Q&A: singer/songwriter Hayley Sales
360°Sound caught up with singer/songwriter/actor Hayley Sales. When we spoke with Sales last week, she was wrapping up her 8-date virtual tour, which was streamed live from her parents’ blueberry farm in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where she’s been staying during the pandemic.
Sales has finished her first record in a decade, Ricochet, which is set for a 2021 release. The album’s first single, “All Shook Up,” will come out next month, and two Christmas singles will follow. Sales is also attempting to release The Misadventures, her ambitious third album that was shelved by her label (more on that later).
In this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, Sales discusses her musical influences, the new record, working with her producer/musician father and more.
360°: What’s it like living on a blueberry farm?
Hayley Sales: It’s definitely not where I thought I’d be this year [laughs]. The plan had been to hit the road touring, but clearly, life took a drastic turn for all of us. I packed up my tiny apartment in L.A. and headed back to my parents’ farm in early March thinking it’d be a month. Well, [laughs], again, 2020 has different plans. Having said that, I feel lucky. My dad runs Glasswing Studios on the farm. We’ve recorded all my records there. To bide the time and tame my anxiety, I dove back in and began recording more tunes to wait out the pandemic. Between takes, I’d run out to grab blueberries or feed the baby chicks I’ve become obsessed with. I’ve even run after a black bear that tried to eat said baby chicks [laughs].
Today is the last date of your virtual tour. How’s that been?
I have to be honest, the first two were so awkward. I’ve basically been born on the stage. I’ve been performing since I was a little kid. I love the interaction with the audience. It turns me on. The first two shows were really fun, but all I could think about was how terrible I was [laughs]. Because you’re just sitting there by yourself and performing and hoping someone is watching. I kind of settled into it.
We have a tiny venue here attached to the recording studio here on the farm. I rolled my piano in. It’s keeping me alive really. Even if I can’t see the fans, just to be able to play music and hope someone watches it. So much of being an artist is the people you’re performing for, the people hearing you, and that back and forth. Even if it’s virtual, it’s been really fun. I think we might have a couple more in December.
You were signed to Universal Music Canada and released a couple of successful LPs in 2007 and 2010. However, your third album The Misadventures was never released. What happened and how did it lead to your upcoming album Ricochet?
It’s a roller coaster. I kind of have known since I was a kid that I wanted to be a musician, so in some ways, this feels like the longest uphill battle ever. But it’s worth it. I signed with Universal when I was a teen. At that point, I was into surfing. As I was growing up, I was very into the music of the 1930s and 40s. When I was around 16, a label exec said, ‘You need to have a sound, you’re too intense.’ Since I was a surfer, I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I quickly learned how to play guitar. Piano was my main instrument. It was a really fun experience doing that type of music, but at a certain point we were getting to my third record, I knew I wanted to do something a little more authentic to how dramatic I am [laughs].
At that time, [media executive] Randy Lennox, who had actually signed me, left Universal Canada. So I split from them and started recording my third record on my own, completely independently with the help of some Canadian grants. I was very close to finishing it and signed with Verve in the U.S. They were awesome. I was so excited about this. I basically got to live out my grandiose fantasies on The Misadventures. I’ve always loved the Bond soundtracks of the 60s, and “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I really got to do it. We had a whole orchestra doing my songs, and I got to really experiment with that.
I took about a three-year recording process. We finished it and delivered the masters and like a week after, the president left, my A&R man left, and the new team was very opposed to releasing anything they’d been working on. I got stuck in the crossfire. They pulled the plug [on my record]. I tried to get the masters back, but Universal had just implemented a new rule where they would not sell or give back masters. So, I went into the most depressed state. Even though I’ve been a very emotional person, I’ve always kind of had this optimism, and it just shattered.
Then, I was about to sign with Republic, and then my guy left. It kept happening for two years. People were like, ‘Maybe you just need to throw in the towel. You’re gettin’ too old.’ I was told I was too old at 20, too [laughs]. It was so so devastating for me because it’s been my whole life, my music and art.
Once I was determined to do another record, I had this real clarity that I wanted to do it in a way that if it was the last music that I created, I would know I did everything I could to make it as authentic to myself as possible. So that led to making this album [Richochet] terrifying [laughs] because I didn’t have any of the crutches I normally have. I didn’t have someone telling me what songs I could do. I didn’t have a band really. I had to do all the instrumentation. I had to edit it. My dad and I and my lovely bassist and drummer did everything.
Your dad has been a musician and producer for many years, working with The Grateful Dead and Miles Davis, among others. What’s his role in your music?
My dad is amazing. First of all, he looks like Santa Claus, and he actually acts like it, too. He’s this jolly, crazy artist. Music and writing have been his whole life. His role is to keep me from perfecting things. I bow to him for this. I’ll be recording a vocal and about to press delete and he’ll literally be throwing pencils at me, ‘Don’t delete! Don’t delete!’ [laughs].
Since I was doing everything myself, you get tunnel vision and you start hearing and seeing all the things you wanna fix and change. He kept me from doing that. He does that a lot, but he also is playing all the guitars. He’s like this beautiful well of ideas because he has all this experience. All these different decades worth of music knowledge. I’d say mine is much more rooted in the 30s and 40s, and he has this kind of rock/R&B experience. In some ways, he brought an element of the unpredictable.
We’re like opposite sides of the coin as far as what type of musicians we are. He can’t read a note of music. I grew up very obsessed with knowing how to play all classical piano. So, we come from very different backgrounds, and it makes for a really fun hybrid when we come together and produce things.