Bryan Hayes








Bryan Hayes
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Bryan Hayes crafts personal narratives with a novelist's eye (“Soundtrack”) and an alchemist's precision (“Mississippi”). Proof: The Memphis area resident’s seamless Still Just a Man....10 Years Later. Hayes' recently re-recorded debut album spotlights a youthful songwriter in early peak form (“You Ain't Goin' Nowhere”). “Ten years is a big milestone for me, an independent songwriter and traveling musician,” Hayes explains. “We felt like going back in and revisiting some of those songs was a way to say thanks to the folks who have been with us this entire time.”

 

Hayes frequently delivers keen insight with earthy elegance. “Buying that first compact disc/then some beer, your first kiss/Someone showed you something new/For me it was 'Tangled Up in Blue,'” he sings on the buoyant opener “Soundtrack.” “And the way the music changed your life/lyrics opened up your eyes/Music was your remedy/It'd lift you up and it'd set you free/So play.” The song effectively serves as a blueprint for the Memphis songwriter's career: Free your mind. Loose inspiration within. Let music speak.

 

“'Soundtrack' was one of the first songs I ever wrote,” Hayes explains. “The song's an ode to music and I can vividly remember working on it. It's really a personal reflection on what an important aspect music was and is in our lives. Every memorable chapter in our lives seems marked by a song and hearing one of those songs magically takes us back to that time and place. I guess it was those emotions that inspired that song. Heck, to this day every time I hear an Eagles song I flashback to high school and riding country roads in Brownsville, Tennessee. Music is a beautiful, powerful thing.”

 

Folks notice this. “Bryan is a great performer and entertainer, and the depth of his writing is inspiring,” says Joe Leathers, who co-wrote “Hemingway's Whiskey” with Guy Clark. “Bryan can consistently paint the picture rather than just tell the story, which as a songwriter is sometimes the most difficult thing to do.” Bill Ellis of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal succinctly echoes the sentiment: “Loaded with plenty of folk-rock charm, (Hayes is) a country cousin to Tom Petty.”

 

Still Just a Man....10 Years Later celebrates his journey. “Ten years ago I was a singer-songwriter in Memphis doing the open mic thing,” Hayes explains. “That was the kick-off for my musical career. The fact that we're still growing and reaching out farther and selling more CDs than we ever have is big. Some of these songs have evolved and some have stayed about the same but all are still a vital part of our live shows today. I've been exposed to a lot more music in the past 10 years and I've gotten to open for some of the icons who were the reasons I started playing music in the first place. That's made me work harder.”

 

So did a side trip Hayes downplays in conversation: Fighting in the war in Iraq. Naturally, that mission pushed his songwriting toward the back burner. “There was a two-year window in 2009 and 2010 when I was deployed to Iraq and I had to put the guitar in the closet,” he says. “I was either at Fort Benning Georgia training or in Iraq. As the military tour started winding down, I picked up the guitar again in Mosul, Iraq and started writing again and reconnecting with music and how much I love and missed songwriting.”

 

You'll notice exponential growth. “When I came back, we were even more committed to writing and recording,” Hayes says. “That was something that helped me grow as a songwriter. I've been exposed to whole other cultures and life outside small town Tennessee. You don't go into a war zone in another country and not come back seeing with different eyes. I think my songwriting's more mature and I touch on political topics that I might not have as a young songwriter. I think the lyrics are deeper.”

 

Accordingly, Hayes looked toward songwriters like Guy Clark and John Prine for insight and inspiration when entering the studio for Still Just a Man...10 Years Later, effectively modeling the recording process after the 2012 Americana Album of the Year This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. “That record changed my life,” he says. “The way those songs were presented was just so intimate. It sounded like you were in the room with those guys. Guy's ability to be brutally honest is what I take away. He gets right to the point. There's no fluff, no smoke and mirrors. Everything from the music to the lyrics to the production needs to be there. The first time you hear 'Stuff That Works,' you shake your head and smile and go, 'That's it. That's all it needs.' You instantly relate.”

 

Still Just a Man...10 Years Later marks a reflective moment in a career built from the ground up. Hayes' debut Just a Man (2004) earned a loyal following in the Mid-South and boosted his touring schedule as well as earning two “Best Of” Memphis Songwriter Awards. His second album Long Hard Road (2006) took Hayes and his band The Retrievers to the regional level with independent Internet radio play over the Southeast. His Tangle Me Up In You EP (2013) grew his audience even farther and earned opening slots for Randy Houser, Turnpike Troubadours, Billy Joe Shaver and several others.

 

Hayes' songs have appeared on several compilation albums including the Memphis Songwriters Association's 2010 Members Only album (“Soldier's Prayer”) and Retriever Records 2012 compilation  B-Sides, Demos & Lies ("Woman (You're Amazing To Me)" and "Small Town Amazing Grace"). Additionally, Hayes appeared on Retriever Records' 2012 live album Live At Farmhouse Studio (“Long Hard Road,” “Texas in a Bottle”). In addition to writing and performing, Bryan is a producer and engineer at Farmhouse Recording Studio (www.farmhouserecordingstudio.com) in Moscow, TN.

 

He recently finished recording his forthcoming fourth studio album, a collection engineered and produced by Nashville-based Grammy winner Andy Hunt. The record, tentatively scheduled for a Spring 2015 release, will feature a dozen new songs. - Brian T. Atkinson

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