Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting to Know Amber Hayes

This small town girl from Weleetka, Oklahoma, is currently making inroads on the country charts with her debut single "C'mon" - a fun and upbeat two-stepper in which she invites country radio listeners to get up and dance.  Her EP of the same title was released on August 31, and is available on iTunes.  I recently had a chance to interview this talented young woman, and learn more about the artist behind those great tunes.

Ben:  I understand you've been singing since you were very young.  Would you like to describe some of your early experiences in singing?

Amber:  Sure!  I started singing when I was five.  My grandma took me to dance lessons.  I kind of figured out that I more of a singer than I was dancer, so I just started singing.  Doing like some singing and dancing numbers, you know together.  Stuff like "Rocky Top."  I was performing at the fairs and festivals in Oklahoma around where I'm from, and Oprys and different stuff like that.  So that's kind of probably where I first started was actually you know with the fairs and the festivals.  I also did some pagaents, so I was doing some singing at that stuff too.  But mainly just the fairs and festivals.

Ben:  At what point was it that you decided you wanted to make a career out of music?

Amber:  I think that was something very early on that I think was just in me - that I knew that I was always gonna be doing this.  That this was something I was going to be doing when I was older, and that it was gonna be a career for me.  When I was even in school (grade school, junior high, high school), I just never really wanted to go to school.  I always wanted to be off singin' somewhere, so it was just always in me, I think.

Ben:  What artists do you think have influenced your sound and style the most?

Amber:  I have three that I always go to, and that's Barbara Mandrell - I grew up listening to her, jumping on the bed, and singin' "Sleeping Single In a Double Bed" - Reba, you know, being from Oklahoma - It was cool to see such a small town girl from Oklahoma be able to reach such big dreams, the same kind of dreams that you want, so she was a big influence - and Dolly, of course.  I'm a songwriter, and I just think she's amazing, of course, everything that she's done.  So those are probably my top three.  I love Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood as vocalists as well.

Ben:  Those are some of my favorites.  So I understand that one who's had a lot of positive things to say about you and your singing is Jeannie Seely.

Amber:  Yeah!

Ben:  So how does it feel having that stamp of approval from Miss Country Soul?

Amber:  Oh man, she's amazing!  I've had the opportunity to be able to work with her several times.  It means a lot to me.  I've learned a lot from her as a performer.  She always, when she walks onstage, has 'em right there in her hand.  She is just so great, and I love what she's done for country music.  I think it's so cool that she's in her sixties, and she's up there singin' on the Grand Ole Opry every weekend.  I wish I could do that when I get to be her age.

Ben:  I understand that in addition to being a recording artist, you also have experience as a theater performer.  Would you like to tell about your experience playing Kathy Twitty in The Conway Twitty Musical?

Amber:  Sure, yeah, you know that was a big deal for me, and it was actually kind of like what took my career to the next level.  I tried out for The Conway Twitty Musical to be Kathy or Joni Twitty in the musical.  I just got an e-mail, and one of my friends said "You should go and try this out, you know, because you love theater, and it's country music."  I love the traditional country music, and Conway - he's amazing.  So just to be a part of that was so awesome, and it was a great learning experience for me.  Theater is totally different than just going out and doing a regular show every night.  It's something that is very structured, and it's just, you know, a different level of performance.  The acting part of it was something that I was able to really work on and it taught me a lot.  So it was amazing.  We got to tour with George Jones, and you know, the Twitty family was involved, and I got to meet them, and I went to Twitty City, and got to hear great stories about Conway and his legacy.  It was really just something very special to be a part of.

Ben:  Do you feel like your experience in stage musicals has brought anything to your live shows?

Amber:  Definitely!  When you're doing acting, acting is just basically like singing.  You're telling a story, and even though you're not singing it, you're talking in your expressions and everything, and I definitely think it's brought more of a story feel to my songs, and even if it's a ballad that maybe just about love and emotions, I think there's something that you can take from the theater part of it to make it better.  As a performer, it really did help me grow.

Ben:  Do you see yourself returning to the theater anytime in the future?

Amber:  I would love to.  I'm really focused right now on my career, as far as my country music career, but you know it's something that I definitely love and hope that at some point I can go back and do.

Ben:  So how's the album coming along?

Amber:  It's going great!  Things are awesome.  We just got finished doing a 70-station radio tour, and 15 states, and we're really excited.  The single "C'mon" is at #44 Music Row, and so that's an achievement for us, and we're just moving foward.  The EP came out August 31, and it's called C'mon.  We got to debut that on WSM and that was a big honor for me, because like I said, I love traditional country music, and to be involved with them, and for them to want to be involved in the release was pretty awesome, so things are going really really well.

Ben:  I've noticed that your sound has a lot more traditional country flavor to it than a lot of the music that we hear on country radio nowadays.  Do you consider yourself a traditionalist?

Amber:  I definitely think that what I like to sing about, my lyrics, are more traditional.  My sound's a little bit more traditional, but I think I have a new version of traditional.  I wouldn't say I'm a traditionalist, but I definitely lean more to the traditional side.

Ben:  Kind of like a progressive traditionalist?

Amber:  There you go.  That's great.

Ben:  So would you like to tell about what kinds of songs you have on your album?

Amber:  Sure!  You know, I was just saying that most of them, the lyrics are very country.  I grew up in a small town, and I think a lot of my lyrics come from that.  A lot of the values and the morals and the stories that are on the EP definitely come from being from a small town.  Songs like "Right As Rain" and "Home" - those are both songs that I think definitely came from calling my mom or calling my grandma and finding out what's going on in my small town.  Then also, you know, "Right As Rain" talks about cellars and talks about, you know, faith a lot, and those are things that are important to me, 'cause I grew up in Oklahoma where we had a lot of tornadoes, and spent a lot of time in cellars.  So I think I've brough a lot of Oklahoma into my music, and definitely my influences - people like Reba.  I think the song "Wait" on the EP definitely has a Reba type of feel to it, and with my own little twist of how it should be, you know - who I am.  So I think that kind of sums up what the album is, and then of course "C'mon" is very fun and very Juddsy-like.  I love the acoustic feel that they bring to their music, and that's kind of where I was going with that, so you know, it's a fun party "Girls' Night Out" type song, so it was a fun one to do live.

Ben:  Yeah, kind of like "Turn it Loose" or one of those Judds kind of songs.

Amber:  Yeah!  Or "Girls' Night Out."

Ben:  Are there any songs in particular that you enjoyed writing most, that you're most proud of, or closest to?

Amber:  You know, I think "Home" probably is my favorite off of the EP just because anytime you start talking about home, it gets very personal.  Being from a small town and moving to Nashville, it was really hard for me to be away from my family because all my family lives there.  I think it's very real of who I am, and that my family is very important to me, and that home means a lot to me, and I hope that one day I can go back and give back to my community.  Most of the small towns in America right now, they're suffering, so I'd love to get to a point where I can go back and give back and help, so I think that "Home" probably is the one I'm really proud of.

Ben:  Is there anything else you'd like to tell about your single "C'mon"?

Amber:  I wrote "C'mon" with a couple of my friends.  We were on a writer's retreat.  Like I said, I love the Judds, so we were kind of looking for that kind of feel for the song.  We were actually going to the beach, and we weren't gonna write that day, but I was like 'Hey, you know, let's write!  We might as well on the way,' and that just kind of came to us.  I think "C'mon" is just very different than what you're hearing on the radio right now, I feel like, and I think it's real fun and fresh.  I think almost everybody, girl or guy, can relate to just wanting to lay back and have a good time.  So that's kind of what "C'mon" is about, I think.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about how you go about writing your songs?

Amber:  Sure, you know, I don't play during my live show.  I play a little bit of piano.  Most of the time, if I come up with a melody that's in my head, or I'm singin' it as I'm walking through my house or something like that, and then I go with the melody idea sometimes.  But mainly I go with a lyric idea or a hook or an idea of how I kind of want it to go.  I go have a co-write, and then they bring in something that's different, so that's kind of how I write.  A lot of times I just go, and we don't have an idea at all, and we just sit there and talk and find something to write about, you know, just something that we're talking about, coffee or whatever.  I don't really think that I have a set way each time, but you know, I'm open to everybody's opinion when we come in and do a co-write.

Ben:  One kind of random question that I wanted to ask is who would be your dream duet partner?

Amber:  Oh, that's a good one.  Gosh! 

Ben:  Living or dead.

Amber:  Living or dead?  Guy or girl - does it matter?

Ben:  Either one, or both.

Amber:  Girl probably would be Dolly or Reba.  Those would be my top ones.  I think it would be very cool to do a duet with Reba, being from Oklahoma - two Oklahoma girls.  But Dolly, I mean, shoot, who wouldn't wanna do a duet with her?  As far as guys go, gosh it would be awesome to go back to somebody that's not alive.  It'd be Conway, you know, I'd love to do something with him.  He has that whole sexy thing to him, and like the whole Loretta and Conway thing.  Wouldn't that be cool?

Ben:  Oh yeah.

Amber:  But you know, I think Luke Bryan would be somebody I'd want to do something with that's very current right now.

Ben:  Yeah, he's a good one.  So, one last question:  Do you have any goals that you're working towards in your career?

Amber:  You know, I'm taking it one day at a time.  Just working hard every day, and putting one foot in front of the other.  My biggest goal is to sing on the Grand Ole Opry.  That's something that I want to do.  I think that's something that my whole team knows, and is working towards.  And then of course just any way to take it to the next level as far as a tour.  I would love to be on a big tour with Brad Paisley or Luke Bryan.  That'd be amazing, so I think those are the next steps, and just to be able to go out and capitalize on what we've done and how hard we've all worked with this single, and to be able just to take it and do a bunch of live shows.  It'd be amazing.