By Annie Reuter

Hunter Hayes had good reason to celebrate this week. His new album Encore, which adds to his 2011 self-titled debut with five new tracks, dropped Tuesday (June 18), and the very same day he played to a sold-out crowd at New York’s Webster Hall.

The concert was part of MTV’s Artist to Watch series, and Hayes gave good indication just why attention should be paid. Even before he took the stage, the entire room was clapping and chanting his name. As he and his band kicked off their nearly two-hour set with “A Thing About You,” one of the new songs on Encore, the balcony floor was shaking profusely. The screams and foot stomps only grew louder as he played hit single after hit single.

“I’m speechless right now,” Hayes confessed midway through the show. “We’re filling up balconies now. This is really cool. This may sound a bit cheesy, but happy Encore day! You don’t know how special it is to spend this night with you.”

Related: Behind The Song: Hunter Hayes’ ‘Wanted’

This week, Hayes sat down with to discuss the decision to revisit his debut with new songs, as well as how his new duets with Ashley Monroe and Jason Mraz came together.

“They all felt like they should be part of the original record,” he said of the new tracks. “The more we recorded them and spent time with them, it was a very interesting revolution. It is all a part of that early chapter, that original record chapter. To hold it for something else would have been dishonest. Putting [the songs] on this record helped me keep the evolution of what’s going on right now without moving ahead too quickly and rushing into the next record.”

Hayes recorded the new tracks for Encore in January while he had a month off. He said the process was very relaxing and a much needed recharge.

“I think I needed a good little reset to rethink some things and the studio is the perfect place to do that because there is no agenda,” he said. “There is no right or wrong answer. You can spend days in the studio and scrap it and then start from scratch again. We approached those songs with a certain kind of intent. I wanted to complete the thought on this record and so we did.”

Ashley Monroe of Pistol Annies shares the mic with Hayes on beautiful ballad “What You Gonna Do,” and he had only praises for the singer, citing her as having a “timeless, iconic sound.”

“I recorded that song 20 times,” he said explaining how “What You Gonna Do” came together. “I was out of ideas and I needed something else. Something to re-inspire it. I think she brought in exactly what I needed: a different perspective. There’s something about the way she sings it that gives it a different meaning. It gives it a different texture and it reinvented the song.”

While the entirety of Tuesday’s show was full of screams, it was “Wanted,” “Love Makes Me” and particularly, current single “I Want Crazy” that hinted at Hayes’ star power. Hayes explained that the title for “I Want Crazy” came to him before the song did.

“‘Crazy’ was just my way of saying, ‘That’s real love. When you feel like you’ve gone crazy. That’s when you’ve actually gotten something right,'” he said. “I don’t want the ‘We can make this work,’ ‘Sure, OK, it’s good.’ I incorporated this long distance aspect because, boy I can speak from experience on that stuff. It was just a confessional way of saying that’s what I’m looking for.”



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