Exclusive Interview: Black Queer Artist HAILES details her new EP and creating music during a pandemic
"My own journey to accepting both my Blackness and my queerness has been long and it’s definitely taken me a minute to come into myself."
By Jared Alexander
Let me tell you, chatting with HAILES will immediately put a smile on your face and set you at ease. Her entire vibe is welcoming, warm and chill, even in a Zoom call while she sets up in a recording studio in Bedstuy. Although she dropped her amazing debut single Come Thru a few weeks back, she’s still working on her full project, Good Things Take Time. I was lucky enough to listen to a few tracks from the project, and it is truly a gorgeous piece of art. It’s music that is very much of the moment, and takes you on a journey through HAILES’ mind. Perfect for chilling in your room or missing your boo while you’re socially distanced with sounds you’ll revisit over and over again..
While her amazing collaborators set up behind her, HAILES sat down with Black Youth Project about her process, the music that’s to come (check out her website for updates) and how her past year has been.
Alright, first off, this music is just so good!
Thank you so much!
How are you doing in these times?
Everything’s been good! I feel like I finally adjusted to the shock of the pandemic in the last month or so. It’s like “okay, this is kind of normal life now” and let’s just settle in.
Right? Sometimes it still feels like March was last month…
And we’re about to be at the top of the year again!
What has your process been like this year? I know you’ve been making music for a while, but did the pandemic expedite all of this in any way?
This has personally been the most expansive time for me and it’s really forced me to just create. I come from musical theatre, and you know…I realized I never really loved it? I loved the combination of acting, singing and dancing, but my vibe musically is just so different, so my time away from auditioning and that entire process has allowed me to sit and tell myself “okay you said you wanted to write music, now’s the time”. Above everything, I’m grateful for the time.
Totally! In theatre as an actor it can feel like there is little to no control in what you do…
Exactly! And jumping into making music like this was super daunting at first. I knew exactly how I wanted my music to sound, but I don’t play many instruments super well and just felt like “I don’t know how to translate what’s in my head!”. But once I connected with my amazing team Charles and Dan (Charles Myers and Dan Winshall both produce HAILES’ music, with Charles on guitar and Dan on bass), it really took off. Meeting them felt cosmic in a way, like it was fate. We formed this little trio pre-pandemic and haven’t stopped since. Because we have such similar taste in music, I would just send them super simple chords and melodies and they would send back exactly what I envisioned for each song.
That’s evidently clear in the music. The story, lyrics and melody are all so cohesive…
Thank you! It’s been a lot of phone communication to make this album. A few months ago once we all got tested and knew we were COVID negative, we went away to Cape Cod at Dan’s family beach house. It was literally a house in the middle of the woods, and it just helped move the process along even further.
So when you go to sit down and write, where do you start?
Honestly it varies from song to song. In the beginning of quarantine I would just sit around with my guitar that I could barely play and my keyboard, and would play around until I heard a melody in my head or even just one note. I’m constantly recording voice memos of random phrases or melodies that stick to me and I immediately send them over to Charles and Dan.
What do you want people to take away from your music when they listen to it?
When I imagine someone listening to my music I just want them to dive into a calm vibe. Like just chilling in a room with dim lights, smoking a joint, and just calm. That’s the space I’m in when I’m writing, and if I can give people peace or ease through music they can jam and chill to…that’s the goal.
That’s what we all want, especially right now. What do your fans have to look forward to with the rest of the project?
Right now we’re here in this studio in Bedstuy to re-record everything.We want the quality to be the best that it can be.Charles is literally setting up the drums and everything behind me right now. I’m thankful for Charles and Dan. It takes a lot.
Let’s jump back to your theatre background for a second. I find your lyrics to be so refreshingly active. While sonically it’s nowhere near showtunes, the communication in the lyrics are so clear like in musical theatre songs…
Absolutely. The storytelling of my music is influenced by theatre for sure. Definitely not the space I am in sonically, but lyrically yes. Although Into the Woods…I’m telling you that is my favorite musical ever and I don’t even love musicals like that.
Into the Woods goes off! Wait…do we need a HAILES Into the Woods cover album?
Listen I would truly do that! I think also it’s just helped having experience performing live, you know? Experience on stage and being comfortable singing in front of people has helped me when I perform my own stuff now.
I have to mention to that it almost feels like a watershed moment for Black Queer art right now in so many different spaces, and in a way we simply didn’t see when we grew up (the 90’s). And listen, Black Queer people have been leading culture throughout history regardless of if they were seen or not…
Exactly! Just from behind the curtain while being co-opted by so many other groups…
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about claiming the space. Growing up in a predominately white suburban town, my own journey to accepting both my Blackness and my queerness has been long and it’s definitely taken me a minute to come into myself. My personal journey and struggle was rooted in dismantling my own internalized prejudices that are taught, which in turn got me to this place where I can create authentically, and feel comfortable enough to share my story. There is so much music in the world and sometimes I wonder “does it matter” if I put something out? It’s been about me stepping in and being unafraid to claim that space and use my voice. While my music isn’t explicitly political, I do feel my music is a protest in it’s own way.
In simply standing in our light as Black Queer artists, that is in and of itself a protest.
There are so many artists I admire that gave me the freedom to feel like “I can do that too”. And my voice can possibly give someone else the courage to tell their own stories and write from their own perspective, you know? It matters.
Exclusive Images of HAILES in the Studio with the team: