Country and coffee
Claudia Hoyser takes the stage; photographs by Greg Hollar, styling by Sarah Pavia
A lot of people assume that Claudia Hoyser has moved to Nashville. “I still surprise them every time I say ‘no, I’m still a hometown girl,’”she says. Hoyser, 28, grew up in Fairport, and she’s happy to call Rochester her home. Hoyser has accomplished a lot at a young age: she’s written or co written more than 200 songs, she released her debut album Red Light’s Turning Green, and she has opened for some big names in country music, including Blake Shelton and Mitchell Tenpenny. Her music has been featured in commercials and in films. She wrote the theme song for Reel Talk Radio on ESPN, the video for her song “Wicked” was popular on CMT, and she sang the national anthem at Dodgers Stadium. She has also amassed a very large social media following, with more than 150 million streams of her video series “Hoyser Country Monday.” In addition to all of this, she has launched her own coffee and coffee-flavored whiskey. “Everything has been like an amazing snowball effect, from the beginning, even singing,” she says. “And coffee and whiskey kind of turned out the same way.” She remains enthusiastic for each new opportunity that comes her way. “It really is incredible when these things come rolling in, and the phone starts ringing. I’m just as excited now as I was the first time to get any of those big calls.” Hoyser’s manager and producer Tony Gross, of GFI Music in Ontario, NY, has always described Claudia’s style as “fingerprint,” meaning her voice has its own unique, recognizable quality. When she first started singing, she didn’t realize what an asset this would turn out to be, and she wanted to develop a different sound. Gross helped her recognize how valuable her voice’s uniqueness is—it’s sometimes described as a “Yankee twang.” “I’ve come to love it,” she says, “and I love to tell stories through my music.”
Hoyser grew up in a supportive and musical family. Her mother is a teacher in Fairport and has been a big help in growing her support system by “telling everyone she can about my music.” Her father plays guitar and drums; her uncle is a guitar player and was a big influence as well. “I always wanted to take guitar lessons from him and voice lessons from him,” she says. Even as a small child, Hoyser was out listening to live music. These days, she tours with her own band. She appears with “anything from a duo to a four-piece, all the way up to seven.” Hoyser herself plays guitar and tambourine, and “I picked up the harmonica a few times,” she says, “but I do want to keep getting better at that.” Her music career began when she was in college. A fellow Fairport graduate was trying to break into videography and reached out to her to ask if she could perform in a video, as he needed to make a reel. She was excited for the opportunity but had nothing recorded.This led them to GFI studios. It was her understanding that she should show up ready to record a song, with a guitar player. “I was thinking it was my big break, you know, going to a studio for the very first time.” But they walked in and “Tony looked at us like we had three heads,” because he had only planned on a meet-and-greet that day. “I was horrified,” Hoyser says. “So embarrassed.” For one thing, her uncle had taken the day off from work to come and play guitar. After chatting a bit, Gross decided to give it a try and set up some microphones. Hoyser and Gross have been working together ever since. Songwriting is very important to both of them.“If the story didn’t make sense, the song wasn’t worth it,” she said. “It’s really about the lyrics.” Their songwriting process varies—sometimes Gross comes to her with a melody idea, and she will “spit some words out at him.” Other times she writes some words that he will tweak.
Hoyser enjoys a lot of local support. “We’ve felt an overwhelming love from the community.” She has been involved with the local Rochester Music Hall of Fame and has also sung at the American Legion’s wreath-throwing ceremony. Her video “Wicked” features local dancers from Draper School of Dance Jessie Tretter and Megan Kamler,“and they were incredible,” Hoyser says. Her drummer’s wife, Jamey Leverett, is a choreographer, and they all agreed that it would be great to have some ballerinas in the video. “When I first started imagining music videos, that’s always one of the first things I pictured, was having ballerinas in a video,“she says,“so we really made that dream come to life.” Hoyser looks forward to more collaborations. She’s recently written some duets and said, “We’re always looking for that counterpart sound to match my voice and do something together.”
When asked about her influences, Hoyser explains that she’s a huge fan of Miranda Lambert and was thrilled to open for her last September. “That was a major moment in my life,” she says. She also loves Chris Stapleton and has grown to love a lot of classic country music like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris. Growing an appreciation for these classic artists, she explains, has helped her grow into her own role as a storyteller. She loves how welcoming the country music scene is and especially enjoys writing “the slower heartbreak tunes.”
Like the music, the coffee and whiskey products got their start in an organic way. Hoyser has always been a coffee lover, and Gross is as well, so there is always a pot of coffee ready in the studio. When they created the “Hoyser Country Monday” series, in which Hoyser plays a classic country song, they placed a small vintage coffee pot in every single video as an Easter egg. “As time went on, it became more and more of a thing,” she says. “People would comment things like ‘Where’s Claudia’s coffee pot?’ and ‘Claudia’s going to die without her coffee!’” In 2017, she was playing a show at Titus Tavern in Irondequoit, and bar owner Bucky Montrois asked her what the deal was with the coffee. He has been in the coffee business his whole life, he explained, and asked her if she would like to come up with her own blend to offer to her fans. “I thought that was amazing,” she says, “and incredible and exciting.” The offer initially seemed too good to be true, but sure enough, the next week Montrois showed up with various types of coffee beans and machinery as well as flavors. “I’ve learned way too much about coffee,” Hoyser says. “I could go on forever about it.” After sampling coffee beans from around the world, they came up with their own blend, Hoyser Country Blend. “I figured we would sell fifty bags at the merch table,” she says, and that would be the end of it. That was far from the case: the coffee went up for sale online and due to her robust social media following, it immediately took off. The coffee now ships to fifteen countries and is sold in all Tops supermarkets as well as Hegedorn’s, Breen’s Market, Red Bird Market, and Herrema’s Market Place. It is also available in many local bars and restaurants. “The online presence has been a huge help,” she says. “We can just jump on Facebook Live and tell everybody the new exciting song that’s here or a new coffee flavor.” Then in 2019 some fans in Boise, Idaho, reached out. They had been drinking the coffee and listening to Hoyser’s music while they worked—at a distillery. They wanted to turn the coffee into a coffee-flavored spirit. “We worked out a recipe with them for about two years,” Hoyser says. In 2021, Drunken Bean coffee-flavored whiskey debuted, and it is now offered in about 400 retail locations in Idaho and New York, soon to be heading into a few more states.
When audiences see her shows, Hoyser hopes people can relate to her lyrics and that people walk away with a “feeling of being understood” and “feeling some inspiration and excitement.” She is constantly working on new songs and hopes to release a lot of fresh music in 2023. Last year she played at many festivals and anticipates an exciting lineup of shows again this year. As of this writing, her summer schedule has not been set, but “we definitely expect to have a lot of travel this summer,” she says. You can hear the music at claudiahoyser.com and check out the coffee and whiskey at hoysercountry.com.