Tyler Hilton began his career at the tender age of 15 years old and has been singing, playing and writing music professionally for nearly a lifetime. After releasing his first full-length album, The Tracks of Tyler Hilton, in 2004, Tyler tested the waters in the world of acting, landing a recurring role on the CW’s hit TV show “One Tree Hill” as self-absorbed musician Chris Keller. From there, he expanded his career in acting, appearing in numerous TV shows and movies while remaining true to his roots as a musician – touring, writing and releasing new music.
This Wednesday, Hilton will be come to Madison and play a rare intimate acoustic set at True Coffee Roasters. In anticipation of the show, the Herald got a chance to speak with Hilton about his music, career, current projects and what fans can expect from the performance.
The Badger Herald: What inspired you to take up music?
Tyler Hilton: I was inspired to take up music from hearing my family jam and play so much. We’d go camp at this bluegrass festival every year and everyone would jam and sing. My uncles would play gigs in L.A. also, and I’d just be riveted. I couldn’t learn to join in fast enough.
BH: In terms of your musical styling, to whom would you compare yourself?
TH: I’d compare my music styling to artists of the folky pop variety, like Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, John Mayer and Billy Joel. My sound is born out of a deep connection to American roots music, in addition to a love of the great pop songwriters.
BH: Maverick Records, a branch of Warner Bros. Records, signed you to their label at 18 years old. How did you encounter that opportunity? Moreover, what was your experience like working with such a prestigious label at such a young age?
TH: I was signed to Maverick by an A&R rep. He saw a review of the independent record, which I put out when I was 15, in a local L.A. music magazine. He was curious and wanted to meet with me. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was every dream of mine coming true. It was an exciting time in that everyday was a new adventure, but the experience was also eye-opening. I was asked repeatedly to explain my sound and who I thought I was. These were crazy questions to think about and to have to answer, especially when my biggest concern was whether my acne was under control.
BH: Who is your favorite artist with whom you have ever worked, collaborated or toured?
TH: John Mayer and Keith Urban had me open for them and, to this day, that’s still the best show I can remember being a part of. There aren’t two artists who I’m a bigger fan of or whose careers I respect more.
BH: In 2004, you released your first full album, The Tracks of Tyler Hilton. It was not until eight years later, in 2012, that you released your next full-length album, Forget the Storm. Listening to those albums side-by-side, do you feel that your sound has changed over the years? How would you compare the two?
TH: Those two albums are about as different as my wardrobe from those eras. By that, I mean eight years holds lots of change for anyone. It’s not even about trying to make another record that sounds like the one I put out when I was younger. It was starting from scratch and finding out what came out of my mouth with the greatest ease when I opened it and started to sing. I couldn’t even compare the two if I wanted to. You get one person and two different stages of life.
BH: What is your favorite song A) that you have ever written B) to play live? Why?
TH: “Hey Jesus” might be one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s so simple and the lyrics came to me faster than I could ask myself what they meant. Despite the simplicity, over the years I connect to myself in the deepest way through singing that song. I always find that songs of salvation in folk music come out of a time when salvation is the last thing you deserve but the thing you need most. “Loaded Gun” might be my favorite to play live. I love blues music and when I finished that one I thought, “Phew, now I get to sing it live!”
BH: Shortly after releasing The Tracks of Tyler Hilton, you ventured into acting, taking on a role in the CW’s hit TV show “One Tree Hill.” Aside from both you and your character, Chris Keller, being musicians, do you have anything else in common?
TH: Chris Keller and I both are pretty cheeky. I think we have the same idea of mischief, but when I’m him I can execute it.
BH: Do you feel that your career in acting has influenced your musical fan base? If so, how?
TH: For sure. Mainly, it’s connected people to my music, brought in fans who I don’t think would have heard me otherwise.
BH: After parting with Warner Bros., you began your own label, Hooptie Tune Records. How would you describe the label and the sound of the artists currently signed under the label? Furthermore, are there any current artists that you would like to sign or promote?
TH: I’m the only artist I can handle on my label right now. Plus, I want to work out the kinks before I even think about signing other artists. I haven’t found anyone yet who I could work with under the label, but I always have an eye out. It’s not just about finding someone good, it’s about finding someone who I know that I could take farther than they could go without me.
BH: You currently have a PledgeMusic campaign going to raise money for a new album. Can you elaborate on aspects of the new album, the pledge campaign and any other projects that are currently in the works?
TH: I started the pledge campaign, not to raise money for the record per se, but more because I was drawn to the community of PledgeMusic. It’s a platform where fans can follow along while the record’s being made. Moreover, they can purchase some really amazing experiences along the way, which give them the opportunity to be part of the process – for example, singing on the record or receiving special video updates. I’ve done similar things before on my website, but Pledge has an amazing team that is working with me to take those ideas to another level. It’s totally new to me, but it’s fun as hell. It’s taking the pressure off finishing a record and allowing the fans and me to enjoy the process. Besides the record, I’ve been working on a new TV show on CBS called “Extant.” It’s this incredible show that takes place in the future. As soon as I read the script and saw that Halle Berry was starring in it and that Steven Spielberg was producing it, I was like, “HELL YES.” It’s going to premiere on July 9.
BH: What can the audience expect from your performance on Wednesday?
TH: On Wednesday, I’m gonna be hanging out with just my guitar, telling stories and singing the songs that were inspired by them. It will be fun and casual. I’m really looking forward to it!