Walker Hayes on Overcoming Tragedy: ‘I Choose Laughter’

Walker Hayes and his wife, Laney, have lived through every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child, when their daughter, Oakleigh, passed away in 2018, shortly after her birth. For Hayes, the grief could have sent him into a tailspin — and almost did, but he came out stronger on the other side. Now, Hayes says that, while the loss still deeply hurts, he has learned plenty in the process.

“Well let’s get down to it: Laney and I have experienced our share of tragedy,” Hayes tells Nashville Lifestyles. “I mean, look, we’ve lost a kid. And I don’t wanna size people up and be like, ‘What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you in your life? Oh, mine’s worse.’ All I’m saying is that Laney and I have been taught by tragedy how much control we don’t have over this life, and if you sit and think about it, you will live in fear.

“But I choose laughter,” he continues. “I love to laugh, and I don’t know anything I love more than to laugh. It probably ties with the gift of music to me, and you know what? You’ve got to laugh at yourself. You’ve gotta laugh at each other. You’ve gotta laugh at somebody laughing at you, and if you don’t, you’re gonna be pretty miserable here on earth, because life isn’t that funny all the time.”

Hayes had several career hits and misses, but nothing quite like the viral success of “Fancy Like,,” which was a game-changer for his family. While immensely grateful for his success, the father of six says he is determined his life at home with his wife and children remains largely the same.

“With Laney and me, that’s the task now,” Hayes reflects. “We are so happy; I don’t want anything to change. It’s like I almost want to pretend that nothing is different, just for the sake of my marriage and my kids. Because change is funny. Success and tragedy have similar effects on life: they cause ripples. I have eight people in my house, so when something small changes, it makes an impact.”

“Fancy Like” is on Hayes’ latest Country Stuff The Album. The song, which also inspired two Applebee’s commercials and earned him his first-ever Grammy nomination, might not have ever happened without another hardship: being forced off the road because of the pandemic.

“Honestly I think COVID had a lot to do with my success,” Hayes acknowledges. “We all sat with our thoughts for an entire year and a half, and I think we were all ready to not think so much. ‘Fancy Like’ was the perfect sound and perfect song for that. It’s almost like you forget there’s a pandemic at all.”

The last few years also saw another change in Hayes, when he became a Christian. Now that he is firm in his faith, it’s the subject he wants to talk about most, even more than his music.

“Honestly, I don’t care about sharing anything else,” Hayes tells Everything Nash. “To be quite frank with you, I don’t think there’s anything else worth sharing than what Jesus has done with me and the redemption I’ve experienced here on earth, and will continue to experience from knowing Him. That’s it. That’s why I wanna share my story.”

Hayes is currently on his Fancy Like Tour. Find tour dates, and purchase Country Stuff The Album, at WalkerHayes.com.

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