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Hunter Hayes has always been one to follow his instincts. He's never questioned his gut and he's never been scared to turn left when the world is telling him to turn right. So earlier this year, as the Louisiana native was prepping for the next chapter of his music journey via an adventurous new album, Hayes slammed on the brakes.
And the singer/songwriter found himself with a decision to make.
"I think the artist's journey is one where you are always finding yourself," Hayes, 30, tells PEOPLE. "It's a never-ending thing."
It's this truth that led the multi-platinum selling recording artist to reevaluate the plans set out in front of him and take a bit of a detour back into his 2019 album Wild Blue (Part I). Granted, Hayes is the first to admit that he thought Wild Blue (Part 1) was an album whose story had already been told. But suddenly, it became an album that he just couldn't get out of his head and his heart, an album that suddenly began to feel somewhat unfinished.
"The pandemic changed a lot of things," admits the five-time Grammy nominee. "It took away any consistency that I had in my life. I mean, just like all of us. The more I rushed onto the next project, the more I realized I was creating music that fit into some very different scenes. I like when albums have scenes and themes. It's not as much conceptual as much as it is just…. I always call them chapters. All the songs that didn't go on the original Wild Blue (Part 1) release that I thought would go on this new record? I realized that they belonged in the Wild Blue (Part 1) chapter."
Natasha Belikove Hunter Hayes
And it's this new chapter that is written within the songs of Wild Blue Complete.
"Almost every night for like six months, I would just listen to these songs that I thought were for the new album and keep saying to myself, 'No, they belong here,'" Hayes remembers. "But at the time, I was working on three albums at the same time. So I separated it into different categories — different acts if you will. And that was the way that I ended up understanding it." He pauses. "I don't know that I'm as much of a perfectionist as it's just about intentionality."
courtesy hunter hayes Hunter Hayes' Wild Blue
Now, Wild Blue Complete features the long-awaited lyrical cry "Tell Me," a song exclusively premiering on PEOPLE and a song Hayes wrote alongside Barry Dean and the late busbee.
"I wrote this one a while back," explains Hayes, who has achieved 2 billion on-demand career streams and six gold and platinum-certified singles. "This song and I have been on an emotional roller coaster. It's about losing someone close and figuring out how and when to start over." He takes a breath. "It's just been a really eye-opening experience to hear what happens when the mindset changes."
Ashley Osborne Hunter Hayes
Within these six brand new songs is not only the boy that fans fell in love with via hit songs such as "Wanted," "I Want Crazy" and "Storm Warning," but also the man who has now branched out in his personal life, including a move from Nashville to Malibu.
"I kept telling myself that I didn't want to get a place there, so I did Airbnb for a little bit and then I found this place and I was like, 'I have to have it,'" he says of his new California home. "I couldn't live without it. If I'm being honest, this is something I dreamed about for almost 10 years now."
Today, the treasured multi-instrumentalist finds himself mere minutes away from the ocean that has resulted in a burst of musical inspiration.
"Mystical things happen here," says Hayes, who still has a 'home base' in Nashville. "There's a lot of music that's been made in this part of California. There's something about being out here that doesn't make me think of the business part of what I do out here. I just feel creative and alive, and it feels like a musical vacation."
And he's not looking to end that vacation anytime soon.
"I just feel like the clouds are clearing," Hayes concludes. "I've spent a lot of time on my own mental wellness and emotional wellness and I'm really proud of the changes that I've had and the growth that has happened. And I feel like I have a more complete picture of myself now."