Interview with Hayley Reardon
Listen to while reading: Young and numb, Hayley Reardon
Born just outside Boston, Massachusets, Hayley Reardon quickly established a name for herself in the folk music scene. She was only in middle school when she became a peer Spokesperson for PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, where she traveled all across America trying to create a better environment for children. Now based in Nashville, she is continuing to inspire and leave whoever is listening baffled with her stories and passion for what she does.
She recently returned from her two week long UK tour The Handwritten Sessions, where she played intimate concerts in unique spaces where there wouldn't normally be concerts.
Late August of 2017, I saw a video of her performing her original song Everything Else on the Sofar London channel. I was instantly struck by the lyrics and the way she performed it. Not long after, I followed her on Instagram. A few days later she messaged me telling that her parents lived in Stavanger long ago, and she has always wanted to come here. If that is not law of attraction, then I don't know what is. After multiple messages, Skype conversations and emails, the interview is complete, partly written by Hayley herself and me.
How did you get into making music?
There was always a guitar in the house -- my dad bought an Epiphone for my mom in the 80’s for her to begin learning and she never got through Pancho & Lefty! I’ve written little poems and stories for as long as I can remember, so when I started learning guitar at age eleven, it just felt natural to start writing songs of my own.
What did you want to be when you were 5 years old?
Oh...so many things. My grandfather was a firefighter and I spent a lot of time with him when I was young -- I remember going through a phase where I was convinced I’d be a firefighter too. That’s so funny to think of now because I’m literally the most cautious person I know.
How did your upbringing affect you as a person, and the kind of music you write?
I think of my music as sort of mellow & warm and my upbringing was very much the same way. I grew up in a cluttered, cozy home by the ocean with a very tight-knit family. My parents and community offered a lot of support early on & I think that gave me the confidence to start pursuing music at a young age in the way that I did.
What do you love most about being a musician?
Probably that is so multi-faceted. At least as an independent musician, I feel like I wear a lot of hats and no two days look the same. From traveling for shows to working on new songs or sounds to more administrative stuff like booking & promoting. Part of me wants to just work on music in my pajamas all day but another part of me loves the variety.
If you weren’t an artist, do you have an idea of what you would do?
I’ve heard so many people say things like “the only reason to be an artist is if you literally can’t see yourself doing anything else.” I don’t think like that at all -- there are so many walks of life & professions that interest me. And I think the way a person shapes their life & approaches their work can be a display of artistry and creativity no matter what they do for a living. I’d love to be a teacher -- I think teachers are so important and often overlooked. Or a journalist.
Your music itself
Is there a meaning to your lyric beyond what it appears to be on the surface? (Is there anything you hope people can take from your music?)
Lyrics are everything to me -- they’re what I hear first and cherish most. So I guess my hope is that people can find a bit of themselves and their own story in the stories I tell through my songs.
What is your favorite song among the ones you have written?
My favorite is very often the newest. I recently wrote an updated version of the patriotic song “America the Beautiful” that I think I might be most proud of at the moment. Or maybe my song “Everything Else.” It’s always changing.
Could you briefly describe your process for writing a song?
It used to be that the only way I could write was all at once -- just sit down with a guitar and let what I’m playing inspire lyrics & melody simultaneously. I’d sing whatever came to mind and then adjust it until it sounded right and said what I wanted it to say. More recently though I tend to be a little less stream of consciousness. I’ll usually sit down to write with a specific lyric or concept in mind and work out a melody and chord progression from there.
How has your music evolved since you first began playing music?
I think the songs have grown up right along with me -- I’d like to think they’re a bit more subtle and mature. My music is almost always a reflection of my experiences so it I’ve found that it tends to evolve and unfold in the same way my life does.
Would you say that growing up in Nashville has influenced your music in any way?
I moved to Nashville for college when I was 18. I’m 21 now and no longer in school (this semester at least) so my life here now looks a little different than it did two years ago. It’s been both inspiring & hard. The music community I came from in the Boston area was not necessarily an industry hub in the way that Nashville is. Nobody moved there “to make it” in music like they do here. So there is a different feel & approach but I’ve still found it to be a very warm and welcoming place. It’s cool to be surrounded by so many people who love and do the same thing as you and I think learning from and observing all the talent here has influenced me in a lot of ways.
Where and when do you feel most inspired? What do you do if you’re not feeling motivated?
I always feel inspired when I’m traveling -- anything that reminds me how big the world is. Also when I’m in my childhood home in Massachusetts. There’s something special about sitting in the same space I did when I wrote my first few songs and discovered my creative energy. As for feeling unmotivated writing-wise, I’ve tried to push through and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Yes it’s work and you often have to think of it like that -- but also in my case, the songs are only as good as the experiences I have to write about so when I feel uninspired I’ll usually take it as a reminder to more present and open in my real life.
A few years ago, you were a Peer Spokesperson for PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. How did you get in touch with them? If you had to choose one thing you learned while you worked with them, what would it be and why?
I was in middle school when I started working with the PACER Center. I had written a song for a friend who was struggling with bullying and that song was what initially connected me to their work. Going forward as a high school student I was able to be involved with them in the creation of classroom toolkits that used music, art exercises, and discussion prompts to start a deeper conversation on bullying, identity, resilience, and self-esteem. I think there are two really important things I learned through that collaboration.
1) There’s no such thing as being too young or too “under-qualified” to use your voice and life experience to help someone.
2) Everything you could possibly feel someone else out there is feeling too or has felt before. We truly are never alone no matter how alone we may feel. That’s why sharing those dark & vulnerable experiences is so empowering -- strangers come out of the woodwork and say “thank you -- me too” and all of a sudden we all feel better.
What does being an artist mean to you? - Can anybody be an artist and how can people who don’t know they are artists find their voice?
I think it means being self-aware (sometimes to a fault). Being sensitive and open (even when it's hard). There are days when I don’t feel like an artist and I think those are the days I’m more closed off to the world and less inspired. So for me being an artist is less of a job or an identity and more of a practice -- a way of living and thinking that I continually have to bring myself back to.
Is there anything you would say to a person who is struggling with finding themselves and their purpose?
I think joy is always a good place to start. Your “purpose” is bound to be multidimensional and ever evolving in the same way you are. How do we “find” a self that’s (hopefully) always, always growing? So it often helps me to pull it back to what makes me feel happy, free, confident, inspired, etc and follow that.