We’re continuing our September Music Crush of the Month series with country singer Hailey Verhaalen. We chatted with her (from a distance) about her early inspiration, moving to Nashville and her new music.
Nashville Noise: First of all, I’m super stoked to have you do this. I just love your voice and your spirit. I’ve read through your bio and know a bit about your story but I’m curious what your first memory of music is.
Hailey Verhaalen: Thank you so much for having me and supporting my music! My very first memory of music was my third-grade talent show. I remember at that age just loving to sing, so when the opportunity came to audition for the talent show, I tried out! I was a part of another act in the talent show with some friends, so to be allowed to perform again, I’d have to go very last — and only if they had time. They were able to squeeze me in and I sang “America the Beautiful” as the people who had to get to their buses left the gym and the rest of the students stayed until I was done.
NN: That is so sweet! How did that affect your desire to pursue this professionally?
HVL: Even though it was a rushed first performance, I remember falling in love with singing in front of an audience. So any chance I could after that, I would sing in front of anyone who would listen! It was that performance that sparked that desire in me — and as time went on and I got older, I got braver and tried landing bigger and bigger gigs.
NN: You started really hustling to be able to do that. Are there any of those early performances that really stick out to you?
HV: After I started playing with a band about six years ago, we would enter into competitions to try and land slots at festivals and other big venues. The one that sticks out to me most was the competition to perform a 9 AM Sunday slot at Sweet Home, Oregon’’s Bi-Mart Country Music Fest, which was one of the biggest festivals at the time. While a 9 AM slot sounds like an awful time to play, it was actually a great slot! It was during the festival’s big benefit breakfast and was a great opportunity to get in front of a thousand people or so. It was neck in neck for weeks for the first place slot between me and another girl, and with the help of all of my family, friends and fans, we landed the slot. There was so much hard work that went into winning this competition, that it really stuck with me and helped continue that drive for competitions and performances to come.
NN: And then you decided to move from your home state to your new home, Nashville, four years ago. How did you make that decision? I’m sure it was tough.
HV: Making the choice to pack up everything I owned and head south was a gut-wrenching and bittersweet decision. I knew that I could continue the same path over in Oregon of playing the same places every weekend and continue to be happy on my local level. But I had a huge passion for songwriting and knew that if I moved to Nashville, I would be surrounded by the best and able to better my craft and grow into the songwriter I dreamt of becoming. Oregon would always be there for me to go back and play as much as I wanted, and Nashville was waiting for me to take a leap of faith. Four years later, here I am!
NN: What was the first thing you did when you moved here — both for fun and professionally?
HV: Right when I got to Nashville, the first thing I did was explore! I live out by Percy Priest Lake, which is HUGE and has so many fun areas to explore. My best friend who moved here with me and I would spend time hiking and checking out the lake. It was a fun change of scenery from our home state. Professionally, I started out by sitting at coffee shops so I could research what my first moves should be. I started playing every open mic I could and met some incredible songwriters that I would go on to write some of my favorite songs I’ve been a part of with.
NN: What did you learn about the music business?
HV: Moving to Nashville taught me how hard the industry is and how hard it is to make a living at it! Over in Oregon, I had played out so much that I was pretty well known and able to book places without a ton of research. Over here, playing out in town and making a living don’t necessarily go hand in hand unless you are wearing out your voice all of the time on Broadway. So I quickly had to find ways to make a living outside of music so that I could focus the rest of my time on songwriting and playing tons of night time writers rounds to keep bettering my craft and meeting new people.
NN: Now, let’s talk about your tunes! When I first started listening to you, you were showing a different side of yourself. You’re shifting your sound a little bit — at least for now. Tell me about that.
HV: What I love about songwriting is that it is kind of like a metaphorical photo album of growth. My past releases were written when I was a young heartbroken girl that was heavily into the party/bar scene because I would play 3-4 shows a week in bars. I would write a lot of party songs and a lot of heartbreak songs because those were the truths I was living through! As I’ve gotten older and done some learning and growing up, my life is surrounded by a bit of a different narrative that has shown me a new side of myself. That party girl is always there and when I sing my heartbreak songs, the emotion is real, I just have some very sweet things in my life now allowing me to write about new things — such as love!
NN: Speaking of love. You just dropped “Sunday Morning Love You,” which I’m obsessed with. How’d you know that was the song you wanted to give people to hear this other side of your talent?
HV: When I wrote this song back in 2018 with Steven Cade and Brittany Moore, I knew it was something special. It was stuck in my head for days after the write! I started playing out as much as I could and received some amazing responses from it. It quickly turned into the song that everyone would ask “When the heck are you gonna release it?!”. As time went on, I met the love of my life and felt even more connected to this song because it was a truth I was currently living through and felt with all that is going on in our world it was time for me to release my first happy love song! It’s been fun showing a different side of myself with my releases thus far in 2020.
NN: What do you want people to take away from it after listening?
HV: I want people to be able to close their eyes and immediately picture whoever their Sunday morning love is. As songwriters, our goal is to be able to paint a picture clear enough where the listener can put themselves right into the song and pick their own characters and decide who goes where in the story I’ve helped create so that it fits their own personal life. On a personal level, I am just excited to show this new side of myself. Like I said – the girl who had a bit of a different vibe 5 years ago is still there, but she is growing and loves to share that growth with anyone who is willing to listen!
NN: Lastly, I’ve got to ask. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during this crazy year?
HV: This is such a tough question, but I think I have learned a few big lessons this year. I have had to learn to be okay with constant change and to breathe and pray through scary situations. 2020 is a snowball rolling down a hill filled with mostly bad stuff but it has given me the chance to remember what matters most — family, friends, quality time, figuring out new ways to fill my time, etc. I’ve also been able to re-learn how to show myself grace and remind myself that everyone in the world is going through some version of the same thing. The only way through it is staying strong for each other and supporting one another in any way we can!
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