Aubrey Hays is about to debut her first EP and with a voice like hers, we can hardly wait to see what she creates. Hays is a talented singer and songwriter whose empathy allows her to write beautiful and heartbreaking songs, not just from her own life but the experience of others.
hi aubrey, so glad we could do this interview! How did you get started making music? At what point did you realize this is what you want to do as a career?
My mother instilled music in us, my little sister and I, at a very young age. We both started playing piano at four years old. I remember a period of time probably from about four to eight years old where I begged her to let me stop taking lessons; I was really frustrated with the classical teaching structure. Don't get me wrong, playing classical music is a really important base and I still whip out the sheet music from time to time to exercise those muscles. I was definitely itching for something else though. I've been writing lyrics though as long as I can remember; the first song I performed was at my Catholic school's sixth grade graduation. It was indescribably cheesy...I think the lyrics were something like, "My heart will soar only because of you, you're blessed by god, my heart knows that it's true..." something like that.
Over the years I picked up other instruments, and started composing on piano and guitar. At one point I quit the classical lessons, in lieu of studying with our jazz pianist friend. Those lessons probably taught me the most about creativity and musical composition. My family also had a band for six years that played everything from weddings to the Mississippi Gulf Coast's Crawfish festival, where we actually opened for Blake Shelton once.
Honestly though, for a while, I thought I wanted to be an actress. I've been doing theater longer than I've been playing any instrument. I went to school for it and got a degree in drama. It was around my senior year of college though that I started to realize that music was the one thing I couldn't keep away from. When I started to look at what the next few years of my life might look like if I were an actress, I knew that I really wouldn't have the opportunity to be in major creative role of the productions I'd be working on; I'd loved the collaborative process in college and high school, but the reality I saw was a lot of summerstock productions where I might not even care about the production I was in. With music, I could start to tell my stories and work more with a comprehensive creative process of playing with, writing, and arranging my music. That was when I realized that this was the direction I was headed I think.
How would you describe your sound? Is this something that came naturally to you or did you have to try a few things before settling on this style of music?
You know, this is the toughest question I have to answer usually when I'm trying to describe my "genre" to people. I usually say somewhere between folk and jazz. I used to joke that it was "y'allternative." I honestly think that genres are becoming less and less of a thing these days anyway, but I can tell you what some of my major influences were growing up playing in a bluegrass band and singing lots of jazz music. I was fortunate enough to grow up about an hour outside of New Orleans, so I saw tons of incredible music growing up. I was a strange kid, while most people were jamming out to NSYNC or Britney, I was hooking it up with some Queen or Janis.
A lot of my amateur writings were definitely more on the pop side of things. I feel like I'm just now in the last couple of years sliding into my style a bit more. Now when I write things I feel less like I'm trying to emulate someone else's sound, and more like I'm discovering my own thing. But who knows what my style will be like a few years from now. I think the most interesting artists are also the most multifaceted as far as what they can do. Chris Stapleton is a great example currently I think. He writes music for artists across the stylistic board, and it's super impressive.
Speaking to many artists, there is something they had to overcome in order to really channel their talent, whether it is stage fright, accepting their gifts, or writer’s block. What challenges have you had to move past in order to write as well as you do?
Well, I think I'm still trying to conquer the stage fright thing! I've been on stage for years, but always playing other people. You feel way more vulnerable playing your own music for people. There's also a whole other element that comes into play when you throw an instrument, or two, in there.
I've definitely had writer's block before, but that was usually when I just hadn't been playing enough. A lot of my songs have been years in the making. Rather than getting frustrated, I usually just put the song I can't get that next part to away for a while and come back to it when I'm feeling particularly in the musical mood I guess. I actually finished up composing some music for some lyrics I wrote back when I was 16 just this last year, I keep everything! Most of my ideas are stored on my iPhone's recorder because I tend to get a lot of ideas when I'm driving alone for a period of time.
I don't feel like there was really one thing in particular I had to conquer, it was more about me really making the time for my music to be a top priority. I've spent years with it as a hobby or a side thing, but once I gave it the time it deserved, the music got stronger.
Your songs combined with your voice paint a very emotive picture of heartbreak and love. Where do you draw influence from your music and lyrics?
I've always been a bit melancholic as a person. A lot of my songs are written about particular times in my life, or different phases I've gone through. A good portion of my songs are also written about other people, those close to me. I've begun to realize I'm an empath and I feel other people's stuff a lot. So some of my songs are written for those other people.
There are a few songs I've written about certain causes I believe in as well--pollution, body image, sex positivity and equal rights to name a few.
You have a new album coming out this year. What can we expect from that? Will this be your debut album? How does it feel?
Yes! This new EP will be my first, and it will definitely be different than what I've currently got recorded. First of all, it won't have been recorded in my closet, haha. Secondly, it'll be the first recording I have that will include other artist's work as well. For a long time I've been on my own as far as what I'm at liberty to create, but you can expect some fully fledged out songs on this one. I'm really excited to see what people think of this new stuff I've been working on!
Choose Love is one of my favorites. I may have cried a little. What’s the story behind that track?
Ooh! Great question. Choose Love was written in response to the passing of the anti-LGBTQ legislation (The Religious Freedom Reformation Acts) passed by almost a fifth of our country including my home state of Mississippi, following the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide. However, the song for me is taking on so much more meaning with the current political climate right now. The message of the song is anti-discrimination, it urges people (erhem.. PRESIDENT TRUMP) to choose love over hate.
The Western world has this urgent desire to classify something in order to understand it. So anything that doesn't adhere to traditional heteronormative and binary lives is viewed as problematic--no that's too nice of a term--people flat out think it's evil and a threat to how they live their own lives, which makes no kind of sense. Every single religion that I've studied has at its center this message of love, acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness. Hatred is not productive. Inflammatory language is not productive. Acting with love and empathy, trying to come to a place of understanding with one another, rather than just pointing out the differences between us, is the only way we're going to survive on this planet together.
WOW, THAT'S GREAT! i WILL DEFINITELY RE-LISTEN TO IT FOR THAT ANGLE. RIGHT NOW, Who is inspiring you music-wise? AND In what way?
Hmmm. I think I'd have to say AURORA has been a major influence recently. She's this incredibly sweet voiced lady from Norway that plays a lot with her upper register and mixed voice. I love artists that use all aspects of their voice. There's something harsh about the way a lot of top 40 artists belt or screlt (scream belt) everything. I love a good dance mix, but I think that there are so many things you can do with a voice and belting is just one of them. There's something really powerful in a quiet voice sometimes.
I am forever and constantly inspired by Joni Mitchell. She is a goddess among men. Her lyric paths and the journeys she's able to take you on with her music are so touching. You feel like she's letting you in on her deepest thoughts, but in like the most poetic way possible.
Other artists I've been listening to a lot recently (and who subsequently affect the way I write music I think) are Adele, The Punch Brothers, Daniel Wilson, First Aid Kit, Lady Gaga (her new album...amazing), and a lot of Billy Joel.
YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ABOUT JONI MITCHELL. THAT SAID, What are you looking forward to in 2017 in terms of music and building your music career.
I just entered NPR's Tinydesk Contest recently, so that's already a really exciting thing! I'm hoping to get a band together this year too; I love playing and singing with other people and miss it a lot. This EP is going to be a huge step for me as well, so I'm anxious to get that out there.
I'm really just excited about sharing my music with as many people as I can this next year. I feel like my duty as an artist is to try and really reach somebody in the audience with my music. The best compliment I was ever given after a set was when someone I didn't know said to me, "You just expressed a feeling I had that I didn't know you could describe in words." That's the goal right? To try and bridge the void between musician and audience, to let somebody else know that they're not alone in whatever it is they're feeling. They say that the gift of touch is one of the most powerful healing tools we have as humans. I think music, dance, theater and art touch people too, just in a different more internal and emotional way. Maybe my goals are too lofty, but this is my hope for the next year.