A Voice To Be Felt: A Conversation with Hayley Richman
Every time I've been in a discussion about music it inevitably leads to opinions of what music is, why it's so important and the unanswerable question of how it makes you feel. During these discussions I almost always use the phrase "music is not heard, it's felt" and in the case of 17 year old Canadian artist Hayley Richman, her voice is the perfect example of this. You feel her voice...and once you do, you'll go back for more and more.
Hayley Richman has been making music with her father for about five or six years now and the results are astounding. I'll admit, I'm quite late to Hayley's music as she already has nearly 50K subscribers on her Youtube channel (here) and over 5.7 million views!! I don't typically look for new music via Youtube but it was soon after the death of one of my musical heroes, David Bowie, that I came across Hayley. I was watching some old Bowie performances and interviews and as I scrolled through the list, I saw a young woman covering one of my all-time favorite songs, Life on Mars (here) and to say I was blown away is a gigantic understatement! Hayley has the kind of voice that sticks to your soul from the first note and remains with you permanently. It's beautiful and smooth, dark and haunting, it's almost trance-like in its appeal. Take a listen for yourself and you'll hear and feel what I mean.
It wasn't only her voice that impressed me, it was the artists she chose to cover that also stood out. The list includes: Bowie, Nirvana, Fiona Apple, The Beatles, NIN, Amy Winehouse, Muse, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead and dozens more. Not only did Richman tackle some of the biggest names in rock music, she crushes each cover as if she wrote those songs herself. The fact that she dared to cover Radiohead (if you've heard others cover this band you'll know what I'm saying) and not only pull it off but sound amazing while doing so is a testament to her talent. Together with her dad (who's a brilliant professional musician and music executive) they simply line up the covers they want to do and systematically take them down one by one. The singing, the music, the production, it's all there. I was a fan instantly but it wasn't until I heard her original music (we'll talk about that in the interview below) that I wanted to reach out and talk to her. So that's exactly what I did and Hayley was gracious enough to lend me some time. I hope you enjoy our conversation:
SE - First of all Hayley, thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it. When I first heard you sing, a few words/phrases immediately came to mind: soulful, evocative, beautifully haunting, natural, passionate and vulnerable. I'm sure there were more but these jumped out.
HR - That’s a huge compliment, thanks. As an artist and someone who’s constantly trying to better themselves, it’s hard to look at your own stuff and be super proud and confident all the time but it’s great that people react that way and connect to it.
SE - I first discovered you while watching some old David Bowie clips on Youtube and was blown away by your cover of "Life on Mars." It's obvious he's an influence so can you talk about that and anyone else you consider to be influential to you.
HR - I’ve been obsessed with Bowie for so long now. I started listening to him and just kept listening and everything was just so good, I kept listening. Radiohead obviously, I listen to everything they put out, b-sides, all of it. Everyone says I look and sound exactly like Fiona Apple and she’s been an influence. I love U2, there’s so many.
SE - Covers, especially of songs and artists which are immensely popular and critically acclaimed, are quite daring and usually not that great.
HR - Well, I'm really into taking some of these songs and recreating them in my own melancholy way. I hope it doesn't come across as sacrilege but I think there's something about the "sad little girl" singing Radiohead.
SE - I agree, you add an element of darkness and longing to these songs that's very intriguing. In fact, you have a Thom Yorke quality to your voice. I hear it in your covers as well as your original work which we'll get into a little later on.
HR - You know, I naturally love sad, depressing music but it makes me happy. And that's what's really great about music, you live for those euphoric moments and it's the greatest thing in the world.
SE - Before we go any further, tell me about how this all started for you. The collaboration with your dad and the idea to post the videos online. Talk about your dads influence on you as an artist.
HR - I grew up listening to music in my house all the time. My dad was in bands until he was 30 and then started his own record company so it's something I've always been around. I've always loved to sing but never really thought much of it beyond thinking it was fun. A few years ago though my dad just said hey, let’s set up a microphone, play something and post it on Facebook for your friends. From there it just started snowballing and took off. It's crazy. As for his influence, he's been on both sides of the industry so he's a great guide to have when it comes to both singing, playing and writing as well as how to deal with people on the outside and how to handle the different things that come my way. Musically he’s introduced me to so much of what I listen to. As far as our videos go, it’s a very collaborative effort. He’s like the wizard behind the curtain. Our studio is in the attic of our house, which we blew out completely and built ourselves, and it’s great to have that dedicated space to work in.
SE - So now we know how the covers began, talk a bit about your original music and the song writing process with your dad.
HR - It’s super collaborative. My dad and I will come up with ideas, suggestions thrown back and forth and then we’ll try something. He’ll usually write the music first and we’ll give it a shot and by the end it’s something so different than what we started with. That’s the beauty of music, it can become anything and it’s usually different from what was intended. I also write a ton on my own, stuff that doesn’t get released on my channel. I’d be doing this even if I didn't post anything.
SE - I think your original songs have a dark and intense feel to them. I keep going back to this but once you hear them, you really do want to hear more. I think "I'll Be Your Crime", "Will to Survive" and "Marionette" really stand out. They feel really delibrate and focused in a way you don't really hear songs these days. They're extremely well crafted.
HR - Thank you so much. I’m the kind of person that analyzes everything and thinks deeply about everything. I don’t think many 17 year olds do that but it’s just who I am. It’s a lot to do at this age but I’m really glad I’m doing it. I’m so appreciative that I have some followers who like what I do.
SE - Can you talk about how you come up with your lyrics or ideas for songs?
HR - It’s a combination of writing all different types of things. Poems, songs, lines, phrases, words, whatever. Sometimes you just hear a melody and put some words in there as well.
SE - Have you performed live yet, is that something you're interested in doing?
HR - I’ve done some things locally here in Montreal in some small venues. The problem right now is I don’t have a band put together and it’s not easy to get that done, at least not around here at the moment. But yeah, I’d love to play my original songs live anywhere I can.
SE - I understand you play piano as well.
HR - It's been an on again, off again type of thing for a while but I guess it really started to become serious over 2 years ago when I was living in Vancouver. I love playing the piano, sitting down with my laptop just writing and creating.
SE - Speaking of creating, I talk about a lot of heavy music on this site as well as on the radio show and I can't help but think your voice would sound pretty great in some heavy music if used in the correct way. Do you like or listen to any heavy music and would you consider singing that style if it were a fit?
HR - I do listen to a lot of heavier music. I’ve been into STP (Stone Temple Pilots) lately since Scott (Weiland) died, I like Led Zeppelin, Rival Sons and lots more. You have to know your limits with regards to your voice but I’d definitely be interested in looking into doing something like that at some point.
SE - So as your career continues to grow and you become more and more well known and sought after, have you considered the idea of signing with a record label or would you rather do the bulk of it yourself? Technology has made it a little easier for artists to have more control over their careers these days.
HR - It all depends. Depends on the offer and the people involved. So many people have an agenda and they all seem to want something so you have to be careful and weed out those who aren’t looking out for your best interest. I’ve been contacted by several big people/companies in the industry but I don’t have anything in place yet. You learn so many lessons on this path. You can really tell who’s doing this for the right reasons and you can sniff out the ones who just want something from you. It seems 99% of people you meet just want something and that’s just so typical.
SE - So what can we expect to hear or see from you in the future? Will you continue to put out covers even as your own songs begin to take off?
HR - I’m already working on some more of my original songs. There’s only so many covers you can do before you really want to focus on your own stuff. I’m working on some videos as well, I’ve done some already as we've previously discussed but we’re working on more. Back to the covers though, I’d still like to do some. The covers are what started all of this and I love the idea of giving my take on songs I love.
SE - That's a great answer. It's refreshing to hear because too often people do forget where they came from if you know what I mean. You remind me of an old soul...you really are a throwback in terms of how you approach music, what it means to you and how you'd like to see your career develop.
HR - That’s so nice to hear because I agree, it’s just all natural to me and I’m glad it’s still appreciated. I want to be someone that people can find and say “she’s doing something that no one else is doing right now." Music is just something I have to do and it's great to know some people out there can see and appreciate that.
SE - Well Hayley, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me! Your music really does need to be heard and I know you're well on your way to something really great.
HR - Thank you! And you're very welcome. It's been a lot of fun!!
This interview was taken from a longer conversation between us and I can tell you that at 17 years old, this girl has her head on straighter than most people I've known or spoken to in the music industry. Her artistic talent alone should lead her down a very successful path but her outlook and attitude will serve her well no matter what happens from here on out. All I know is this, if you like music, ANY kind of music, when you hear Hayley Richman sing, you too will be as amazed as I was. Just listen and watch her sing "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen cover) here, "Paranoid Android" byRadiohead here as well as a couple of her original songs, "I'll Be Your Crime"here and "Will to Survive" here