Tyler Hilton has been a songwriter and musician for most of his life. The son of an electrical contractor and a teacher, Hilton grew up in a musically inclined family in Palm Springs, Calif., where he took to playing guitar and singing at a young age. A huge fan of Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, Hilton spent several years performing at open mic nights and clubs, and playing blues and jazz covers for tips in coffeehouses and restaurants. “I did pretty well with the older clientele because they loved that stuff,” Hilton says. “But I’d always be shocked when a kid came up and said he liked my music, because usually it was: ‘Oh my parents heard you at the Crab Shack and they loved your rendition of ‘Wonderful World’ and I’d be like, ‘Thank you.’ And that’s when I got the hell out of Palm Springs.”
Hilton moved to Los Angeles to launch himself as a musician. After releasing a self-titled independent CD, he signed to Warner Bros. imprint Maverick Records, which released his major-label debut The Tracks of Tyler Hilton the same year that Hilton made his acting debut starring as the musically talented but totally arrogant Chris Keller on the second season of One Tree Hill. Other roles followed, including playing Elvis Presley in the critically acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, co-starring in the indie film Charlie Bartlett with Robert Downey Jr., and returning to One Tree Hill for its final season in 2012.
Yet while his cover songs appeared on the Grammy Award-winning Walk the
Line soundtrack and his Americana-flavored originals were featured on each
of One Tree Hill’s popular soundtracks, Hilton had yet to release another full- length album of his own. He recorded one, The Storms We Share, in the fall of 2010, but its release was thwarted by a shake-up in leadership at Warner Bros. “So much had gone down at the label and I just wasn’t up for going another round with them,” Hilton says. In December, he was released from his contract, with the label retaining the rights to The Storms We Share. “At that point, I was really down on the music industry,” he says. “I wasn’t even sure I wanted to make another album.”
But, being an artist, Hilton did what artists do and channeled all of his frustrated emotions into a batch of songs, the bulk of which make up his new album Forget the Storm, which Hilton has released on his own label, Hooptie Tune Records. “It was the first time in nine years that I was in a position to make music without asking anyone’s permission,” he says. The result is a spirited and engaging collection that finds Hilton finally representing who he truly is both personally and artistically.
What inspired Hilton to begin writing again was the sheer thrill of playing live. “I was booked to play a residency at the Hotel Cafe´ not long after leaving the label and I was not looking forward to it,” Hilton admits. “I thought, ‘I don't care if anyone comes, I’m only going to play music that I want to play, and if people don't like it, I've got one foot out the door anyway.’" He asked two of his friends, musician/songwriters Dave Hodges and Steve Miller, to join him. “I said, ‘I'm not going to pay anything, but if you guys want to have some drinks and mess around on stage, let's do it. I want to do a lot of covers; I want to do some blues songs."
The Hotel Cafe´ shows were packed each night. “We were doing Stones, Dylan, and Ryan Adams covers and lots of blues, and at the end of it I remembered that I love playing music,” Hilton says. “I thought if I’m ever going to do another record, it should have this vibe. What’s the worst that could happen? I had been playing by the rules and it hadn’t worked.”
Hilton began writing with Hodges (a songwriter who has worked with Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, and Christina Perri) and his guitarist Steve Miller, and over the course of a few months, came up with the songs on Forget the Storm — a title he calls “a direct reference to throwing away my last record and starting over, and also because it’s an album about leaving s**t behind.”
Lyrically, the album is an unflinchingly honest piece of work that finds Hilton reflecting on his relationship with himself, with his loved ones, and even with music — reveling in the good, owning up to the bad, and examining everything in between. “You could probably learn more about me by listening to this album than you could by talking to me for an hour,” he says. “It’s very personal and much closer to who I really am than what I’ve revealed in the past, but it's easier to write from that place when you have nothing left to lose.”
Fittingly, Forget the Storm opens with a song inspired by his heartbreak over the music industry: “Kicking My Heels,” which his fans went crazy over when he premiered it on an episode of One Tree Hill. “That song is the darkest part of the album for me because it’s reminder of how a lot of bad can come out of having time on your hands and not being sure of what you're going to go next. During the months before I started writing I had no focus. I felt rudder-less. The one good thing was having someone I loved in my life, which is what the song is about.” The album’s first single “Prince of Nothing Charming” finds Hilton trying to get to the heart of who he is in a relationship. “Sometimes I don't have it all together,” he admits. “I space out on things, I drink too much. There are a lot of things you could take aim at me for. But I’m drawn to the idea of a couple who really love one another despite all the cracks and flaws.” “Jenny” and “Can’t Stop
Now” also offer a realistic look at love and the compromises one makes, while “I Belong” is the antidote, describing how it feels to be in a relationship that truly works.
Though fans of Hilton’s strummy pop songs will find plenty to like on Forget the Storm, the album also charts new territory with two songs, the rockabilly- flavored, sexually charged “Loaded Gun” (which he wrote with country artist Deana Carter) and the untamed stomper “Ain’t No Foolin’ Me,” both of which Hilton is looking forward to playing live when he hits the road this year. “There are times when you just want to rock out onstage,” says Hilton, who has entertained audiences across the country both as a headliner and with such artists as Taylor Swift, Gavin DeGraw, and Goo Goo Dolls. “I play all kinds of styles of music in my show and the audiences seem to really love the rock and roll moments.”
Most of all, Hilton is excited to finally have a new full-length album for his fans who’ve stuck with him for so many years. “I kept giving them what I called half- assed EPs that were the best I could do in the situation I was at with Warner Bros.,” he says. “But with an album, you have a chance to change direction and try something new rather than perpetuating the sound you already have. This record was the first opportunity I had to say something different. It's a clean slate.”