American country singer- songwriter Hunter Hayes has an aura of confidence about him and has every reason for it.
At just 22, he is already one of the biggest country pop stars of the moment, garnering three Grammy nominations including Best New Artist last year.
Yet, just a few years ago, he was bullied and felt like an outcast during his middle and high school days.
Those tough years inspired him to write the optimistic song Invisible, a single off his new sophomore album, Storyline, which was released in May.
The singer, who was in town last week to promote the album and perform at a fan showcase at The Star Vista, tells Life! that dreaming of a life as a music man was what got him through those dark days.
He says: "I love dreaming and I love how it visually takes you to a place where you can build your future. I believe dreams are more powerful than we give them credit for because they ignite a flame in us that nothing else can and they're a fuel like nothing else. Dreams kept me encouraged, enthusiastic and excited."
Born to a mechanic father and teacher mother, he had an early start in music, picking up the accordion at age two and already performing on stage when he was just four years old.
Hayes, who professes to be a "bit of a control freak", can play more than 30 musical instruments. In his self-titled major label debut album released in 2011, he sang all the vocal parts - lead and background - and played every instrument, including guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, sitar, mandolin and accordion.
The record quickly shot to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Country chart.
It also earned Hayes a few Grammy nominations and spawned hit singles, including the emotive love song Wanted and Storm Warning.
For the new Storyline, the singer says he drew musical inspiration from bluegrass music and American-English rock band Fleetwood Mac's seminal 1977 album, Rumours.
Hayes, whose tee-jeans-coiffed-hair combo channels a young James Dean, says he wanted to add a "new dimension" to his music by working with a full band. He says it was great learning to let go and work with a group.
The bachelor says: "I knew that I needed to go somewhere different with the new album. I did a lot of the demo process on my own, but I guess I wanted a different dimension on this record and I knew that it would have to come from a band.
"So now I have the benefit of being a bit of a control freak because it's stuff that I wrote, but I get the benefit of feeling like I'm in a band and being a unit."
With his new album out, he says he is in a "creative place", exploring new music, but "not necessarily for a new album or project".
"It will probably be irrelevant in a week, but it will lead me to something else that eventually will be relevant."
What is important, he adds, is that he creates music that people can relate to.
"I want to make music that can become somebody's soundtrack."
This article was first published on July 21, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.