By Tiffany Contreras
With immense successful accomplishments, musician and actor Tyler Hilton shares his story of playing small town coffee shops and restaurants in Palm Desert, California to releasing worldwide records, starring in a music video, playing his idol in a motion picture film production, and featuring in a motion picture television production.
Having grown up in Bermuda Dunes, California, Hilton took an early love of music with inspiration from his family and his idol, Elvis Presley, whom he aspired to be. “My uncles played lots of music growing up, and so did my dad. They were all in bands and stuff most of their lives and it just seemed like exactly what I wanted to do,” he explains. “That, plus I was obsessed with Elvis when I was a kid, so I was just aiming to be him.”
Hilton followed in Elvis’ footsteps when he decided to play shows wherever he could, beginning at Just Java – a small coffee shop in Bermuda Dunes – and The Crab Shack restaurant in Palm Desert. He would spend four hours playing sets of covers with only his voice and acoustic guitar, which enabled him to learn how to read crowds and face his fear of shyness. The multi-hour long sets paid off when he received his most meaningful opportunity to date. “The biggest break I ever had was when the owner of this coffee house that used to be in Palm Desert called Pangea heard me enough times get up at the open mic there that he asked if I wanted to play my own night,” he recalls. “It doesn’t sound like much, but that was the first time I was ‘hired’ and taken from the ‘whoever wants to get up’ world to the ‘why don’t you play more’ world. I was like, ‘Me?’ The guy was like, ‘I’m not going to pay you, but you can collect tips.’ I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.” The excitement did not stop there.
In 2002, Hilton received a record deal with Warner Records in Los Angeles, California, where he relocated with a couple of his friends from La Quinta High School. After all of his hard work in the recording studio, he released his debut album, Tyler Hilton, followed by The Tracks of Tyler Hilton in 2004 – which, seemingly, caught the attention of an upcoming, worldwide superstar. “At the time she was a new country artist who I thought had such a cool thing going,” he says. “I mentioned her in an interview I was doing because I like her record; and she saw it and I guess was a fan of mine and reached out to my management. I got a call that was like ‘That girl Taylor Swift is a fan and wanted to invite you to her show in San Bernardino, if you’re in town.’” Swift, in literal terms, put Hilton on the map in more ways than one. “She was playing at some biker bar. She asked me if I wanted to sing with her on stage, and once I was up there, she was like, ‘You should be in my music video!’ I thought it was so crazy and random; she was just so funny and out there.” Hilton starred in Swift’s Teardrops on my Guitar music video in 2007, where he played Drew, the guy who broke her heart. Though this was one of his big breaks, his acting began before starring in a music video.
Hilton began acting in plays since kindergarten, but became serious about it when his high school theater teacher allowed him to believe in himself. “Sherry Wollenberg was the theater teacher at LQHS who started getting me thinking that I could act for real. She helped me compete in this Shakespeare competition that took me to New York City my senior year, which got me my acting agent.” However, he did not lose focus of his musical dream; instead, he chose to combine the two. “I told them I was getting signed to a record deal, but would love to do some acting if something came up. They called me about Walk the Line. Initially, it was like, ‘They’re just looking for background musicians, but it’s a cool movie if you want to be in it.’ I went to the audition and someone thought I looked like Elvis and asked me to read some lines. I couldn’t believe it.” He followed through with his acting role and recorded songs that feature on the Grammy Award winning soundtrack. He also featured in independent film Charlie Bartlett and CW television series One Tree Hill, whose three soundtracks include his songs.
Hilton’s current focus is promoting his newest album, Forget the Storm, released under Hooptie Tune Records in 2012, by playing shows on his current tour. Forget the Storm structures melodies of folk, acoustic, soft rock, and jazz, while his voice supplements each note as agreeably as it possibly can.
Even though he has enjoyed plenty of success, Hilton remains humble when asked when it was that he figured out he had officially made it in music. “I think when I read that question,” he jokes. “I have moments where I’m like, ‘I can’t believe this is working; how do I keep this going?’ But there’s never really a feeling of, ‘Welp, I’ve arrived,’” at least until he rethinks it. “Actually, that’s not true. I feel like recently I’ve really started feeling less like I’ve got a target on my back and everything’s going to go away in the blink of an eye. I’ve worked really hard and it’s just starting to feel like I earned it… fifteen years after that Pangeashow!”
Hilton resides in LA and spends most of his free time in Nashville, Tennessee, but still has no plans on moving out of LA, as it is the ideal location for a Coachella Valley native. “LA allows me to get to both sides of myself the easiest, as an actor and singer, but it also keeps me close to the Desert and my family. There’s something about being close to family, if you can swing it.”
Before the close, Hilton offers words of advice and encouragement to his fellow hometown musicians on how to fulfill dreams, despite location, and why the Desert is a great place to be. “The goal should be just getting on stage and working things out. That’s what’s great about the Desert: you can go to LA, play to bigger crowds, and maybe better venues; but the Desert allows you to work stuff out in front of friends without the pressure of playing in an entertainment capital.”
Article published in College of the Desert’s The Chaparral: http://thechaparral.net/2014/04/23/from-palm-desert-to-los-angeles-three-lps-and-two-movies-later/