Hunter Hayes Traces the Evolution of 7 Songs Over 3 Discs in “The 21 Project”

Ray Burmiston/Warner Music Nashville

In the beginning, Hunter Hayes released the seven songs on The 21 Project digitally, unveiling one every two weeks this summer. But when it came time to put together a physical CD for stores, he knew he was restless to do more. 

“I wanted something bigger and more celebratory than an EP. So I said, ‘Let’s find a way to do different versions of all the songs. Let’s let this record be 3 records. Let’s let it be a live record.’ ‘Cause I got real excited about the thought about doing a live record or let’s let it be an acoustic record, cause I love the thought of going in with a band and just like figuring it out. We all got on non-primary instruments and forced ourselves to be creative, and I love that so much.”

That’s where the idea was born to release a 3-disc set that would trace the songs on their journey from their acoustic births to studio versions to the live incarnations Hunter would play on tour.

“There’s very little editing going on at all, over all the acoustic stuff. All the acoustic stuff was rehearsed and then performed all together in a room, which was new for me and kind of uncomfortable, but I liked it. So there’s things like that that kinda came through that I really like,” he says.

Hunter says he’s been energized by the fact that the songs have kept evolving even after The 21 Project was finished.

“There’s parts of the acoustic versions that we’ve now translated with the studio version to make our new live versions for the 21 Tour. So there’s this continuous, absolutely ridiculous circle that’s going on and I love it.”

One of the tracks is a collaboration with Lady Antebellum that came together on the road.

“We tried to write a couple things, but ‘Where It All Begins’ was what we all kinda really resonated with, so that happened quickly, which is the story a lot of times I feel like,” he observes. “You try to write something else and the one you end up writing in like an hour is the one that you end up wanting to play and wanting to sing.”

“I love them dearly, absolutely love them,” he goes on. “They’re great people. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to be on the road with them. It felt like a collaborative tour, not like, ‘Okay you’re the opener, go finish your show and get off the stage.’ It felt very collaborative and I’m so appreciative of that. I wish I could put that into words. It meant a lot to me.” 

This Saturday, Hunter takes the 21 Tour to the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The 21 Project, which includes his current hit, “21,” is in stores now.

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