pay the bills. He kept returning to some 160-square-foot storage shed behind his publisher’s Music Row office, in which he put up a DIY studio with a classic version of Pro Tools, a keyboard and a guitar.

“You end up writing the facts, since it is like, ‘ I ai not writing for anyone but myself anyway,'” said Hayes, 37, as he sat in the storage shed called The Shack. “The delivery, the style, the beats, and I’m am going to make it all. I couldn’t employ a ring. So I was making a lot of the stuff within this shack. Beating on the table, shaking that shaker, whistling. And actually just having fun making music I simply loved it.”

Hayes went back into McAnally two decades back with a lot of new tunes which were conversational, highly private and sung like an Ed Sheeran track. McAnally said no other country artist felt comfortable playing Hayes’ tunes, which immediately raised a flag in his head.

“What I am always drawn to is an artist who has tunes that nobody else could do,” McAnally said.

Currently Hayes has been signed to Monument Records, a historic country tag dating back into the ’50s which was relaunched by Sony this season and headed by McAnally and Jason Owen. His first single, “You Broke Up with Me,” has pushed into the Top 15 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, fueled by powerful digital song sales. His newest album “boom.” Premiered Dec. 8.

The single is not too much different from the demo version he left from The Shack, finish with his co-writers chattering to each other in the background as he listed a guitar riff along with beatboxed the rhythm.

Hayes doesn’t compose with much bravado, preferring the humor and striking honesty of a dad of six kids with another baby on the way. He sings about shooting his children to shop at the dollar store and the time that a guy from his church gave his household a minivan. He writes about quitting drinking but maintaining that one last beer bottle in the refrigerator.

Country artists such as Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett have opened up the door to Hayes, who finds more inspiration in loops and beats compared to twangy guitars.

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“Growing up all I cared about in a song, before I actually listened to lyrics, ” was the beat,” Hayes said. “I did not need a pickup with sand tires. I wanted an old blazer together with as many speakers in the back as I can afford. I’d even steal them out of my brother’s car and package them. I recall sitting in a parking lot and then turning my radio up and walking down the road to observe just how far you could feel it.”