Growing up and trying to find your place in the world isn’t easy, especially these days with social media being a constant reminder of how put together every one else’s lives are. The fact that on her debut album, Black Sheep, Hailey Whitters hits you with lyrics that are telling you it’s ok not to have it all figured out is exactly why it felt like a much needed breath of fresh air the first time I heard it. As you make your way through each song on the album, Hailey makes a pretty great case for why taking a little longer to get to where you’re meant to be and going through some struggles while getting there, isn’t such a bad thing.
The Iowa native may use the words late bloomer to describe herself, but she knew music was something she wanted to pursue from a young age. “I kinda just loved the Dixie Chicks and wanted to be like them,” Hailey laughs, but it didn’t take long for that desire to turn into a vision. “I remember I was getting older and I was a dancer when I was growing up and my mom was starting to take me to voice lessons and stuff and she kind of made me choose one or the other and that’s when I realized I wanted to start pursuing it [music] as a career.”
While she may have known she wanted to pursue music at a young age, that doesn’t mean it came easy. Hailey says she worked a slew of odd jobs before she finally landed a publishing deal with Carnival Music in 2012. “I was a waitress, receptionist at a hair salon, and a nanny for a little while.” But a career in music was always the end goal and when asked what her favorite part of being an artist is she excitedly answers, “Everything! I love starting in the writer room and being creative, writing the song and creating it and then taking it into the studio it’s always fun seeing it come to life. And I love being on the road and performing.” Not only does she love participating in all aspects of the process, but she has the talent to excel in every area. Hailey wrote every song on Black Sheep with the exception of “Pocket Change” and “City Girl” (which was featured on the last season of the hit show Nashville), and two of her songs are being cut by Martina McBride for her upcoming album out later this year. Hailey’s lyrics have a realism to them that isn’t sugar coated like so many others are these days. It’s this trait that makes them so relatable and comforting to listen to. It’s what develops artists a loyal fan base; when their songs are able to speak to exactly what you’re feeling. When it comes to performing, Hailey’s uniquely soulful voice, along with her commanding stage presence and knack for story telling have the ability to engage the crowd right from the first note. At her show in Iowa City last Saturday she had everyone raising their drinks and out on the dance floor in no time.
Hailey’s talent has caught the eye of and allowed her to play with some pretty big names including a few of her favorites. “I really loved opening for Chris Knight. He is just someone that I grew up loving his music, so that was really big for me. Another favorite gig was when I opened for Leon Russell in Luckenbach, Texas just because Leon is so historic and then getting to open a show with the song “Luckenbach” I mean I grew up knowing the song, and it was just so cool and completely different from what I expected but it was one of those bucket list things.” Hailey also admits that it’s usually the song-writers that she gets star struck around and lists Matraca Berg and Brandy Clark as two that she really admires. As for other influences, Hailey talks about Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Patty Griffin and Gillian Welch, “I love Randy Travis! Randy Travis and Keith Whitley were probably the first two male voices in country music that just made me melt. I love their voices so much! They’re kind of nostalgic to me now. I’m also really inspired by Patty Griffin, and Gillian Welch is another huge influence of mine. Then recently, I’ve started listening to Tedeschi Trucks a lot lately. I’m a big fan of them!”
When she’s not on the road or writing, Hailey jokes that she likes to “go to the library, get a bunch of books, and be a hermit.” She’s also a fan of hiking. “Last October I went out with my sister, she lives in California, and we drove about 5 hours north and hiked the Lost Coast trail and that was pretty bad ass! That was my first experience of like extreme hiking. We were backpacking for three days, and that was pretty incredible so I hope to do more of that.” She’s also not opposed to just finding a nice patio to sit on a drink a beer.
When talking about her album, Black Sheep, and what she hopes fans take away from it, Hailey elaborates that with the song “Late Bloomer”, “I feel like I’ve always kind of felt like a late bloomer and I feel like it’s getting worse. I don’t know if it’s a generation thing or what, but especially in the music industry there’s this pressure, on women especially, that if you don’t you know peek in your 20’s then you’re not going to. I’ve always found that a little bit you know alarming just because I think it’s more common for people to figure out what they want to do later in life. So I would just want people to know that you can still be successful later in life and start pursuing something. When I wrote that I was looking online and I found out that Meryl Streep and Van Gough were both late bloomers,” she laughs. Another song on the album that’s near and dear to Hailey is, “One More Hell” which she wrote after her brother, Drake, was killed in a car accident a few years ago.
In terms of what’s next for Hailey, she says she’s planning to slow down a little on the road and take some time to write more for her second album. But don’t worry she still has a few shows and festivals booked through July, which you can find information about on her website. Whether she’s performing or writing songs, it’s clear to see that Hailey is definitely in her element in both of those situations and although she may feel like it took her a little longer to get here, it looks like she ended up exactly where she needs to be. Check out Hailey’s album, Black Sheep, on Spotify and follow Hailey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to keep up with show announcements and other news. Yes, it is actually her that runs her social media accounts :).