You may know Walker Hayes for his fast-rising single, “You Broke Up With Me.” But while the song may have a carefree, uptempo swagger, the artist behind it hasn’t always lived a life that fits that feel.
Before he signed his current record deal, Walker was working an early morning shift at a Costco store to support himself, wife Laney and their six children, while also battling alcoholism, he tells Rare Country in a candid interview.
He turned to booze when a previous record deal ended after two failed singles. The drinking, he says, helped alleviate the stress of both his career woes and parenting. He says he was in a “dark place,” and “drinking all day, every day just to function.”
“I was ashamed of myself,” he says. “I was at that phase in life where I just had not achieved anything that I set out to do and, in the meantime, I had this beautiful family that I couldn’t take care of. As a man, that was so frustrating, so being drunk all the time made me forget that.”
It also put a “huge strain” on his marriage, he says. “It was a continuous discussion. I was at the point where, [when Laney] would say, ‘You have a problem,’ my answer was, ‘Yes I do, but without this problem I can’t exist. I can’t function. I can’t do what I need to do to be a dad, or work.’ It was just all too heavy.”
Happily, Walker quit drinking a couple of years ago, although he says sobriety hasn’t always been easy.
He still remembers the day he decided enough was enough. “It was a Saturday in October, football day,” he shares. “At that point in my life, I hadn’t not had a drink on a game day maybe since my teen [years]. I woke up, and it’s like my body said, ‘If you do this one more day, that’ll be it.’
“And I just didn’t have a drink … It was kind of a miracle. And then one day turned into two and, honestly, I feel like I got kind of high on sobriety.”
That’s not to say he didn’t struggle. He’d play a show and get nervous for the first time in years, realizing that the alcohol had been taking the edge off the stage fright. Similarly, in social settings, he says he didn’t have that “cape” of drinking to wrap around himself.
As with most alcoholics, he says staying sober remains “a daily battle,” particularly working in music, which he calls, “not a completely sober business … Each day is another kind of notch in my belt.”
He’s sharing his story for a reason. Many alcoholics, he says, “feel the need to be quiet about it … I’m not embarrassed. I know exactly why people drink. It provides an immediate relief from a life that’s pretty friggin’ heavy sometimes.”
But sobriety, he says, “has provided so much clarity as far as my career is concerned. I don’t sing any songs that I don’t believe in, and I think that has a lot to do with [the fact] that I wake up sober every day. I’m not trying so hard to be somebody I’m not, to fit a mold. I’m comfortable with who I am. I’m even comfortable in being uncomfortable with who I am, if that makes sense. Sobriety has treated me so well.
“A lot of my songs now have a lot to do with that relief from addiction, and a lot to do with Laney’s and my story through that,” he adds. “I hope that helps people.”
Look for Walker as the opening artist on Thomas Rhett’s “Home Team” tour, which kicks off this fall.