Spring is here — on the calendar, anyway, although the winter temperatures are hanging on stubbornly for some of us — and as thoughts turn to halter tops, baseball games, and barbecues, our frost-burned ears turn hopefully to the airwaves for songs that remind us of warmer times. This year, an early contender for our spring soundtrack is the new Walker Hayes single, “Why Wait for Summer,” currently heading for the Top 40 at country radio.
Seeing as how Walker co-wrote the song with one of my dearest friends, Fred Wilhelm — and because I honestly do enjoy listening to it as I peer angrily out my ice-glazed living room windows — I asked Walker and Fred to discuss the way “Why Wait for Summer” came together, their songwriting process, and their co-writing philosophies. Here’s what happened next.
So how was this written? Was it a “White Christmas” type of thing where it was written on the hottest day of the year, or were you actually tired of waiting for summer?
Walker: I know that it was cold when we wrote it, but the motivation was more…I remember I walked in the room and Fred was playing that intro to the chorus — he had a loop put to it.
Fred: Yeah, and I was wondering “What are we going to do with this?” I think we just started playing and went into the melody that ended up on the chorus, and it sounded like —
[Both sing the “Why Wait for Summer” hook]
Walker: Everyone and their brother has a summer song, but nobody had a song that was about summer and you could play all year long. We were just excited to come up with a non-seasonal summer song that you could even play on a snow day, you know? Once we had that fast part written and got through “why wait for summer,” it sort of led us around to “summer’s waiting on us.” It was a pretty easy one. It is what it is, you know? It’s just for those moments when you’re like, “get me out of this winter.”
Fred: Jeff, you know what we’re talking about, up there in New Hampshire.
Yeah, and at the moment, I wish I didn’t know quite so well. We still have snow on the ground up here. Now, I know you guys are both professional songwriters, and Walker, you’re starting out as a recording artist who’s trying to break out of that Nashville EP cycle — so how do you guys balance the need for a hit with the need to just, you know, write a song?
Walker: You know, a lot of times, you have to tell yourself not to focus too much on that. Not to try and cater so much. Audiences aren’t dumb, know what I mean? I know my fans can tell when I sat down and did something just because I thought the masses would love it. And that’s what’s great about this song — not only is it commercially viable, but it’s got things like that line about “sugar shotguns.” I love the second verse — “get the heck out of this re-frigerator,” I mean, that’s something that my fans will hear and know wasn’t contrived.
Fred: Yeah, it isn’t like when we sat down and wrote it, it was like “Let’s get rich.” We were just excited — it was more like “Can you believe it?”
Walker: Absolutely. When I walked in and Fred was playing that hook, I mean, who doesn’t want to sing along with that? You hear it and you just want to learn the words. It’s like the Macarena. [Laughs]
Fred: And the words I had for that first part were pretty plain in the beginning, but when I think a song is done, Walker takes it and chews on it for awhile — he thinks about it in the car, or the shower, or whatever, and two or three weeks later, it all comes out. Little melody changes, line changes, and that’s when it’s right.
When it comes to changes, I know the meter is always running in Nashville. How much time do you have to spend honing a song like this before it’s time to let it go?
Fred: Until it’s done!
Walker: Yeah, when it comes to writing, you know…sometimes, we leave, and the song needs no more. We have a song called “Best Friend’s Fiancee” that I don’t think we added to at all. And then with “Why Wait for Summer,” I remember trying to change it even more, until it got the point where Fred was like, “…dude?” This was months after we’d started writing it.
For me, once we record something, that means it’s really time to go down and make it right. Because once something is mastered, there’s no more editing.
Fred: That’s one of the luxuries of writing with someone like Walker. It’s one thing if you’re just pitching a song, but if you’re writing with an artist, he’s going to make the song more personal. He’s going to try and make it right. And for me, it’s a privilege and a luxury to be able to do that, because I know the songs are a lot better than they would be if we’d just demoed them three days after they were written.
The romantic idea of writing in Nashville would be the two of you sitting in a room, facing each other with guitars. How close is that to the truth in today’s environment?
Walker: Yeah, well, that’s pretty close to how me and Fred do it. A couple of notepads, a couple of guitars…
Fred: Sometimes I’ll pull up a loop, but…
Walker: …We always go to lunch. [Laughter]
Fred: It really is like that. We used to write in this room, at my last publishing company, that was like an old hot tub room that was all glass on one side, and my rep at the company would stand there and watch us through the glass sometimes. We were like fish in a bowl. [Laughs] Just doing a job and having a good time.
Walker: And rhyming.
Fred: And rhyming!
Is it weird to write for an audience like that?
Walker: No, I thought it was kind of cool, because sometimes we’d come up with something slammin’, and you could tell because of the reaction on the other side of the glass.
Fred: And also — Walker and I were actually just talking about this at lunch — sometimes you get so deep into it, and so focused, that you almost forget where you are. We could do this at a bus station, and I really wouldn’t know, because I’m just in that world.
How were the two of you connected?
Walker: I think it was somebody at Capitol who said “Hey, you should try writing with this guy,” and we just…he’s demented in the right way. [Laughs]
Fred: Walker doesn’t write with a lot of people, and he and I just clicked. And I’ve gotta give it up to him again, because I have to say, there are songs we’ve written where I’ve thought, “Well, that was fun, but I really can’t imagine anything coming out of it,” and he makes it happen. He’ll do that — he’ll stand by and believe in it. It certainly gives me a lot more freedom.
And how do you approach a blind date like that?
Walker: The first one, man? It can be tough. I mean, co-writing…it’s another relationship. You can go in a room, and even though you have the utmost respect for that person, it doesn’t mean your creative styles are going to mesh. I’ve written with some of my heroes and left bummed, you know? For some reason, me and Fred — we established something.
Fred: Walker’s got a real unique style. A voice, you know? I feel lucky that what I do lends itself to that. I don’t think I could do what he does, but my stuff kind of fits onto it without anything changing too much. It just happens to work.
Well, I hope this is the start of something beautiful.
Walker: It is.
Fred: I hope so! [Laughter]
Order “Why Wait for Summer” from Amazon now — or leave a comment at this post, where we’ll be giving away a free copy of the song from the Amazon MP3 store to the first ten people who respond. Don’t wait for summer — start listening now!