Tyler Hilton Says Playing Arenas Is Like Being In ‘Rock And Roll Prison’

Singer is on tour with Hilary Duff until September 3.

Tyler Hilton loves being on the road, and for the last several months, the traveling troubadour has barely left it, taking part in no less than three separate treks, including his current gig opening for Hilary Duff on her Still Most Wanted Tour.

It’s certainly a step up for the 21-year-old singer/songwriter, who is used to playing for much smaller, more intimate crowds.

“I’ve never done a tour like this before,” Hilton said recently. “My friend [Butch Walker] who’s opening for Avril Lavigne said it’s so crazy doing arena tours, because it almost feels like you’re in a rock and roll prison — you’re surrounded by concrete hallways all day long. It’s true!”

Hilton was in the midst of his first headlining tour when he was tapped to open Duff’s summer excursion, and he says he’s had to adjust to playing for a different audience than he’s accustomed to.

“It’s a very young crowd that doesn’t seem to have crushes on boys yet, so it’s not like you can rely on, say, raw sexual energy,” the singer laughed. “It’s more like, ‘Hey, let’s have a lot of fun!’ but it’s cool. That’s what changing up your show is all about. It keeps it fresh and challenging.”

To mix things up even more, the singer and his band recently booked an impromptu gig at a club in Columbus, Ohio, that held only 100 people. “We just book these small things and play for hours and hours,” he said.

Once the Duff tour wraps on September 3, the singer-turned-actor plans to head back to North Carolina to start a new season of the WB teen drama “One Tree Hill,” where he has a recurring role playing cocky musician Chris Keller. “They’ve been great because if I don’t have a tour booked, they’ll let me come back and do new episodes,” Hilton said.

Soon, the singer will head back into the recording studio to lay down tracks for the follow-up to his 2004 major-label debut, The Tracks of Tyler Hilton, but he says he still has no idea what kind of sound it will take. “It could be an acoustic folk album, or it could be a full-blown rock album. All I know is that it’s been keeping me creatively satisfied,” he said.

Hilton said he’s been able to write some new songs on the road, although the pace of this particular tour has made the process more difficult. One new track he hopes to see on the new LP is “Just a Girl,” an ode to a lifelong love who leaves for Nashville to pursue her dreams of becoming a country singer. “The song is just about knowing someone as a kid and telling her that she’ll never be anything to me but that girl that I knew.”

Another track, “Your Company,” is a thank-you note to his fans. “I wrote it for them, saying I don’t know why you come out every night to see me. There’s a million different places you could be and a million singer/songwriters to see, but for some reason you think I’m special enough to pay the money. It’s beyond me, but I’m way appreciative of it,” he said.

Hilton’s star seems likely to remain on the rise, as he preps for the release of his first feature film role as a young Elvis Presley in the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk The Line,” out November 20 (see “Tyler Hilton Took Elvis Role So He Wouldn’t Be Jealous” ).

“It’s really hard to see myself as Elvis, because he’s someone I admire so much. But it was novel for me to see myself in a movie playing him, with girls swooning around me — I had the hair, the entourage, it was so cool,” he said. “It was like wearing one of the greatest Halloween costumes ever.”