Hailey Verhaalen Gets Real About “The Real Stuff” and More

Sometimes when you hear an amazing voice, you need to hear more of that voice immediately.

After seeing cover videos on Instagram of an artist named Hailey Verhaalen, I immediately searched for her original music. What I would discover were three excellent EPs from the exciting young artist.

With a smooth voice and an even smoother delivery, Verhaalen is one of those artists that you need to hear more from after first listen!

Here is a chance to hear more from Verhaalen herself, as she details he beginnings, her struggles with self-doubt, the state of country music, and more. Check it out below!

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Justin Loretangeli: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?

Hailey Verhaalen: The earliest musical influence I can remember impacting me was probably The Eagles. My dad and I used to go on hunting and camping trips when I was younger, and we would ALWAYS pop in one of the Eagles’ Greatest Hits CD’s. I remember feeling so free listening to their songs with the windows down on our way to an incredible, memory making weekend! I got to see them live a few years back, and witnessing their sound and harmonies live was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen! You could hear the thousands of hours of practice and dedication they put into their music, and it was such an inspirational thing to watch.

Another huge influence I had growing up was Miranda Lambert. One of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar was “More Like Her” back when I was about 15 years old. I just thought she was the coolest thing as a young girl, and still do to this day! Since I first discovered her, I’ve seen her in concert a TON of times, and I feel like learn something new from every single one of her performances I’m able to go to!

JL: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?

HV: I think there were a few separate situations that eventually lead me to deciding that music was “it” for me. I was first opened up to the idea that it was even possible when I was 20 years old sitting in the restaurant side of Beavercreek Saloon in my hometown. It was around Christmas time, and I had released a little DIY Christmas video of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” online. A ton of people shared it on social media, and one of the very well-known artists in the Pacific Northwest, Matt Borden, ended up seeing it. He also ended up being in the bar side of Beavercreek Saloon that same day I was there. He recognized me from the video and came over to me to say he really enjoyed it! He broke out his guitar and we both played a few songs right there in the middle of the restaurant. After I sang, he asked me if I would like to open for him at his show in Southern Oregon that was a few days later! Nervous as heck, I said yes and started preparing for my first ever show (that wasn’t just the National Anthem or one song at a talent show). I remember being sick to my stomach with nerves, but I pushed through and gave my acoustic set everything I had! Afterward, I realized that playing acoustic shows was a hobby I wanted to get into more. Being able to share my passion with an audience was an incredible feeling!

A year or so later, I met a guy named Jason Snell (owner of 65m Artist Development) at a festival I was playing, and he offered to help me with my music and get me started playing live shows with a band.  He put a band together for me, and we played our first show after a few rehearsals! I remember feeling so awkward at first when I started playing with a band, but after the next couple of shows, I really started to find myself and my groove on stage and started fine tuning my stage presence. About a year into working with Jason, we recorded my second EP “Girls Night Out”, and had an absolute BLAST recording it. Through some of these experiences, it really opened my eyes to the fact that I could make a living off of music, instead of treating it more like a hobby. A few years after “Girls Night Out”, I decided it was time to take the leap and move to Nashville to really give this dream a shot!

JL: When you moved from Oregon to Nashville, did you feel any pressure- internally or externally- to achieve a certain level of success with your career?

HV: I did on some level, but I feel like that is a normal thing to do when completely uprooting your life and moving across the country to chase a dream. You want to get there and see the results and feel like your move was purposeful enough to leave everything you’ve ever known. You also want to prove that to those who support you; at least I did. That pressure, while sometimes can be damaging, is what continues to drive me to want to better my craft and take this passion as far as I can. I am learning as I get older that every situation is what you make it. If you take the pressure as negative, that’s exactly what it’ll be. If you take it as positive, it’s much easier to grow and push forward to become better at your passion!

JL: Your first EP, “Whiskey and Fire” was released in 2014. Did you have any nerves releasing that EP, releasing music for the first time?

HV: It feels like a lifetime ago that we released “Whiskey and Fire!!!” It was such a fun project, and it was the most amazing feeling to hear my songs come to life in a way that was more than just me recording myself singing it on my $100 Nikon camera to post on Facebook. I was really nervous when I first stepped into the studio, but then we started getting into everything and it was just incredible. That was another “ah ha” moment of feeling that music was what I was put on this earth to do!

I had a couple of huge people on Vine (back when it was still a thing) re-vine a clip of my Whiskey and Fire trailer video and was able to get a TON of great traction from that with the release. Everything fell into place beautifully with it being my first release. It was such an amazing feeling!!

JL: In your “The Making of ‘The Real Stuff’” video, you said, “Sometimes you can get down on yourself if you aren’t getting far enough in the time you think you should be getting there.” Is that a mindset you have struggled with? What do you do to overcome self-doubt?

HV: I think every artist struggles with this at some point in their career. You go at things thinking “okay, this SHOULD happen this way. I’ve seen it happen for others before”, but then it doesn’t happen that way, or it happens much slower. It’s super easy to think you’re getting nowhere when you’re only looking at the recent past. I’ve found it’s really important to look back on the last 5 years, or heck, even the last year and see all you’ve accomplished. I am not the same person I was a year ago. To see how far I’ve come simply by writing down my accomplishments helps me battle the self-doubt that can sometimes surface.

It is also very helpful to be able to feel the amount of support I have, and to know how many people believe in my music. It is a pretty surreal feeling to have such an incredible support system cheering me on!

JL: Your newest EP, “The Real Stuff” was partially crowd-funded. What kind of validation is it for you that so many people are interested in your music and seeing your career grow?

HV: SO. MUCH. VALIDATION. The amount of support that was showered upon me with the crowdfunding experience left me speechless. We raised right around $11,000 to record the EP. The fact that I probably wouldn’t have been able to step into the studio without the help of all of my contributors, but had enough people that cared and believed in my music to be able to is an incredible feeling. I could not be more thankful to have seen SO MANY people step up and help out. It was incredible!!!!!

JL: “Rerun” from “The Real Stuff” is off to a pretty good start. Can you talk about the writing process of that song?


HV: I wrote this song with two of my close friends here in Nashville, Kelly Seidel and Kyle James! Kelly had been toying around with the idea of the title “Rerun,” and I think had some ideas for lyrics written down for it. When we were all throwing out ideas for that day’s write, I think we all just really connected with her idea. It’s such a vulnerable song, and a situation I feel most go through at least once in their lives when you stay with a person because it’s comfortable and familiar, but knowing dang well that it isn’t a healthy situation for you to stay in. We talked it out, started coming up with some lyrics by pulling from our own past experiences, and I started toying around with the melody. I would say my favorite part about this song is how it just explodes in the chorus! It hits me right in the heart, and hopefully does the same for anyone who listens to it.

JL: Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song “The Real Stuff”?

HV: I was at a bar in my hometown called The Wild Hare, and was about to play a show. My dad was sitting across from me at our table and got up to go grab us drinks. He was wearing one of his favorite leather jackets, and before he left the table, he took it off, put it on the chair behind him and sarcastically said “No one steal this, it’s not real, its pleather and not worth any money”! Everyone at the table laughed and started naming off all of the things they had that were knock-offs, and weren’t real, high end or super expensive. We were talking in a “who needs the real stuff anyway” type of mentality! I thought to myself “Wow! There are a LOT of material things in my life that are off-brand, fake, purchased proudly on clearance, or that were hand me downs from Amy, my sister-in-law.” I’ve always been vocal about how awesome I feel about having these things because I didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get them!! I wrote the title “The Real Stuff” down in my notes to visit later, played my show, and wrote “The Real Stuff” the very next day. I was cracking up the whole way through when writing it!!

While it’s a pretty funny song with some high-end name drops, I feel like the underlying meaning speaks wonders! We live in a society that pressures us to spend our hard-earned money on buying flashy, name brand things, and keeping up with all of the latest trends so that we can be looked at as “cool” or “classy.”  It often seems like if we don’t succumb to these pressures, we feel looked at as less than those who are able to keep up with all of the latest trends!

I wanted to remind people in a lighthearted way that they don’t need to follow all of the latest bank-breaking trends to be “cool.” Being genuine, being yourself; that’s what makes you cool! I chose “The Real Stuff” for the title of my new EP because I feel like it accurately depicts who I am, what I stand for, and what I hope others will stand for too after listening to it.

JL: You have released a lot of pretty heartbreaking ballads over your three EPs, two standouts being “Midnight Cigarette” and “The Damn You Didn’t Give.” Is it a vulnerable feeling writing about those topics?

HV: Strangely enough, I don’t feel vulnerable at all sharing these deep and emotional songs, because I’m not ashamed of the broken parts of me.  It’s awesome to be able to pull from my experiences and perform these songs in a way that makes the listener feel like I am going through the songs situation at that exact time. It helps me to connect with people, which is ultimately my goal in music.

I was actually chatting with someone the other day about how I don’t have any love songs recorded, and that I release a lot of sad songs, which is totally true!! I have started countless love songs, and finished very few! Writing a love song and performing/releasing it would be the thing that would make me feel vulnerable. But heartbreak songs? I have those down no problem 😉 Maybe someone will inspire me to write a good love song someday!

JL: You’ve opened for major artists, such as Love and Theft and James Otto. Did you learn anything from those experiences that you’ve been able to incorporate into your own show/career?

HV: Oh yes!!! James Otto and Stephen and Eric (Love and Theft) were amazing to watch perform on stage! I always try to pay attention to the little things when watching a major artist’s show to be able to learn from and apply to my own performances. While I loved all of the performances from everyone I’ve opened for, I will say that the thing that really impacted me most is the fun and warm personality of these people before and after their show! Seeing how they acted to fans and to myself, and witnessing their love for the whole experience, not just the performance part, was very inspirational. A lot of them went out of their way to hang out after the show or at least chat with me and give advice about music. From these awesome experiences, it drove me to want to push forward and go as far as possible with my music so that hopefully one day, I can impact a young artist with questions as much as some of these major acts impacted me.

JL: Do you have a favorite song you’ve recorded? If so, why is it so special to you?

HV: I would say the most personal and special song I have ever recorded was “Broken Home” from my EP “Girls Night Out.” In short, the song is about a man coming to his wife and telling her he wants a divorce. The woman in the song goes into detail about how his decision is going to deeply affect every aspect of their lives, and what is to come after their heartbreaking conversation.

This song is so special to me because of the healing it gave me after writing it. I had a TON of divorce happening around me from couples I never dreamed would ever separate, including my own mom and dad. Seeing people of 25+ plus years decided to up and call it quits really damaged my view on marriage and love at my young age of 17, when I was still supposed to be viewing love as a fairytale.  While this song is not a story about my own parents’ divorce, it did allow me to access the devastating emotion I felt with their decision and tell a story that was written with 100% genuine emotion. I remember I would get through a couple lines at a time, and have to stop because I couldn’t stop crying. That’s how I knew it was going to be a gut-wrenching song. I wrote this song for my own healing from failed marriages around me, because I needed something that allowed me to feel these emotions, cry it out and then move on. I had hopes it would do that for others too, and I am confident it has with the amount of people who have reached out about how they love that song in particular because they or someone they know had gone through the same thing.

JL: Can you describe your music/sound in a few words for someone who may not have heard you before?

HV: A mix between Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert 🙂

JL: How hard is it to be a new female artist in country music right now? Does it almost seem like an uphill climb from the start?

HV: Yes, it is hard and often feels like an uphill climb. I saw a statistic the other day that showed a chart of like 15 different popular radio stations around the US. It showed how many females were in their top 20 songs played; a few had 3 female songs, a lot had 1 or 2 female songs, and a ton had zero- zero females in there top 20 songs played. On top of that, it wasn’t a bunch of different female artists making up the songs that were being played. It was the same four female artists making up these statistics. To me, it’s obvious that this poses a serious issue, because there are SO MANY absolutely incredible female artists out there who deserves the spotlight. I believe all females deserve the same chance in music as our male artist friends, but we may never get that chance because we are female. Just typing that out is sad.

With it being tough, I also see hope on the horizon.  It seems like there are a lot of exciting things happening for the future of women in country music. There are a lot of advocates and groups that are all for gender equality in country music. I read that Bobby Bones is wanting to start an all-female show!!!! Having a huge name like that set an example and go out of his way to give females a shot is truly inspiring and appreciated! Groups like the Song Suffragettes are all about showcasing women in country music in any way they can, and do so by having weekly showcases of all females to show off their talent.

These people and groups that are all for spreading the word about gender equality in country music are what keeps my head up. I feel like while the current playing field is far from level, there are a ton of people who have the goals and resources to make it more fair, and are willing to use those to help do so. Things are moving in the right direction to making that happen.

JL: What is next for you and your career?

HV: The release of my brand-new EP “The Real Stuff” went very well! We hit #9 on the Country iTunes chart!!! So my goal is to keep the momentum going by showcasing these new songs to as many people as possible! I am currently in the process of trying to plan some sort of tour. I have stayed pretty close to only touring and playing in the Pacific Northwest and in Nashville since moving here. I am eager to get out there in front of new faces in cities all around the US! So stay tuned for more information on a tour coming soon 😉

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*Images courtesy of Hailey Verhaalen*

 

 

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