Interview: Hailey Whitters

Hailey Whitters, the oldest of six children with hippy-esque names like Tyger, Heavenlei, and River, grew up in the middle of a corn field in Shueyville, Iowa, population 600, listening to Shania and thinking she could be the fourth Dixie Chick. Interestingly, she didn’t really “do” music at all until high school.  One day, she picked up a guitar, started playing, and the course of her life was forever changed.   When her mother drove her to Nashville to take voice lessons at 16, the young Hailey fell in love with the Music City and its history.  At 17, she graduated from high school with a fierce determination to move to Nashville; her Mother pleaded with her to further her education, and made her daughter a deal–Hailey could move to Nashville to go to college.

Several years later, her God-given songwriting talents earned her a publishing deal with Carnival Music, and now, Hailey Whitters is preparing to release her debut album on October 2nd. “It’s a great first album,” she says. “There’s singer-songwriter stuff, rock, and attitude.  I love Americana, I respect so many of those artists, they’re in just like a higher realm.”  Citing Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, Jason Isbell, and Ryan Adams as major influences on her music, Hailey finds herself drawn to the lyrics of those who are saying brave and honest things.  The album is bursting with stories–some written herself, some written by others, all of them poignantly delivered to the listener with purity and conviction.

The first single from the album and its title track, “Black Sheep,” is full of finger-wagging swagger that would make the likes of Kacey Musgraves proud: “That song just came about so quickly, I wrote it with Adam Wright in an hour and a half.  It’s a quirky, fun song.  I love the line ‘when I’m gone you won’t look so white.’  We all have dirt, but some people are afraid to show it, you know? That song owns up to being different and doing your thing,” she says.  While she didn’t write the album’s second track, “City Girl,” Hailey can profess that growing up in the country isn’t glamorous, and she wanted out. “There are people around here who are always bragging about how country they are; the girl in that song is saying ‘I don’t want to be country, I want to be a city girl,’ and that’s exactly how I felt,” she says, adding, “I really like ‘Low All Afternoon.’  It’s not necessarily about me, it’s about a friend of mine, and her relationship with this guy.  It just fell out of me; I think the truth is the easiest thing to write, it’s harder to make something up.  ‘One More Hell’ is autobiographical; my brother passed away about four years ago in a car accident.  Everyone’s eyes always get wide when I sing the line ‘Mama’s not right, Daddy’s still mad/He wants to kick God’s ass/’Cause he says that it ain’t right He took you so fast,’ but my dad really said that.  It’s natural to be angry with God when something like that happens, you know what I mean? I wrote it the summer after his accident, and still to this day, it will make me tear up. ‘Get Around’ isn’t autobiographical, I’m not sleeping around town or anything, but I wrote it with a great friend who isn’t scared to write what she feels, and I believe we got the story across.  There are lines in there where people’s eyes get wide too.  Those songs say things that break some ground, I think.”

Hailey confesses she’s not trying to “chase the dream” when she writes music; “I just want to write a good song.  It’s hard to write for a living when you’re under that pressure sometimes. The people I admire are people who just do their thing, like Patty Griffin.  People don’t ask what her genre is, she’s just Patty Griffin.  Another example is Jason Isbell. You say his name and you instantly know what his music is.”  With the 10-song storytelling stunner she will release on October 2nd, she’s definitely on the right track.

If you’re in or near Nashville, come celebrate the release of “Black Sheep” on September 29th at The Basement.  The 21+ show is free, and starts at 6:00 p.m.

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Susan Hubbard

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