Interview: Hayley Mary On Going Solo, Australiana & Her Debut EP

Mike Wass | December 4, 2019 9:20 am
Hayley Mary's 'The Piss, The Perfume'
The Jezabels singer goes solo with the amazingly-titled 'The Piss, The Perfume.'

After three exceptional albums and multiple world tours, The Jezabels decided to press pause in 2017. Since then, Hayley Mary has been chipping away at a solo project. A lengthy exploration of genres and influences ultimately led the band’s lead singer back to her musical roots. Namely, the Australian rock she grew up listening to. She then combined those sounds with her passion for classic country and American folk, particularly the storytelling aspect, to create a sound that she dubs Australiana.

It’s a winning fusion if “The Piss, The Perfume” is any indication. A riot of jangly guitars with a sing-along chorus, Hayley’s debut single documents the life cycle of relationship and the heart’s ability to rebound. She now proves equally adept at stripped-back balladry on the achingly lovely “Ordinary Me.” The thread that holds them together is the Aussie’s brutally honest pen. Both songs will feature on her much-anticipated debut EP, The Piss, The Perfume, which arrives on January 17. It is the first step in what promises to be an eventful solo journey.

I recently spoke with Hayley about Australiana and the music that inspired “The Piss, The Perfume.” Other topics of conversation include adjusting to life as a solo artist, the future of The Jezabels and the arrival of her debut EP. Reconnect with the singer/songwriter in our Q&A below. You can also pre-order The Piss, The Perfume here.

I love “The Piss, The Perfume.” There’s something indefinably nostalgic about it.

Thank you! Well, nostalgia is a dangerous word. There’s good and bad sides to evoking nostalgia. I definitely feel that people have rose-colored glasses when they look at the past. Generally speaking, the present is better for most people than the past was. I was feeling somewhat nostalgic about Sydney because I wasn’t there. I didn’t intend to evoke per se nostalgia, but I intended to celebrate the city. When I wrote it, I was there but I had been away for a long time. I just got back and I was overwhelmed by its beauty.

The song reminds me of Australian acts like The Go-Betweens and Paul Kelly. Were they an influence?

Yes, they were. I was living above a pub in Sydney when I wrote this song after having lived abroad for many years. I was hanging out with a lot of musicians. After the pub closed, we would often end up back at our house. It was a semi-squatting situation. I didn’t have a kitchen or anything. We had a lot of jamming sessions and people would play songs they loved including The Go-Betweens and Paul Kelly. I call it Australiana. It shares the storytelling of Americana but the Australian version has these jangly guitar things. I think there’s a bit of a renaissance for it at the moment. The song came from soaking up my environment, I suppose.

Do you talk about your influences when you sit down with a producer?

I did talk about my influences but I think what I tend to do is try and talk about influences that are less obvious. I don’t want to make it sound like Paul Kelly. I don’t want to make it sound too much like Bruce Springsteen because that will naturally happen given the song structure. What I talk to him about are things that I felt could make it slightly different and contemporary. Actually one of the biggest things we discussed was Motown, particularly the singing and the rhythm.

I love that whole era of American music particularly when singers sang out. They really sang melodies, they projected and they let the joy of life come out of their voices. There was none of that whispering into the microphone. It was an era where you had to project to be able to be a good singer because the microphone couldn’t pick up a Billy Eilish-style vocal at the time. It doesn’t make it better music. That’s just my style of singing, so I wanted to incorporate that.

Can you please explain the lyric “I find through bitterness, true love.” It feels back to front?

When you write the article, can you make sure you get the quote exact because I labored over that. Learning that is so hard and our current guitarist is learning the backing vocals. She’s like, “Why did you make this so fucking confusing?” Well, that’s the point of it. [Laughs]. It’s “I find bitterness through love, and I find through bitterness, true love.” Often you become bitter after getting your heart broken, which is true love. Then, if you ever fall in love again, you find a deeper, truer love due to the fact that you have been bitter before.

It’s like your happiness shines brighter. If you never get your heart broken, then the love that comes after that is less impactful. I guess it’s just about the cycle of falling in and out of love. It’s funny because the concept of true love is that it never ends. But it does and then you find true love again and again. Which I find quite entertaining. It was purposeful. I’m not bitter and I’m not purely romantic either. I’m a bit of both and everyone is, I suppose. Does that make sense?

Yes, it does. How does being a solo artist compare with being a part of group?

There’s a lot of differences. Right now, I’m going through the teething process of working out those differences. Obviously, there are pros and cons to it. I am no longer in a democratic band, everything is my decision and I’m in control and that has its challenges. So I’m going back on the road, for example, and I have to get a band ready. I have to find the right players and then it’s back to basics. We’re driving from city to city in Australia and they’re quite far from each other. There is no crew. You’re just at the bottom of the rung again.

It is character building. I hope that by the time the EP comes out, I’ve got that machine working and functioning in a fairly, well-oiled manner. It’s just pulling everything together again. Then on the artistic, video, music side of things, it took me so long to get a sound. I’ve been working on this for years. Probably six to eight years or my whole life, if you think about it. As a solo artist, you can hire anyone to play any kind of music, you can co-write with any songwriter. You have to know what you want in order to not get lost in the chaos of choice.

The Jezabels are still on pause. What happened with the band? I know that a member was ill.

Yes, that’s roughly it. Heather discovered she had ovarian cancer while we were writing the second album. We kept it a secret for a while because she wanted to deal with it and go on. Then on our third record world tour, she was told she needed to go back into chemo. Just in terms of being able to plan ahead around that, it was pretty unsustainable. It just wasn’t that practical to be full-time musicians anymore. We haven’t called it quits or called it a hiatus because we might make music again one day. I think that’s why we never made anything official because we don’t know. We might make a record next year. We might never make a record, but there is no point labeling it at this stage. I think that just puts more pressure on people.

What can we expect from your EP?

There is a bit of a variety to the songs but I’m hoping that there’s some kind of through thread that people can relate to in the same way that they relate to “Piss.” You never know. You just hope that people will like the whole thing not just a single.

Is there an album planned?

Nothing has been recorded yet, but there’s definitely an album planned. I’m just in the writing process. No concrete plans but that’s the intention, yes. This isn’t a one-off, I need to get an EP out. I’ve learned to think of it as a beginning of a career, like a solo career, not in between Jezabels records. It’s where I’m planning to take my life if the universe allows me.

Thank you such much for your time.

Thank you!

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