Walker Hayes: ‘Talking About My Addiction Is Therapeutic’
Walker Hayes wears scars like they're badges of honor. He talks about his faults like someone else would brag about their kids. He'll sing about having his van repossessed or being an alcoholic like another singer would croon about a winning over a pretty girl.
Poetically, rhythmically, matter-of-factly Hayes brings fans so close to the truth that he needed to double check with his wife Laney to make sure she was comfortable with the level of voyeurism on his just-released Boom album, an album made possible by the progressive strides of artists like Sam Hunt. On "Halloween," a duet with songwriter Nicolle Galyon, he's just telling his great love story. With "Craig" he's saying thank you. On "Beer in the Fridge" he's shedding the shame that often comes with admitting and accepting an addiction.
"Talking about my addiction to alcohol is therapeutic. Most definitely telling everyone about it is as well," Hayes says early on in an interview to talk about this dynamic new album. "Singing those songs and hearing them, being reminded of what I was like and what I’m like now is definitely therapeutic."
The truth is, Hayes isn't far removed from it all. He last had a sip of alcohol two years ago, telling the Tennessean that he just woke up one day and decided to leave that last beer in his fridge there. The 37-year-old hasn't participated in any formal treatment program, though, and temptation is always nearby.
Some days staying sober is easy, he says. "And then there are times where I really do struggle," he tells Taste of Country. "Where I go ‘Would anyone even know if this water bottle is full of vodka?' I’m ashamed to say I thought that. But I am two years sober. I have nightmares sometimes that somebody switches a drink and I accidentally drink and I’m furious about it. I wake up and realize that I didn’t screw up and go backwards but it is a daily battle."
This isn't a lifestyle problem. Turning down drinks and staying sober in social situations isn't difficult for Hayes — he can still party with a bottle of water in his hands, but there's an overall restlessness he hasn't found a cure for.
"My difficulty is just alone in a hotel where the loneliness and the quiet just won’t shut up," he says. "That’s where it’s dangerous to me. My wife is so sweet ... she probably gets tired of me calling her with nothing to say, but she’s always there for me."
Hayes quit for himself, but he keeps the pledge because he wants to be a good example to his six children (a seventh is due in 2018). A particularly poignant moment on Boom. is when "Beer in the Fridge" (about his addiction) gives way to the pop-friendly, melodic "Beckett," a song about wanting to be more like a 4-year-old. His son is the song's namesake, and he adds an audio sample that pours innocence all over a moment that is warm, but dark when you've just experienced vulnerability served so raw it's still twitching.
“I want them to learn from my mistakes so bad that I can’t stand it," Hayes says of his kids, three boys and three girls 11 and under. "I don’t know how to deal with the pain of watching a son or daughter of mine experience some of the things I have when it comes to addiction."
One great personal battle is usually enough make great art, but Hayes also includes two songs about losing a record deal, publishing deal and the inability to get a phone call returned in Nashville. "You Broke Up With Me" tells that story as if it was a romantic relationship.
"Craig" is a show of gratitude to a man who picked him up when he was at his lowest. The family minivan had just been repossessed and Hayes and his wife had one car with only five seat belts for all seven of them. Craig (a friend from church) gave him a minivan because someone had done it for him once. Not long ago he shared "Craig" with Craig.
“He tells the story of him hearing it, as he was having a couple of bad weeks and was really down and dark," Hayes says. "I just sent it to him,out of the blue. I sent it to him and his wife and just said ‘Thanks. I always wanted to just say thanks.’ It crushed him. He listened to it in the parking lot of a theater and his wife texted me and said ‘He heard it, he can’t speak. He can’t text you right now.’ I think he was just losing it crying."
A Top 20 hit doesn't heal all wounds, and neither does a prime opening slot on tours like the one with Kelsea Ballerini he'll be a part of starting in February. Hayes is a man still standing on loose ground, and he seems to be aware of it. Exercise and songwriting are his new vices, but there are still times when he's tempted ... when he's restless.
"I read the greatest quote the other day, by Jim Carrey," Hayes says. "He said 'I hope everybody can get rich and famous and realize that it's not the answer.' And that's what I'm experiencing now, which also tempts me to drink. Just dealing with that emptiness that still exists. When you get everything you ever wanted, there's still this restlessness."
Watch Walker Hayes Talk About "Craig"