Singer-songwriter Walker Hayes is enjoying a renaissance of sorts thanks to the release of his hit single Fancy Like. The song is sweeping the airwaves and overtaking TikTok after Hayes’ daughter Lela coordinated a Fancy Like dance for them to perform together on the popular app. Since then, the song has reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and skyrocketed to number one on the Hot Country Songs chart, and it’s even responsible for Applebee’s bringing back their famous Oreo shake.
Hayes is taking the attention in stride. He’s been in the music business since 2004 when he got a job writing songs in Nashville for other country artists. It’s this passion for songwriting that ultimately propelled his career forward—when I ask Hayes about his unconventional path to stardom, he says that while he enjoys being a singer, writing is his true passion. Second, of course, to his family. The Mobile, Alabama native frequently posts about his adorable family, including his wife Laney and their six children, to his social media accounts. They are his biggest fans, his self-described barometers for whether his music is any good, and the heart and soul of everything he does.
House of Solo Magazine’s Sam Cohen asked Walker Hayes about the whirlwind of success he’s experienced with Fancy Like, how being a father has shaped his career, what it’s like to write his first book, and much more.
First of all, I wanted to say congratulations on all the success of Fancy Like! I was wondering if you could take me through the songwriting process of this because I know you’ve said previously that it was one of the fastest songwriting experiences you’ve had in your career. What was the initial inspiration that sort of sparked that songwriting session?
So, Fancy Like was probably one of the quickest songs I’ve ever written, for sure. It only took us about an hour to an hour and a half, something like that. We worked on the bridge via text that night just to kind of finish it out, but Fancy Like was really just a response to fans commenting on my Instagram about how normal my life was. You know, I think most people misunderstand…they think that all artists or songwriters live this lavish lifestyle, but no, we’re just simple, normal people. My family and I love to eat at Applebee’s, and that’s fancy to us, so that’s what we poured into the song Fancy Like. We had no idea what was going to happen with that song, that it would be this big, but honestly, my co-writers and I just told the truth and we could all agree that a fancy-like date night was at Applebee’s, Bourbon-street steak, all that good stuff, styrofoam cooler and everything like that. So, yeah. That’s the truth!
The song really blew up after you posted a video on TikTok of you dancing to it along with your daughter, which is something that has been really joyful to witness. How does she feel about the success of the song? Does she take credit for its growing popularity?
Lela and I love to do TikTok dances together. She’s definitely taking all the credit as far as the choreography is concerned for the Fancy Like dance, and I’ll give it to her, man. She’s a great dancer. Honestly, it’s my job when we’re making up dances on TikTok, we love to do that together, and it’s my job to make sure everybody can do the dance. Sometimes Lela does dances that are too…they’re out of my difficulty level and I’ve gotta bring her down sometimes, but Lela is having a blast watching this song blow up. And of course, she’s excited that our video obviously went viral, and honestly, it’s one of our favourite things to do together is to see other people put their spin on it and see all the different versions of the Fancy Like dance that exist. But she is, it’s funny, Lela is TikTok famous and she doesn’t even have a TikTok, so she’s loving it.
Your family is such an integral part of who you are, and you frequently feature them in social media posts, which I think is incredibly heartwarming and wonderful to see. How do you think being a father has influenced and shaped your music career?
You know, I think being a father has most definitely shaped my music career. When I’m creating I’m always thinking to myself, My kids are gonna hear this. You know, their dad is going to be associated with this product or this song or this video or this show. And so, I kind of stay wary of the fact that they’re watching and I try to be a good example, as best as I can, for them. But also, I trust my kids and their taste, so when I’m making music I want them to like it. I have the advantage of having some kids at home who serve as barometers and give me honest feedback on what I create, what they like, is it cool, is it not, is it boring? I definitely have their bar set and I try to raise it each time I create something and meet their expectations as an artist like, would they listen to this? So, that’s a good barometer for me. Honestly, just being a dad that’s first and foremost in terms of priorities of mine. I am a songwriter, I am an artist, but I’m a husband and a dad first. Those are my first loves.
I read that you first moved to Nashville with your wife in 2005 and that you wrote songs for a publishing company for about five years before your first single boom premiered in 2010. How did that period of working as a songwriter for other artists impact the way you approached your own music?
Yeah, my wife and I moved to Nashville actually in ‘04, in 2004, and I was just really working as a songwriter. That’s my true passion. My favorite thing is, as far as the creative process is concerned, I would write over perform any day. It’s just so exhilarating to have something to say and to put it down and complete that sentence and that song, there’s no rush that’s greater for me. I just love that process. So, working for other artists and trying to write for other artists, it was always a good exercise, a good workout, as far as trying to put something into words that anyone else could sing. And I’ve loved working with other artists—we learn tricks from each other and it’s kind of like playing hoops with somebody else, you kind of learn their moves and show them a thing or two and you walk away better players. That’s how it is working with other artists and writing with other writers. Oh my goodness, this town of Nashville is stocked full, just crawling with talented writers. And so, that’s one of my favourite things to do is just get in a room and whittle away at a song. But, you know, writing with so many other artists, the way it has changed my own music is that I see no limits. I love going into a room thinking, Hey, we’re going to walk out of here today with something that didn’t exist. Working as a songwriter for other artists and with other artists has definitely impacted my approach to my music in a great way.
Your musical journey wasn’t as linear as some other artists in your genre, and I was curious as to how you maintained your determination and resilience amidst these sorts of ebbs and flows of your career? What drove you to keep pursuing your dream and to not give up regardless of any roadblocks you may have encountered?
Yeah, my musical journey was not linear by any means! It was a crooked, just zig-zag of a path [laughs] to where we are now. And I think that’s just my spirit, my heart, who God designed me to be. I’m not going to follow a formula, you know? I’ve tried and I can’t. There’s no telling…it’s always an adventure with me. That’s one thing my wife appreciates, as do my kids. Tomorrow, who freaking knows what’s going to happen with my career, especially with my career, and as far as maintaining determination and resilience, I wish I could call it that. I wish I could tell everybody out there that I just hung on and I just persevered and I just grinded and I wasn’t affected by the mountains in my path or the speed bumps or whatever, but that’s not true. You know, I was affected by all the hardships, it just so happens that I wrote about them and I kept expressing myself through my art. And honestly, I never saw it…I wish I could say that I dreamed and I saw all these dreams coming true in the future, but I didn’t. I really just loved the chase. If I could advise anybody in my line of work or anybody chasing a dream out there: savor the chase. Enjoy it with your family that you’re with. Soak it up and be honest about how hard it is and when it’s easy, be honest about how easy it came, and just take it as it comes.
I saw that your song Fancy Like has also single handedly brought back the Oreo milkshake at Applebee’s! People across the country will be grateful for that. How cool was it for you to learn that Applebee’s was bringing the milkshake back because of the popularity of your song?
There’s nothing cooler than how Applebee’s has reacted to my song. I’m sure at first they were like, Yo, what’s this?! Before its popularity they had to be, at least inquisitive, like, What’s this song going to do? But, oh my goodness, the relationship has been so organic and they have been so kind. Sales have increased at their restaurants and people have been filling it up, and my favorite reaction at first was the Oreo shake wasn’t on the menu but people were going to Applebee’s to order it after hearing it in the song. And so waiters and waitresses would tweet and stuff and say, Man, I’m so tired of people ordering this shake because of the song! We don’t have it! And I love Applebee’s for bringing the Oreo shake back. And that’s cool, man. Me and my team, we have a blast high-fiving each other saying that happened because of a song we were a part of. And we love Applebee’s. What a…we’re family now, and I consider them a part of my family, and vice versa and that’s just awesome because my family and I….Laney and I, we are legit Applebee’s fans.
I read that you’re in the process of writing a book, which is amazing! You’re covering some deeply emotional and personal issues in the book, and I was wondering if the writing process has been cathartic for you?
I am writing a book! There’s a song of mine on boom, it’s called Craig and it’s about a guy who gave my family and I a van when we had one car and a lot of kids and not enough seatbelts for everybody and it wasn’t the safest situation, and Craig helped me out in a time of need. Craig and his family loved on us so hard and so unconditionally, and we didn’t understand why, but I’ve come to find out that it’s because Craig had the love of Christ just shining and glowing through him, and that’s what we were feeling. And I’ve met Christ since and it has changed my life, and Craig not only gave us a van but walked beside us through the loss of our seventh kid. And giving us a van was amazing and the song talks about the burden it released, the burden it took off my shoulders, but them walking beside us through the loss of Oakleigh and walking beside me basically through my journey of recovery, I feel like they’re great examples of true friends and believers showing up for non-believers, honestly. Because I wasn’t a believer. So, we’re writing a book and it’s called Glad You’re Here and it has been cathartic to kind of reminisce and relive some of those memories and those times as I’m writing it on the paper. But, it’s stories that I’ll tell forever and that’s what I live to do, to tell stories whether it’s through music or just through sharing my story. I’m excited about the book. I pray that the book reaches non-believers like I was not so long ago, and that some of them literally might put our book down and I pray that the next book they buy would be a Bible, so. That’s a tall order! But God can do whatever He wants with us.
I always like to end my interviews with one fun question, so! If you had to create your own milkshake flavor, what would you choose and why? And you can’t say Oreo!
I love that question! You know, I guess this isn’t innovative because I’ve had this milkshake before but I’ve only had it once and it was a banana pudding milkshake. And it blew my face off. I can’t even remember where I had it. I think I had it in the actual diner where some of the scenes from Shallow Hal were filmed, but I had a banana pudding milkshake and it had the Nilla wafers in there and some were still big chunks of it and some were blended up in there. It was phenomenal, so I’m going to go with a banana pudding milkshake. Just the taste of banana pudding takes me home to the south, to Mobile where I’m from, that was always a big dessert any time we had family meals and holidays, and stuff like that. So, if I can’t say Oreo I’m gonna go with a banana pudding shake!