With a honey-smooth voice and a gently edgy songwriting approach, country singer Walker Hayes works to the Keith Urban side of things, where pop and country merge with a dose of rock attitude, reflecting the 21st century version of commercial country. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Hayes grew up in a large blended family and learned to play piano early. While he was a regular participant in choirs, choral groups, and musical theater, most of his attention went to sports, primarily basketball and track. Eventually music went from being Hayes' fallback plan to his main interest, and he earned a music degree with an emphasis on piano at Alabama’s Birmingham-Southern College before moving on to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hayes moved with his wife to Nashville in 2004, and even though he'd only written a couple of songs, he began to study the craft, and within a year he had a publishing deal. When a demo intended for Keith Urban that featured Hayes' assured vocals crossed the desks at Capitol Records Nashville, the label staff was much impressed, and Hayes was signed almost immediately. Paired with producer Marshall Altman, Hayes began recording a debut album, and his first single, "Pants," was released in 2010. The single fared reasonably well, edging into the country singles charts, but the album, Reason to Rhyme, didn't appear until 2013. Hayes was at odds with the label, and Capitol released him from his contract. After signing a new publishing deal, Hayes set up a small songwriting studio he called "the shack," and began experimenting with songs that incorporated elements of hip-hop, pop, and R&B. One of Hayes' efforts, "Pimpin' Joy," was released as a digital single and became a viral success. In early 2016, Hayes put together eight of his demos from the shack, and released them as a free digital EP he titled 8Tracks, Vol. One: Good Shit. Posted to music streaming services, the simplicity and easy going attitude of the music won Hayes a new following, and he planned to release a second 8Tracks volume later in 2016. ~ Steve Leggett
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