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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Talkin’ with Walker Hayes

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Notre Dame freshman, Lilian Jochmann, talks with country music star Walker Hayes about the wild success of his crossover sensation "Fancy Like," life on the road with his wife and six kids and his upcoming concert at Notre Dame on Apr. 15. 

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Lilian: I wanted to start off by reading you a list, really quick. Garth Brooks: 2018. Tim McGraw: 2019. One Republic: 2020. Garth again in 2022 and Billy Joel. Those are all people that have played Notre Dame in the last five years, so you are keeping company with the best of them. But, if I read right, you were working at Costco five or six years ago trying to make ends meet. Just tell me what the last few years have been like for you?

Walker: [T]hey’ve been pretty surreal. It's wild.You know those names you listed off. That's insane. That is some good company. But yeah, I mean my family and I, we’ve been through a lot.[T]his moment we're having.We didn't predict it. We could have never imagined this would happen to us. We still kind of have whiplash, you know. I mean, that is a long way to go from stocking produce at Costco toplaying in places like Notre Dame. I'm grateful for the work. I'm grateful for the way I provide for my kids and my wife. I'm justhumbled and grateful that I get toget up and write another song, you know, every day, and I have fansto share it with, and it's just pretty amazing.

Lilian: I saw in an article that you compared your story to Rudy. And obviously we're at Notre Dame, so it’s something that I'm sure everybody knows. What did you mean by that?

Walker: What I love about Rudy, it's unique in that he wasn't some superstar. Basically what shined at the end of of the movie to me was his perseverance, his resilience, his attitude, you know, through it all, and just the gratitude for getting to step on that field one time. If you take that one tackle he makes, when you weigh that against everything he's been through. Would it be worth it? No. But it's really the lessons his life taught us. And so to me you know that one tackle would equate that to my song 'Fancy Like.' I was in this industry 17 years with nothing to show for it. And then, all of a sudden, I got to step on the field. And like Rudy — and I’m not ashamed to admit this — Rudy wasn't the most talented guy on the field. He wasn't the most naturally gifted person on the field. He was just all heart and I think that's me, you know. I think Nashville has no shortage of talent. I mean there's so many people in Nashville that are virtuosos. They are just incredibly talented people and here I am — a mediocre songwriter; mediocre singer. But I just love it. I mean, I wake up every day just dying to do this again, and that, you know, sometimes that'll get you places. And so yeah, I love — I’ve always loved that movie.

Lilian: Most of my friends know you from 'Fancy Like.' It was a huge hit, like #1 on the Country Music Chart and #3 on Billboard’s Top 100. When you cut that song, did you have any sense that it was different?

Walker: Not really. Lilian, I wish I could have said I knew. There was a show we had — our first show coming out of Covid — and I remember standing on stage, just joking around, it was the first time we played 'Fancy Like' live and I said, 'Hey, you guys, this song is gonna go quadruple platinum.' And it's hilarious that I said that because I didn't expect that at all. I was just being silly. If you ask people on my team, we had played that song for gatekeepers, [for] big wigs in the industry. We had asked a lot of people 'Hey, what do you think of this album? You know what's your favorite on it?' And nobody really gravitated towards that song. I knew I loved it. Honestly the size of 'Fancy;' no one really predicted what it was going to do. I think a lot of stars aligned with that song. I thinksome of the keyfactors are things outside of the music business. The fact that we were coming out of COVID, that the worlddidn't really want to take itself seriously for a moment, reallyset that song up for success. I think the basedrop in that song is absolutely just infectious. You eitherabsolutely can't be still, or you hate it. I think the word Applebeesjust resonates. I think every single person, especially in America, you hear that word, and you immediately go somewhere … there’s nostalgia involved. I thinkthe dance.You know that my daughter and I just quickly made up and didwithout really trying hard. I'll often watch that TikTok,and I can't describe it. It's just magic. 

Lilian: What do you want people to feel [at your shows]? What do you want them to come away with?

Walker: I want people to enjoy the music. I want them to listen to my lyrics and feel less alone. I want to feel like we're all on the same level and we’re all in the same place in life, and that I’m not just some star or celebrity — that I’m a real human, and I go through stuff just like them. And you know I just I hope we provide some sort of just positive spiritual escape for everybody that shows up at a show. The last thing I would want is for everybody to leave and imagine that I’m some unapproachable and intangible person that’s wealthier or more famous. I'm not that; I'm just a dad who happens to get up every day, and when I go to work, it's just in a writer's room. I want everybody in the stands, you know, no matter how far you are from me, just to feel like we're having a conversation. We just happen to be dancing a lot. Also, I mean first and foremost, you know Jesus has changed my life; that's my main goal — is just to spread as love and comfort to even people who don't necessarily think they want it.

Lilian: I want to talk about the real person thing, because last year you started touring with your family. So that's your wife, your six kids, your two dogs. So, it doesn't get much more real than that. Tell me what that has been like for you guys, how are you set up?

Walker: Yeah, I mean it's constant chaos. Lilian, there is literally never a dull moment. I know that's a cliche that people say, but in our life, it is never dull. My wife homeschools our kids. We [each] have our own bunk where we sleep. The dogs join a different person each night. We actually have three dogs now, and our bus is actually quite spacious, but we fill it up really fast every Wednesday night when it picks us up. There's a laundry basket full of books my kids use for school. Underneath the bus we packed scooters, skateboards, basketballs, footballs, whiffle ball bat, about anything we can do in the parking garage beneath the arena, or on the field at the festival or wherever we're playing. You know I can walk on stage from a game of Jenga. We can be backstage going at it, playing a game of Jenga, playing a game of Phase 10, watching a football game, and I can literally go step into a huddle, pray with my team and then walk on stage. And then, as soon as the show ends, we can go and pick up where we left off. It's a special atmosphere for me. I'm just so grateful. My kids, they've sacrificed a lot to join me on the road, and so they make it easy for me to be a present father, because I don't ever have to say bye to them. And then, I haven't even gotten to my wife. I mean she’s the best. We are making memories that all of us will share together for a lifetime. I mean, we get to be together more than any family I know. I can only hope that that's going to be beneficial for my kids down the road, hopefully that'll strengthen their own families. It truly is the season of all seasons for us. We are having so much fun traveling the world and to look at each other in the face after we've all done the 'Fancy Like' dance in front of 10,000. You know people going crazy. I mean it's pretty indescribable. 

Lilian: As a married guy with six kids, do you have any words of wisdom to the college guys out there with Valentine's Day coming up?

Walker: Oh, shoot! You know my wife, she’s an easy date. Her love language is not chocolates and lavish gifts. But if that is your significant others’ love language, then do it right. But, you know, I always just tell my kids that I I truly hope that they — Lord willing — they all get married, and I just hope they marry their best friend. That’s who I married. I mean my favorite conversation is with Laney; my favorite time in silence is with Laney. The first person I want to sing my newest song to is Laney. And so, if the person you're with right now isn't that, then go ahead and sever those ties before Valentine's Day. It'll be cheaper.