Ben Foster: I understand you had something very special happen for you in the time since we last spoke in that you got to open a show for one of your musical heroes, Reba McEntire.
Amber Hayes: Oh my gosh, it was so exciting. As you know, she’s like one of my biggest influences, and she agreed to it and I actually got to open up for her, so it was really cool and it was a dream come true. A lot of my family was there, and being that the show was in Oklahoma, it was perfect. So everybody could come. It was actually sold out. A lot of them had to scrounge around to get tickets, and then I got tickets so I got to see them all. It was just so fun.
Ben Foster: I bet that added something special to it, with you and Reba both being from Oklahoma.
Amber Hayes: Oh, it was perfect! Like I said, it was a dream come true. I get asked at interviews all the time ‘Who do you want to go on tour with?’ and ‘Who’s the idol person?’ and she’s always at the top of my list because how cool would it be to get to learn from the person that you admire the most? And I think when you go out on tour with people, you do learn from them because you get to see their show every night and be around them, so it was really exciting.
Ben Foster: In what ways has Reba influenced you, with regard to your music and the career you hope to create?
Amber Hayes: Well, one thing is she picks great songs, and you’ve seen that from the beginning. I love the fact that she always picks a really great story song. I’m a huge story song person. Almost on all of her records, she’s always going to have a great story song. I’ve kind of adopted that with the record that I’ve made, like with “Somewhere Out West.” I just kind of connect with that. Plus she is such a great performer. I’ve done acting in the past, and that’s something that I want to continue to do, but I don’t want it to be the focus, but if it comes just naturally, then it’s perfect. And I think it’s definitely come naturally to her.
Ben Foster: Yes, she has dipped her toes in a lot of different waters, but through it all she’s remained Reba the country singer.
Amber Hayes: Yes, and you know she’s Reba from Oklahoma; she the same person. That’s what I love about her. Her records are a lot of the same. She’s evolved, but she hasn’t gotten away from who she really, really is.
Ben Foster: You had a lot of big things happen for you in 2012, including making your big screen debut in Cowgirls ‘n Angels. Do you have any thoughts on what you want your next step to be, or where you would like to be a year from now?
Amber Hayes: I want to focus more on touring this year, because I had the new record come out. I’m going to be doing some radio touring, and I’d like to just do more of that around the radio, because in the past I’ve been busy sometimes just focusing on doing radio, and with the movie and different things last year. So this year I want to really focus on that. Last year I was overseas a lot, so I was doing a lot of touring, but I wasn’t actually here, but I’m looking forward to that.
Ben Foster: How would you describe your experience in building up a loyal fan base without the push of a major label behind you? What kind of challenges and rewards have there been?
Amber Hayes: You know, it’s hard because you don’t have the full time staff. You’re doing a lot of it on your own, and of course I have a great team of people that help me, but still it’s not the same as having a major label. But obviously being yourself is the most important thing, and I think that comes across with your fans. Especially with social media and newsletters and stuff like that. That’s something in the last six months I’ve been really focusing on. There’s a lot of people out there that are on Facebook and on Twitter and on that email list, but you need to capture them, and I’ve really been working on that, and just being yourself and letting them know who you are. I think it’s cool when you do that because you connect with them. That’s what I’ve been trying to do over the last six months – really focus on getting them to know me as a person as well as me as Amber the artist.
Ben Foster: Which brings you the bigger thrill – singing or songwriting?
Amber Hayes: Oh, that’s a hard one. Well, it’s singing. From the moment I found the stage at [age] five, I was at home, like “This is what I’m supposed to do.” So I think performing and singing is probably the biggest thrill for me, and I think that goes back to my influences like Barbara Mandrell and Reba, who are great performers, and that’s what I love to do.
Ben Foster: Is there anything you would like to say to Country Music fans who are discovering your music for the first time?
Amber Hayes: I think this last album is very positive with “Any Day Is a Good Day,” and it’s very country, and like “Suspicious” is very throwback to The Judds era kind of like “C’mon” was. I think if they’re looking for something positive and a good message, and especially a feel good thing with “Any Day Is a Good Day,” then they should definitely check out the album.