It's tempting to describe Hilton as just-that-guy-in-the-crowd. There's something in the way his eyes continually drift around the room as he speaks that is like your characteristically 20-something aloof dude. Indeed, the singer-songwriter/actor slid under the radar last February at Hollywood's the Knitting Factory, where he squeezed in between an audience primarily comprised of young women to watch friends and one-time tour mates Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers perform.
“Is that the guy from ‘One Tree Hill?'” one chattering female whispered anxiously to her counterpart in front of me, pointing in the direction of Hilton's emo glasses and lanky build.
Hilton has come to be known to most as Chris Keller, the smug musician who has guest starred on episodes of the past few seasons of the CW's teen soap drama, “One Tree Hill.” Sitting in the Burbank basement today, Hilton more closely resembles his alter ego.
His soft blue button-up is so well pressed I can't imagine that the shirt hasn't been dry cleaned. He's got the requisite rocker neck chains looped around his neck – one that appears to be an indented dog tag interlocked with a zigzagging lightning bolt.
He's even got the girl – directly to the left of Hilton rests his petite, blonde girlfriend, whom he immediately introduces to me. The two met on the Toronto set of Hilton's upcoming film, Charlie Bartlett.
The 23-year-old is only in L.A. for a second, doing promotional work for the third soundtrack album from “One Tree Hill.” The record chronicles an upcoming episode of the series in which Hilton appears, joining his cast mates on a 20-hour-long road trip to Honey Grove, Texas. The town – population 1,746 – was selected for filming during a national contest in which fans of the show in the area submitted a video to the network for consideration.
Hilton's song on the record, “You'll Ask for Me,” is a bop your head, tap your thigh kind of song equipped with the singer's celebrated raspy voice.
“I hope you let your intuition / Precede my reputation / Because I have one,” Hilton warns on the track. “I am what you see / I am not what they say / But if I turned out to be / Could you love me anyway?”
He's in good company on the record, appearing alongside country-duo the Wreckers, hip-hopper Lupe Fiasco and folk pair the Weepies.
“I keep thinking one of these days whoever puts the ‘One Tree Hill' soundtracks together is going to see I've snuck on every time and ask for their money back,” he wrote in an April 3 MySpace blog.
The singer-songwriter recently embarked on a makeshift road trip of his own, driving cross-country in “the 'brid,” his hybrid car, from Los Angeles to a new home in Nashville. On the road, Hilton created a music mix of his own, earmarked by Jackson Browne's “Running on Empty.”
“He kept saying ‘Are we there yet?'” Hilton's father, Bob, chimes in from across the table before going back to some legal looking paperwork.
“Yeah, I gave 30-day notice and everything,” he says of giving up his L.A. digs.
Hilton will spend the next few months in Nashville recording the follow up to his 2004's debut album, The Tracks of Tyler Hilton . He says he's already penned more than 50 songs and anticipates the new sound to be a “little more folky” than his first attempt.
“I aim to make the best record ever laid down in the past 50 years,” he says. “And then whatever actually comes out, I'm happy with.”
As for acting, Hilton won't abandon it while engaging in his musical pursuits. Charlie Barlett, which debuts at New York's Tribeca Film Festival this summer, tells the story of a high school newcomer who decides to make friends by opening a psychiatrist's office in the boys bathroom and prescribes pills accordingly. Hilton plays Murphy Bivens, a boy who he says, “lives in a garage by himself … he's really angry and sells fight DVDs.”
“It was such a stretch for me,” Hilton explains. “It was interesting to summon that much anger.”
The film has an eclectic cast, including everyone from Jake Epstein – Craig Manning on Canadian teen melodrama's “Degrassi” – to the infamous Robert Downey, Jr.
“He was so loose and friendly,” Hilton says of Downey, Jr. “Just a really nice, confident guy.”
Hilton will be laying low for a while, he says, enjoying his new Nashville spot. And he hopes fans will be patient enough to stick out the hiatus.
“I always feel abandoned by my favorite musicians when they hide out in the studio for a bit,” he says. “But I just want everyone to know that I'm not pulling any kind of disappearing act.”
The Road Mix: Music From the Television Series One Tree Hill, Volume 3 is currently available. For more information, visit www.tylerhilton.com.