Interview: Tyler Hilton

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Tyler Hilton is a man whose name you may recognize as familiar but can’t put your finger on why. Here is a short list of just a few of his accolades: he has a reoccurring role on the new television series Extant, played bad boy Chris Keller on One Tree Hill, was Elvis in Walk the Line, released music on both the One Tree Hill soundtrack as well as his own personal records, and even has his own record label.

Television, movies, music, there isn’t a realm of the entertainment world that Hilton isn’t involved in. His talents are vast and his open and endearing personality makes him that much more interesting. His third studio album, Indian Summer, was released in November and Hilton was kind enough to spend some time talking with Pop-Break about how his music style has evolved into a California country vibe and how having his own label has allowed him the freedom to release his music when he feels inspired (and is able to with that busy schedule). Hilton also gave us some insight into how he balances his hectic lifestyle and even revealed how Joaquin Phoenix convinced him to be Elvis, a musician he idolized his entire youth.

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Alright, so let’s start with the new music. I know you just released a new album in November, Indian Summer, congratulations! So I have been reading so much about it and it’s funny because everyone is like Tyler Hilton is releasing his first country album but you go back to The Tracks of Tyler Hilton and you’ve always had that Southern rock flair. Do you feel like this is a country album? Do you feel like it’s that different?

It’s probably the most country thing that I’ve done and truth be told I was down in Nashville kind of writing a lot of country music and kind of wanting to do, started to want to do a country album, going at it full force but truth is, people who listen to my first album and really listen to it can kind of hear there’s almost like a California country, Americana kind of thing to what I do. When I was down there I was thinking, man this thing has just got to end up my version of this and I just, big surprise, I liked my version of things better so when I came back from Nashville with all of these songs, I felt like I loved the way they were sounding acoustic. I love the way the sounded when I jammed with my friends and I just thought, let me demo these out as if I was playing them around a campfire and let’s see how they sound and then we’ll go from there. By the time we finished with that, I thought man I just want to put this out. I love this. It sounds like how it is when we get together and just play. It sounds like a jam session and I thought man I’m going to put this out and let everyone have this vibe for a while because it felt right to me.

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Awesome. I mean I love the vibe of the album and, the word that came to me the most when I was listening to this when I was comparing it to music from over a decade ago, the first word was wise. I feel like you’ve progressed so far. Do you feel like you’ve taken this in a more mature direction?

You know what it was? I don’t know that I was really conscious of it. I think that if you and I had a conversation back in 2004 and then talked to you now, I guess without trying to maybe I would sound more mature so I guess some of them are that way but some of these songs I even had from right after The Tracks of and they just didn’t feel right for an album and more than anything, more than a change of direction or this is where I’m at in my life, I just felt like i had always written these kind of songs, more acousticy, a little more dramatic and more woodsy sounding or something and I thought I’m going to put these all together and do this record now. Because some of the songs I was writing Nashville had that vibe and I thought lets give all these songs their day and I just felt like playing them. I toured on the record before, In the Storm, and it was so rock and roll when I toured on it for like two or three years. I did Europe a bunch and America a bunch. I guess the pendulum swung the other way and I just felt like doing a little quieter of a thing. It’s so weird how that works.

Well I know you released Forget the Storm and this one on your own label. What was it like to create your own label to put out your own music?

Oh, it was so freeing. I’m not a great work for hire kind of pop writer and pop artist and a lot of people I’e met are really good at that. It’s a certain kind of art form and as I’m growing up in the music business, trying to find what I’m good at and what I’m just not interested in and one of the things was, writing stuff that, what I loved doing was writing what I felt like writing. Music was so therapeutic for me and what I do for a living but it’s really therapeutic and I don’t want to lose that so having my own label is just, allowing me to put out records of songs I want to put out and put them out when I want to put them out. And for me it was less about writing that one song and waiting for when the moments right and doing all this publicity things around it. For me I feel like I like how it looks and it feels better when I can just put out the stuff as I write it when I want and put the songs out and not have to get it by a panel of people before I do it. So it’s been great, really freeing.

So this question may be a little difficult but what song on this album are you most proud of?

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Honestly, “This is Where My Heart Breaks.” That song, a lot of them I’m really proud of, but this is the first record of mine that I produced myself and some of it came together in a really live fashion but a couple of the songs I just played all of the instruments on and one of them was ”This is Where My Heart Breaks.” I think actually my friend might have played a couple of things but most of it I just kind of put together in a day or two and I was just really into it and it was one of those songs that came really fast and it’s, to me, like one of the songs on this record the most that I like and I just love listening to and listening back to. I just love listening to what we did. So I think that’s the one i’m most proud of.

That one and “One More Song” are my favorites on the album. Okay so obviously your music career spans back all the way back to your One Tree Hill days. How do you think that affected your career in the music world?

Well honestly, in the music world it gave me fans that were so sticky and so, like they’re so, they’ll come to all of my shows and they really engage on social media and they buy the music and they’re so into the excitement of One Tree Hill. If you were into One Tree Hill you know it’s one of those things that feels like, some people, it may not be their thing but if you did, it feels like a club and other people that are into it, you just get excited about and I somehow ended up in that realm where people just liked One Tree Hill folks and liked to get together and come to my shows because it reminded them of the show which is really kind of special so that gave me the freedom, gave me this huge group of fans that I never would have gotten otherwise by touring and stuff and it was one of the main things that kind of gave me the freedom to go out on my own. I thought I’ve got these great fans, I’ve got that added to the fans I already have and I thought I can really do this on my own so that has been a big thing. And the second thing it really did for my career, it reminded me how much I loved being on set and how much I loved acting. I had done Walk the Line before that but it wasn’t until after I did One Tree Hill that I started doing more movies and stuff and TV and I just loved it so much. I had always been into theatre since I was a kid. I was in a really good theatre program in high school and I loved it and so it kind of reawakened that for me as well so it really kind of gave me two huge things.

Now did being the “bad boy” on the show for a little while there, do you think that negatively affected you or your music?

I wonder! It’s so funny, I never know because I’m in it so I’ll either take things too sensitively or just have no idea that I should be taking them more sensitive. I’m kind of in the middle of it but there were a few times when the show, when I first came on the show and people would come to my shows and just be like bummed, like their friend dragged them and was like you know I didn’t want to come to this show because of like what you did to Nathan and Haley or whatever. Wait it’s a fucking mistake! I kept thinking it was all fun and games but ultimately I think everyone ended up digging it but I wonder if it did!

Okay so I know you mentioned obviously Walk the Line, you were Elvis! How did it feel to get to be Elvis?

Oh, it was the craziest thing ever. Actually my roommate was just asking me this the other day. It’s so funny. Randomly Walk the Line was on TV and he was like you know I forgot how much you loved Elvis and he’s like was it weird? He asked me the same question. I was like it’s the strangest thing because imagine being obsessed with Elvis since I was like, I don’t know, six or something, like just randomly really into him. So that was like all people got me for Christmas and birthdays. If you don’t know what to get a kid but I hear he loves Elvis so I had Elvis calendars, I mean probably more stuff than even merited my fandom because no one else knew what, I just loved him and went to Graceland and all this stuff so when that part came along, I just tried out to be an extra in that movie like to literally be in the background playing guitar and I guess I was 19 and they thought I looked like Elvis when I came in and they were like yeah, do you know any Elvis songs? Because I played a Johnny Cash song and I was like yes. Yes I know ALL Elvis songs so I just played and then all of a sudden they’re having me read lines and I’m thinking like wait am I really trying out for Elvis right now? Like I couldn’t figure it out.

And then when I got the part, it’s a pretty wild story. I originally said no to the movie because I was too nervous. I was like I can’t play Elvis. They need an actor, someone who knows how to do it good because I’m an amateur so I said no. And then I’m in this bar or it’s like a restaurant and I see Joaquin Phoenix and I go up to him and I’m like hey man, I tried out for Walk the Line and I just want to say, I don’t know what I was thinking. Why would I go up to Joaquin? And I was like just want to say it’s such a cool script and I’m a musician and like it’s going to be so great. Anyway I just wanted to say hey. And he’s like dude you’re Tyler Hilton. I saw your audition tape, and I almost shit my pants. I’m telling you! He’s like you have do this movie. Everyone they’re casting are people who haven’t acted before and then Reese and I have never sang before so everyone is going to be like, they’re all in uncomfortable zones and I promise it’s going to be so cool, and I couldn’t believe it. I went back to my friends and I was like you would never believe what happened and that’s literally why I did it, because he told me that in this restaurant. Isn’t that crazy?

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What is your favorite Elvis song.

It changes. Right now it’s probably “You Were Always on My Mind.” Some of that later stuff I’m just starting to get into. I just moved into a new house so there is a lot of house work and music listening and a lot of Elvis has come on and I’m like oh yeah, that’s a good one.

What else are you listening to?

I’m really into this guy Blake Mills. He has kind of been the greatest thing I’ve listened to in the last couple of years. And this other band called the Barr Brothers I really love and just whatever else comes up on my mix. I just randomly got back into old school Boyz II Men again. I feel like those albums should be listened to just every once in a while like “I’ll Make Love to You,” “End of the Road,” like old school. Anyway, just random stuff like that.

Have you listened to any of their new stuff?

No. I’m too scared. I don’t know who they are now! Like at the time it was, I kind of had a picture of these young, whatever, I just don’t know who they are. I should check it out though.

There you go. Something new to listen to. So obviously you’re doing TV, you’re doing movies still, you’re still singing. How do you balance all of that?

Honestly? Like lots of counseling, tons of just talking to friends and family. It’s pretty weird. I also don’t know what I want to do any given month or year. It’s hard to plan because I don’t know how I’m going to feel and so much I do comes from needing to feel into it to even be able to produce since art is such like, you know who knows what it is so you have to be in such a good place to do it. It’s hard to predict anything. It is kind of a strange thing but I kind of just like, take it, this sounds super all very dramatic but I literally just kind of take it day by day and learn to start listening to myself more. I’m so excited to be filming this new season of this show, Extant, that starts in, actually in two weeks I start filming and that sounds like so much fun so I get to do that for four months and then you know I’ll see what’s next, probably start another record or something but it’s just, it’s a lot of that.

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Now are you planning to tour at all in support of this record?

No, I’m probably not going to tour. I’m going to do a few shows here or there, maybe like one or two shows a month but mostly I really want to, I’m going to try to stay in town this year and do as much acting and stuff as I can just because I’m just feeling it so much. I love doing it and it’s hard for me to write when I’m on the road and I want to write a lot more songs. I just feel like writing a lot this year. And last year I wrote a lot in Nashville and I just want to write in LA so I’m going to try to take a break from the road and just focus on doing work that doesn’t involve rental cars and hotel rooms, like here at my house writing and that kind of stuff.

Do you feel like there is a different vibe to your writing now that you’re writing in LA as opposed to having been writing in Nashville? Do you think the location and the atmosphere changes the style and what you’re writing?

For sure. It’s so crazy. And I actually haven’t written in LA for a long time. I used to a bunch but then I just ended up writing in Nashville a lot and then of course I’m writing in LA when I’m by myself but there is just a whole different vibe to writing out here. It’s just like freer. Not freer; it’s nice to write in boxes sometimes and Nashville is obviously like a box and there are rules and stuff and it’s nice to play with that but here, man, the sky is the limit. You can get with anybody and write any kind of music and that’s so exciting. Like I get with DJs sometimes and write with them or R&B artists and you can kind of dip into anywhere.

So who is your favorite person that you’ve written with? Do you have one?

Man probably one of my big writing mentors, that actually came into my life after The Tracks of is this guy Wayne Kirkpatrick. He was the first guy, Tracks of I had written all myself and I had never written with anyone else and someone hooked us up and he taught me a lot. He won a Grammy for writing that Eric Clapton song, “Change the World,” and he’s writing a musical right now that is on broadway. He’s just a writer, he writes a lot of different stuff and so he’s probably been the most influential but I have to think, I wrote with Taylor Swift and that’s super cool, that was amazing. There have been some cool people like that, Michelle Branch, Ashley Monroe, Lady Antebellum, people like that are really fun to write with.

Obviously you’ve got a lot coming up with the show, what are you most excited about happening right now?

I’m so stoked to go back and film Extant. The show is so fun and the people on it are amazing and I don’t know. Something about the vibe on that show is so cool. The kid, Pierce, was on One Tree Hill with me so I already knew him. Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter), who I’m always on set with is amazing, Halle Berry is amazing. There’s just something about this vibe that is so cool. We didn’t think we were going to get picked up for another season, or I didn’t think it was going to go that way, so when we did it was just like this whole team atmosphere. We haven’t seen each other yet because we haven’t had our first day of filming yet but it literally feels like the first day of school. That’s how it was with One Tree Hill and other shows so just to get to that first day, I’ve got a fitting tomorrow but I’m not going to see everyone until like next week. That’s going to be so exciting, just to start this whole season together is going to be amazing. I’m so excited to start.

For more on Tyler Hilton, check out his official website or his Facebook page.