It is not everyday that you get a phone call from an Oscar Winner to collaborate on a new song but that is exactly what happened to singer songwriter Hayley Sales. The single Never Before was a track that was co-wrote by Hayley and Sharon Stone. It sounded like such a fascinating story I had to find out more so I spoke to the musician about the writing process, inspirations and how improv can really inspire a song.
Hello Hayley nice to meet you, how did you get into music?
When I was born, I didn’t cry. I apparently stared directly into my mom’s eyes…She says it was as though I was smugly insinuating ‘what took you so long? let’s get going already’ I haven’t stopped going since. I came in singing. I came in saturated in an absolute love for performing and story. My dad owned and operated GlassWing studios out of the basement of our battered Victorian house in Washington D.C. Day and night, the beats of R&B, Jazz and Hip-Hop wafted up through the floorboards into my crib. One of my favorite places to sit was on the mixing board while he worked. I can only imagine his clients’ reactions, but he let me do it. I just loved everything about how music took me out of my incredible chatty mind and into story, into a feeling. I loved it. I spent hours singing and dancing around the yard, swept away in some story I was make-believing.
Then, I stepped on the stage at my Kindergarten talent show, I knew I was home. I’ve never looked back. I began to pursue a career in music and acting with all my heart right then and there. In many ways, I didn’t have a childhood…I practiced piano all day, went to dance all night, took part in hundreds of theatrical performances, Shakespeare, musicals, anything, attended arts schools starting at the age of ten and graduated at sixteen. I was enamored with the whole thing.
How would you define your sound?
Everything that I feel, everything that I think, every way that I love, every moment I’ve hurt…I guess you could say my music is an ode to romance. Unabashed romance…Romance has always been an extremely important and inspirational part of who I am and how I express myself. And not just that fall in love type of romance, but romance as a way of life, a way of experiencing the entire spectrum of feelings.
Tell us all about your new single Never Before?
For years I dabbled with doing what I thought I should do, creating music that I thought would get me where I wanted to go. As a teen I was told over and over again that my sound wasn’t relevant, my songs were too passionate, too emotive. Being incredibly driven and incredibly insecure, I chose to focus on songs I believed people wanted to hear. Then I lost it all. Somehow all that loss, all those setbacks and failures, stripped away the minutiae. There was nothing to lose. I couldn’t give up and I knew I had to make music, but I had to make the music that I needed to make, the music that was pressing out the edges of my heart begging to get out.
I was terrified the entire time we were producing the record. The songs were so exposing and stripped down… at times my voice teetered on the edge of tears. I definitely battled my perfectionism and doubt at every turn; a battle I very nearly lost over and over again. My Dad and co-producer literally taped a piece of paper to the computer screen in the studio that said “No, it doesn’t suck you idiot.” I guess I’d asked him a couple times. But deep down, for the first time in my life, I knew I was headed in the right direction because it wasn’t comfortable. I had to sing the songs most important to me. I had to sing to get it out. I had to keep it vulnerable, raw and honest. I had to make the music that moved me. And I hoped, in being as transparent as possible, someone out there would listen and feel understood, comforted. Never Before is one of those tunes…I have to sing because it’s so much a part of me.
Also you worked with Sharon Stone on the track! What was that like?
At the time Sharon invited me to write with her, I was rattled by the insecurity of having just lost my record label that year, a label I had been with since I was a teenager. I was hovering on the edge of being swallowed up in a swath of fake eyelashes, hair extensions and Hollywood’s blinding lights. When I showed up at her house, I was a handful of nerves and excitement…I’d never done a co-write before and had no idea what to expect or how to even go about it. The second she walked into the room, all that went away.
She was so warm and gracious, so absolutely unpretentious and open. We talked for quite a while, about absolutely anything and everything. We both resonated with the idea of unabashed romance…There’s such a courage required in letting yourself be vulnerable, letting yourself be truly in love. We decided to dig in and see where that thread took us. Sharon sat down on the couch, notebook in hand, and I slipped off my flip flops and settled in front of the gorgeous grand piano in her living room. Never Before just began to unfold between us. It was really magical. Very quickly, I could sense we were onto something special. I was blown away by Sharon’s ability to weave words around a melody. The lyrics and music somehow seemed to hum at the same frequency. I can’t quite describe it, and it definitely doesn’t always happen with co-writes, but it did with us. I’m truly grateful.
How did the collaboration come around?
An incredible friend, one of the angels of my life, must have shared my music to Sharon. The next thing I knew, I was walking in front of Canters Deli in LA when the phone rings. I answer, mid-bite into my sandwich, “Hi…It’s Sharon Stone.” I almost tripped into the middle of the road. Next thing I knew, I was at her house writing. It was the first and one of the only co-writes I’ve done to this day. It’s funny…you never know how a co-write will go. Especially considering I’ve always believed that I can’t write a song. It has to write itself. I just stay out of the way.
To be honest, I had no idea how a collaboration would go and gave myself about a 50/50 change I’d seize up and forget how to play piano. But to this day, writing Never Before, was one of the most inspiring collaborations I’ve ever been a part of. Largely because Sharon has an amazing ability to listen to a melody and pull from its notes the meaning, to find the words that perfectly match the feeling surging from within its core – I’ve never met someone with such an innate ability read into my musicality with such eloquence. She dove into my own vulnerability, my own romantic notions and brought out something entirely new. In some ways, she was so comfortable into her own skin, she helped me settle into mine. I just loved the whole experience of writing with her.
It is a really beautiful song, it feels like it belongs in a film! What was the inspiration for it?
For me, romance has always been an extremely important and inspirational part of who I am and how I express myself. And not just that fall in love type of romance, but romance as a way of life. Music has always been a space where I can access that feeling, whether romance was actually happening in my life…or not. When Sharon and I began writing Never Before, we wanted to capture just that…that very special moment in life when you’re so in love time stops and every breath feels like velvet.
I can imagine it is a really fun song to sing live as well?
I simply adore performing live. I cannot wait to get back on the stage to sing all these new tunes for you. “Never Before” is an especially sensuous and exciting song to perform – a fun story to tell – I think of my songs as little stories. Maybe it’s the actor in me. But if I’m not truly living in the words and melody, I get too self-conscious. I’ve made it a point, this time around, to sing only the songs that move me to sing. The songs that really dig into my heart. The songs that bring me to the edge of my fullest, most vulnerable, expression.
Never Before is one of those tunes…I have to sing because it’s so much a part of me.Hayley Sales
What is the most challenging thing when it comes to producing a record?
Self-doubt. And overproducing. I’m incredibly insecure. And I’m a perfectionist. I found perfectionism was destroying art, but only about half-way into recording…I’d spent a good month and a half editing all twenty tunes perfectly to the bar. I listened back. It was perfect. I hated it. I had drained all the life out of the music. I undid every edit and started over, keeping the music live, ebbing with an imperfection of realness. I never have felt I’m good enough. I’ve been an outsider. My music isn’t what’s currently on the radio.
When your producing, there’s a tendency to feel safer when you add more shiny bobbly things. I spent a good amount of time building up the tunes to a grandiose extent only to strip them down to piano and voice. For better or worse, I needed this album to be raw. I wanted it to be intimate. I also didn’t have the funding this album to bury myself in production. Sometimes that’s the best thing that could happen to you. It really forced me to really pay attention to the song and only add an instrument because it needed to be there to tell the story. Of course then I’d freak out and think how much safer it would be to add most instruments and electronic sounds…but I forced myself to let it be.
What other artists do you find inspiring?
It might sound strange, but I somehow managed to grow up in the 1940s. Clearly, I didn’t really, but in many ways I had no idea modern music or life existed until middle school. While other kids were watching The Simpsons, I was watching I Love Lucy or Roman Holiday. When I was five years old, I’d heard a recording of Judy Garland and a fuse inside of me ignited. My passion for that era exploded. I dug in with every facet of my mind, soul and heart. I let the unabashed romantic melodies of that era saturate my every second. I spent every second of the day rehearsing for theatrical productions, musicals, Shakespeare, practicing Gershwin, writing songs, daydreaming about marrying Gene Kelly…only to find out he was a bit too old for me. In many, many ways I didn’t fit in. I was an outsider, a misfit for the era. And for a while, I didn’t mind. But then I started to care. I tore down all the classic film posters off my walls and hid the entire library of musical films I’d collected…I tried to be what I considered ‘normal,’ quickly developing a tendency to only feel loved through my talents. Not that that was true, but I was so insecure…I dug into my career very intently at a very young age.
At some point around the age of sixteen, I moved to LA. A record company exec told me my style of music was irrelevant. That I was too dark, to emotive, too different. That I needed to find an angle if I wanted to be successful. I was shattered and impressionable and incredibly ambitious. I put that entire side of myself, all those heart infused tunes, into the closet and conjured up an entirely different version of myself. I found a good deal of success with the lighter, less dramatic tunes I released with Universal Music and wouldn’t change a thing. However, in the past handful of years, after a searing set of heartbreaks of failures, I’ve come to realize how unfortunate that advise had been. I’ve now made a promise to myself. Starting with this new record, I would become transparent. I would only sing the songs my heart needed to sing. Only write the music I wanted to hear. I’d be the messy romantic that I am…I’d let myself be as intense and dramatic or as happy and elated as I wanted without a filter. It’s incredibly challenging. I’m so riddled with insecurities. I don’t think I’ll ever think I’m good enough, but in many ways, this album kept me going.
As for artists…Everyone from Nina Simone to Queen. There are so many artists who’ve inspired me for so many reasons…Gershwin, Ray Charles, Prince, Elton John, Nat King Cole, The Doors, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Queen, Ben Harper, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Barbra Streisand, Etta James, Glen Miller, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Marley, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul McCartney, Al Green, Patsy Cline, Diana Ross… I also simply adore cinematic soundtracks. Everyone from Henry Mancini to James Horner. Loved the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Really, anything that makes me feel, takes me out of my own world for a fleeting moment…
How do you warm up for a show?
First, I’ll do vocal warm-ups for at a minimum, thirty minutes. Sometimes up to an hour or so if I feel tense. Then I try to quiet my mind. I imagine myself going through the songs, going through the show, the stories. Take deep breaths. Step on stage, and it all falls away. It’s funny…if I have nerves, it’s always the moments right before the curtain rises. Once the curtain rises, I’m home. It’s the most comfortable place for me to be in the world.
Sharon was so warm and gracious, so absolutely unpretentious and open. We talked for quite a while, about absolutely anything and everything.Hayley Sales
How do you relax after a show?
I guess that depends! I love to go meet the audience if possible. Just simply love that. After that, either on the tour bus or at the hotel, my band and I will hang, chat, goof around, watch a comedy or a movie…Grab a glass of wine. Or a beer. Eat dinner… I don’t like to eat before I sing, so I tend to be starving by the time I’m done. But you know? It’s such a funny feeling after a show. You’re so high, so elated, so connected to everyone in that audience…and then there’s just this stillness. This solitude. This loneliness. Once the curtain falls…Not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s just you. And you left a great deal of yourself on stage. So you pick up the pieces one at a time. After a show? One of the few times I feel peace.
What is one of your favorite songs to perform live?
There’s a tendency as a performer to love the newest tunes most…Probably because they’re fresh. You haven’t practiced them a billion times. There’s still a lot to discover about them.So, I suppose I’m biased to the last several I’ve recorded. I think what I love most about a song is whether it truly allows me to cling to the melody for dear life, how deeply it compels me to feel. This last year…well…the last five years, have been incredibly hard for me. The songs that have come out of this time kept me alive. They comfort me in some way. Having said that, I adore singing any Judy Garland tune, Nina Simone tune, Ray Charles tune, Queen tune…the list goes on.
Our site also is about improv – in a music sense, what have been some of your favorite improvised melodies that you have created and been able to use in songs and why?
To be honest, my melodies find me, and they tend to find me when I’m least expecting them. I can’t find them. Ever. I can’t plan a song. The song choses me. So, in a way, everything you hear is a captured moment of my experience. A still frame of my heart. Many times, while we were recording, I would choose to track both the piano and the voice at the same time. A great deal of the melody would take on a life of its own.
To this day, writing Never Before, was one of the most inspiring collaborations I’ve ever been a part of. Largely because Sharon has an amazing ability to listen to a melody and pull from its notes the meaning, to find the words that perfectly match the feeling surging from within its core – I’ve never met someone with such an innate ability read into my musicality with such eloquenceHayley Sales
What are your plans for the rest of 2021?
Earlier in the year, we finished up RICOCHET, the first record I’ll legally be allowed to release in years. Over the next year, we will be rolling out the tunes one at a time and hoping that a couple people out there are moved to listen. In some ways, this album is the first album I’ve done that really scares me. It’s so me. It’s so vulnerable and exposing. These are the songs I play when I’m sitting alone at my upright piano sometime after midnight. The songs that tell all. It’s easy to release a song. But to release a song that holds your heart up to the microscope of society…it’s a bit terrifying. If it’s rejected or if it fails, it feels like the world is a room you don’t fit in. Having said that, that’s the beauty of art. If your art isn’t a bit terrifying, you’re probably not giving the world everything that you are. Otherwise, I’m just finishing up filming a new movie!
And finally why should people check out your music?
Because I’m not what you expect