Hayley Jensen is a Sydney based singer-songwriter, best known for her heart-wrenching rendition of Sarah McLaughlan’s ‘Angel’ on Australian Idol (2004), and herexplosive return to the small screen with a chair-turning performance Zoe Badwi’s ‘Freefallin’ on The Voice Australia (2014), which saw coach Joel Madden ‘free-fall’ right off his chair!
Hayley, a Country Pop/Rock Artist with a no. #1 iTunes Country Album out now has a number of achievements to her name – an Independent Country Music Awards Winner 2016, Toyota Star Maker Finalist 2016, The Voice Artist (Team Kylie) 2014, Australian Independent Music Awards Winner 2013, Top 4 Australian Idol 2004, and more.
Amnplify’s Julie Ink-Slinger caught up with Hayley recently and got in depth about many subjects.
J: Hayley, thank you for taking the time to have a chat with me, I really appreciate it.
H: Thank you Julie for your time and your interest in my music.
J: Aussies first got to know you through Australian Idol in 2004 where you came fourth which is an incredible achievement given the talented vocalists that make it to the finals stage of Idol and other talent competitions. In 2014 you joined Team Kylie on The Voice. Did those experiences teach you any particular lessons about pursuing a career in music?
H: Yes, I definitely learned some invaluable lessons from both experiences. What the public tend not to be told about is that “just” having a good voice is only part of the challenge. Developing resilience was the primary lesson I learned. You may sing and write songs and receive very positive feedback from some people. However, there are those who may not like your singing or the songs you’ve written at all and as much as you tell yourself that’s completely normal because not everybody likes the same music, it’s still hard to be cavalier about it and not take people’s negative opinions to heart. So if you receive negative feedback from the judges and/or the public through the votes people cast, it doesn’t feel great. And artists of all kinds tend to be “sensitive types” so negative reactions are not received well.
J: Have you always known you wanted to pursue a career in music? Were you that little girl that sang along to songs with perfect pitch and your family noticed?
H: Yep, I was that little girl. I just loved to sing, especially songs that moved me. I consequently found that family and friends were moved by my singing sometimes as well which gave my young mind the understanding that I had a natural talent for singing. I also used to pretend I was a radio dj and I would interview neighbour’s kids about music. I would say “I will come and play with you if you let me interview you for ten minutes (laughter)”
J: (laughter). That’s hilarious and so resourceful of you. Even though you were young you knew the benefits of how to successfully navigate the art of the transaction.
H: Ha! I was so bossy!
J: Ahh, some girls like dolls or games or climbing trees, you loved music and were learning how to express your innate musicality. You created your own musical internship. Fantastic!
H: (Laughter). I did too!
J: Over the years you’ve studied jazz vocals, sung lead in an alternative rock band called Seasons which morphed into a dance-rock outfit called Silver Cities, you performed in a tribute of Burt Bacharach songs, and in recent times you have recorded an EP, “Past Tense and Present Peace” which drew you back to your country roots. I love that you don’t restrict your artistry by singing just the one genre of music because there are so many musical genres to potentially explore. So… With respect to genre and in terms of your creativity, what motivates your desire to perform in a variety of music styles?
H: It’s very true that there are so many genres of music and genres within genres as shown by the various styles of country music that is produced. I guess my philosophy about the genre, creativity question is that if I love the song, I love the song, irrespective of genre.
J: You’re not a music snob do you mean? That is, if you like it, if it moves you, you are open to experimenting with other sounds.
H: Definitely! Of course over the last couple of years, since writing and recording my latest EP which is the most country sounding songs I’ve ever produced, I am dipping my toes in the country music world and loving it. I’m proud of the songs I have written, I feel they express my authentic self, and I am being welcomed into the country music fraternity which is comforting and reassuring. Country musos tend to be warm, down to earth, encouraging of other artists and, simply put, really nice people. Will I ever revisit other musical sounds? I’m sure I will. However, right now I am country focused and really enjoying the journey I’m on.
J: That’s great to hear. I have little doubt your career will continue to grow in a positive and productive direction. I say that without hesitation because your songs on your EP tell a story about your real life experiences through the years as one song flows on to the next. I also believe you will enjoy continued success because you have such a beautiful voice. I vividly recall watching on you on Australian Idol singing Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and it moved me tremendously.
H: Thank you; I really appreciate your kind words.
J: You’re playing at the Broadbeach Country Music Festival this weekend. Will this be your first time performing there and are you excited, nervous, or raring to perform?
H: Yes, it is my first time at Broadbeach. And yes, I’m excited and nervous and busting to get on stage. I arrived here (Broadbeach) about an hour ago and the stages are awesome, as is the vibe, if you know what I mean? It just feels ideal for music festivals. I’m having a look at the stages I will be performing on and working out in my mind, potential song lists for each stage. However, if I follow a performance by one of the artists that is highly charged and loud and heavily rock influenced, I will probably rearrange my set list to a more cruisey kind of feel to provide some contrast. It’s all part of creative choices that sometimes work out really well or turn out not so well at all which can be a little torturous (laughter).
J: I had a look at the line-up of acts that will be performing and I’m so disappointed that I can’t come along. Perhaps I will check it out next year. If I do attend, I hope I get to see your show.
H: That would be terrific.
J: Yes it would be fantastic. And it’s free! What a great way to encourage the public who aren’t especially familiar with country music, to give them a taste of the huge variety of country artists. But the number of fans of country music in the last twenty odd years has grown exponentially. You were once considered a bit of a dag if you liked country music but nowadays people from all walks of life are becoming huge fans.
H: That’s so true. And the increase in popularity of country music means that more and more artists are earning a good living, which is helpful.
J: Absolutely. I have always considered that people who pursue music professionally are very brave indeed. The unfortunate reality is that the numbers of artists who enjoy significant success, artistically and especially monetarily, are in the minority, internationally speaking. So again, it’s very brave to be true to one’s self and at least have a go at pursuing a musical career if that is what you love to do. It takes a leap of faith.
H: Yes it does.
J: So Hayley, how does it feel to be included in the line-up of so many country giants such as Troy Cassar-Daley, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, and being headlined by one of my favourite bands from the seventies, America?
H: It feels great. I feel blessed to be given such an amazing opportunity. It’s humbling and encouraging and the organisers have made me feel deserving of a place in the line-up. I am enjoying the eventful ride of an emerging country artist, writing the EP, performing at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and other towns in New South Wales. I am very grateful for the positive response from the public and country artists who like my songs and are supporting my journey.
J: In your song “Young Years”, you share with us your quite painful experience inside an abusive relationship. I admit it made me cry on my first listen. It’s a haunting, beautiful song. You have fortunately come out the other side of that difficult period and are now living in the light, if you don’t mind my perspective.
H: I don’t mind at all. And I think you’ve captured my personal journey really accurately. It was a dark, distressing time. I am of the view that abusive men can spot a soft, sensitive woman with little trouble. Strong women with healthy self-esteem aren’t chosen by these kinds of men because they know instinctively that they won’t be able to mistreat her or control her or chip away at her self-worth.
J: Are you talking about that whole dysfunctional “treat her mean and keep her keen” dynamic between an angry, controlling, often physically and emotionally abusive man and a gentle, insecure woman?
H: Yes. I was that sensitive, insecure woman. The part that I still can’t get my head around is why I stayed. Perhaps I had that “I can fix him” complex. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that my fiancée is nothing like that previous boyfriend at all.
J: Are you talking about the reality for some women who choose one abusive man after another? That they don’t break the “treat her mean, keep her keen” cycle?
H: Yes. And I lived through a couple more unhealthy relationships with malicious men. However, one day I came to the realisation that I was constantly putting myself in harm’s way with these horrible individuals and deserved to be treated with respect and kindness. I finally broke the self-hating cycle and eventually fell in love with one of the kindest, most thoughtful, supportive men and we’re getting married in April of next year.
J: Your story will help so many women living in abusive relationships cut ties with the horror of a partner. You will help them realise that they also deserve to be treated well and will hopefully begin the process of healing. On behalf of so many women out there in such abhorrent circumstances, I say thank you.
H: Thank you too Julie. I have to say there were moments when I wondered if I should be so open and honest about such a horrid time in my life. Was I exposing too much of myself? But I eventually admitted to myself and to those closest to me that I could potentially help other women and music, in and of itself, can help us heal.
J: Hayley, what can audiences expect from your shows? Will you be playing all country songs or will you include covers such as “Angel” and “Titanium” and other more pop or rock songs you have recorded over the years?
H: Sometimes I will have a set list idea in my mind for a particular show but then change it to suit what I think the audiences will really respond to. No two shows are the same. As I stand here while I’m talking to you, I’m in front of one of the stages I will be performing on and thinking about possible set lists. Sometimes the band will choose to perform a song spontaneously which is fun or we will catch the audience by surprise by playing a song they would never have expected me to sing, given I’m known more for ballads. That’s often the way talent show contestants begin to stand out from the crowd. They might have a rock singer perform a soulful, bluesy song and that marriage, between rock and soul, can go over like gangbusters. The unexpected can make us sit up and take notice.
J: I completely agree. I am a fan of The Voice. I love watching the mentoring sessions between coaches and their artists, especially when the coaches present the artists with a song they would not normally choose to perform. The artists look a little unnerved by the song but so often, once they have a firm grasp on how to deliver the song, they perform it exceedingly well and it’s extremely enjoyable to watch. Judah Kelly singing “Climb Every Mountain” was one of those sit up and take notice moments.
H: It definitely was. He performed it with such heart and soul and pitch perfectness. I was moved and inspired.
J: Are you hoping to catch any of the other artist’s performances at Broadbeach this weekend?
H: Definitely. I really hope to see Kasey Chambers who I’ve been a fan of for years, as well as Travis Collins, a relatively new artist but a very talented musician who has, in my opinion, a very bright future. I also see these artists as possible mentors that I can continue to learn from in how to write, record and perform country music. I can’t “stand still” as an artist, if you get what I mean?
J: I think so. Do you mean you continue to grow and evolve as a musician, whereas standing still, if I am understanding you correctly, will stunt your growth and maturity as an artist?
H: Exactly. I am a big believer in personal growth, of course, but artistic growth is also extremely important to me. The music I produce allows me to express my authentic self. I had to grow and evolve as an artist, and as a woman, to be able to write “Young Years”. I couldn’t have written that song while I was inside the abusive relationship because my subjective analysis of that time was severely compromised. I had to let go, commence the healing process, develop strength and resilience and, consequently, evolve into the best version of myself that I had ever experienced. We are all works in progress, don’t you think?
J: Yes, I think so. If we remain conscious, we can learn to be better, more contented people at every moment.
H: We just have to make the choice to live a more peaceful life. I’m living proof that positive transformations are achievable. Let’s spread the word!
J: When I have attended shows with multiple acts, I am thrilled when they play some of their favourite songs together. As an audience member, I can see how unified the musicians feel and how much fun they are having. No doubt you respect every act that will be playing this weekend; however, I have to ask: If you could choose to perform with one of the solo acts or bands, which artist would you love to perform with? If I may be so bold as to tell you my idea, I think you and Kasey Chambers singing “The Captain” together would be brilliant!
H: It’s a very interesting question because musos have been collaborating since music was first publicly performed. However, if I could choose, I’d play a song with Kasey Chambers. Not only is she one of the nicest people I know, I am a huge fan of her music and I’d be over the moon to share a stage with her. I also think “The Captain” idea, as a duet, would be fantastic. I love the song and the harmonies. Hmm… I wonder? (laughter)
J: What makes you choose particular covers to record and/or to perform such as Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel”? Do you feel some kind of inexplicable connection to the melody and the lyrics of certain songs?
H: Definitely. Like all of us, certain songs almost grab a hold of me, emotionally speaking, and I know, intuitively, that I could perform the song with genuineness and spirit. Songs are like little stories or vignettes. Sometimes I relate quite strongly with a song’s story and sometimes I don’t relate at all to the song because it is an experience I have never lived through. However, like I said, whether I have lived through the experience or not, if the little story moves me at a deeply emotional level I would consider recording and performing my rendition of the song. There are so many great songs that have been written. Surely it would be irresponsible or careless of me to not cover at least some of them? (Laughter).
J: One final question Hayley: As you are performing at Broadbeach this weekend, is playing live the most fun and the most rewarding part of working as a professional musician?
H: Definitely. And I would suggest that most musos find live performance the most enjoyable part of the work we do. You spend considerable time holed up in recording studios, writing new material and recording singles, EPs and albums. There are, of course, promotional obligations you have to carry out, including interviews, advertising, and keeping your social media accounts up to date. When you have developed a new show, you can’t wait to share it with audiences everywhere. And once you hit that stage, and the audiences applaud you so enthusiastically because they are so happy to see you, it’s an amazing, hard-to-put-into-words kind of experience. If the performances are executed really well, the musos and the audiences come together in a sharing of energy that is exciting and extremely gratifying. And when you perform some of the crowd’s favourite songs, as they sing along with you, word for word, the joy in the air is almost palpable. Yes, performing live, knowing the audiences are leaving their problems at the door for a couple of hours, and knowing the happiness on their faces has been brought about by your music and your performance, isn’t a feeling that is easily replicated; at least in my view. I can’t wait to take the stage at Broadbeach. I can’t wait to spread some joy. And I can’t wait to sing my heart out to the audiences. It’s going to be epic.
J: I have no doubt your shows will be fantastic because your songs are so well crafted and your vocals are sublime. Ahh, I so wish I could be there. Like I said, hopefully I will get there next year. I best let you go because I have gone over the time allocated for the interview; I have just enjoyed the conversation so much. Thank you for chatting with me today. I wish you continued success and every happiness, both personally and professionally. Have a blast at Broadbeach. Take care. Bye bye.
AMNPLIFY – DB