Interview: Hayley Wilson

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Hayley Wilson’s debut album, Further Than Forever, is an unforgettable collection of beautifully constructed and thoughtfully performed songs. A listener would never know that Wilson had to change producers in the middle of the album’s creation – not because she wanted to, but because her original producer, Karl Broadie, died after a short illness. Karl had taken steps, though, to make sure that the album was finished and that Wilson was able to showcase her talents to the world. I spoke to Hayley Wilson about Karl, collaboration, the Dag Sheep Station, and other things.

When did you first meet Karl Broadie?
We first met at the Dag Songwriting Retreat [in Nundle, NSW] in 2014. I had some mutual friends of Karl’s who told me to say hello, so that’s how I started talking to him and very quickly we started to form a friendship based off of artists that we liked and different kinds of art. I would draw and he would ask me about my drawings and stuff like that.
At that time were you listening to that you had in common?
Jana Kramer, the Pistol Annies – which is Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley. He had explained to me that he had done some songwriting wth Angaleena in Nashville, so we were talking about that. And the Wreckers with Michelle Branch.
Mentioning those artists gives me a clue as to where your pop sensibilities come from.
Those ones are definitely big influences for this album. I think when we realised we had those artists in common it was really easy for us to find a style to fall into when we were songwriting together.
Collaboration is not necessarily a foregone conclusion – some songwriters prefer to write on their own or on their own most of the time. Had you collaborated with anyone else by that point?
I had done some songwriting with Drew McAlister, Troy Kemp, Mike Carr and I’d gone to the CMAA Academy in 2012 so I got to write with David Carter from Carter and Carter as well.
Do you prefer collaboration to writing on your own?
I kind of do and I don’t. Sometimes I enjoy writing by myself and having full control, being able to really stick to my guns and just go with what I feel and my ideas. But at the same time I really, really love co-writing because I can get stuck on something really simple and together we’ll figure it out. And you just bring more to the table when there’s two of you. You get more of a story, I guess, from both people’s perspectives.
As you were working towards having songs for this album were you writing with an album in mind or were you writing a bunch of songs to choose out of that?
We were definitely writing with the album in mind. The first song that Karl and I wrote together was ‘Further Than Forever’, which is the track that we ended up naming the whole album after. We really knew from that first song what the sound was that we were going for and we had a direction we needed to go in. So once we had written that song we pretty much just said to each other that that was going to be the centrepiece and we were going to write around that. I had done some writing by myself – there’s two on there that I wrote by myself – but most of the album [wasn’t].
Karl produced the album up until the point that he became sick. It’s one thing to co-write with someone and another for them to be the producer. Was there ever a point where you felt like he was being overly bossy?
[Laughs] Not at all. He was so great to work with because he was very much allowing me to be in control, and over the years I’ve had pretty much all of the control with my music and I’m kind of not ready to let that go. I really like having control in every single aspect whether it’s the business side or things or stuff online or the writing and creative stuff. I very much like to try to do everything myself. So he was not bossy at all – he made sure that I was completely comfortable and that I was happy with everything. If ever I didn’t like something we could do it as many times as we wanted, there was no time limit or rush. He was so chill and he brought that into recording with him.
That shows in your voice – there’s no sense of you being uptight about what you’re singing, regardless of what the subject matter is. You sound very much at ease and on point.
Yes – it was so comforting because it was just us two for most of the project. Eventually I worked with Glen Hannah but then it was just Glen and me in the studio for most of it. So most of the time it was just me and the producer and I was able to get to those places that the songs needed to be and feel completely safe and comfortable in doing that because of the nature that Karl and Glen both have when in the studio – they’re both so caring and nurturing of the process.
And, of course, there are a lot of great country music producers to choose from – how did you

choose Glen?

That actually wasn’t up to me. Before Karl passed away he had spoken to Glen and said that he was passing it on to Glen to finish it off. I didn’t actually know about that conversation until Aleyce Simmonds told me that Karl had spoken to Glen and that everything was going to be okay and that it was going to be in good hands. I was very fortunate that Karl chose Glen and I don’t think I could have picked anyone better to finish it off because working with Glen was very similar to work with Karl. I don’t know what it would have been like if I’d gone with another producer who wasn’t as passionate about the project as Karl obviously was and because Glen handed it to Glen, Glen had this sense of pride in the work and he really cared about finishing it off in the right way.
And that shows, too, because it is carefully done album without sounding overworked. Of course, Glen is hugely experienced with a range of artists. I would he knew what to do with you when he heard you because of all that experience behind him.
And I think he very much understood what we were trying to accomplish with the album and I think he really enjoyed the songs as well. The best part was that even though it was 50 per cent Karl and 50 per cent Glen in the end, there’s still so much of Karl in the album. You can hear Karl doing backing vocals. A lot of the guitar parts are Karl. There are some amazing guitar parts from Glen too because they’re both fantastic players but you can really hear a lot of Karl’s work. In no way did we override anything that Karl did – it was very much a combination of two styles.
I would think this is a very bittersweet experience for you, though, to have this great album to put out in the world but not have your primary collaborator with you.
It really is bittersweet because there are so many times at the moment where I wonder if he’d be proud or if he’s able to see what I’m doing and if he’s watching over me. It is really difficult because there are times when I just want to call him up and talk to him, tell him everything I’m doing or things that I’ve achieved.
You mentioned Aleyce Simmonds. You wrote with Aleyce and with Luke O’Shea, and I can imagine they’d be different experiences.
Definitely. I think Aleyce is one of the first women that I’ve written with. She and I are very similar in nature – we’re very sensitive and very open hearted so it’s really nice to write with her because we just pour out all this emotion onto the paper and we’re both very much like that in real life. So writing with her is fantastic and I hope we get to write again more in the future because we write some really beautiful heartfelt ballads. And Luke writes so quickly – he’s just on it and so full of energy. Writing with him was really, really fun. It was so quick and so upbeat, and it really kept me on my toes.
What you said about writing with Aleyce, and both of you being sensitive people – do you think that songwriting is a way to almost manage those emotions? It gives you a structure not necessarily to make sense of everyday life but, in a way, to make everyday life a little easier to bear than it might otherwise be.
Definitely. It does help me make sense of everyday life, to write songs. It does make those kinds of emotions a lot easier to process whether it’s the good stuff or the bad stuff. When I’m writing songs like that, that are about something that’s happened to me or something that’s really important to me, I often find that afterwards about the situation and I can kind of let go. Whatever was bothering me, after I write a song about it I feel like I can really let it go. It’s done and I can move on.
And then it’s a piece of work that someone else can relate to when they need it.
Hopefully it helps them move on as well and continue what they’re doing.
That is one of the great strengths of country music and what audiences love about it is that they know there’s authenticity in every artist and their work. It can mean that you as a performer are more vulnerable to your audience in some ways but there is strength in that as well.
Yes, definitely. I try to allow myself to be really vulnerable with my writing because that’s just how I express myself and how I choose to express myself, through that kind of artwork, I guess. I really try to go to places that people might be afraid to go otherwise.
That sort of thing can take a toll sometimes. Do you have a way of balancing it?
I just write whatever comes to me at the time. Sometimes it’s harder to write happier stuff but maybe that’s because when I’m happy I’m doing something enjoyable and I don’t think, I have to sit down and write a song about this right now. I’m just happy, enjoying life. I don’t think it’s a struggle for balance just because I love what I am doing and I’m really passionate about songwriting so it just makes me happy. Even I’m writing sad songs, it makes me happy that I’m writing.
I read in your bio that the album has been two years in the making and there have been many obstacles along the way. In 2013 you were intending to release some music then. Do you think those obstacles have strengthened your determination to do what you’re doing now?
Absolutely. I don’t think I could have, with this album, I don’t know that I could have finished it if I hadn’t been through those obstacles a couple of years beforehand. That really did make me determined. When I came back to [music] it was, Yes, this is definitely what I need to do and this is what I’m doing, and I will do anything to make that happen. I think because of that obstacle then I was able to face everything that happened last year and just plough through it. Take it day by day and just know that that’s what I was meant to be doing and to keep going.
There is an assuredness about your work – I’m never really a believer in saying, ‘Oh, you’re so young to sound so assured’, because I think you can be any age as an artist and still feel insecure about what you’re doing, or always feel insecure, but there is on that album that real sense of you feeling that you’re in the right place.
I’ve had a lot of people say how young I am but what the music sounds like. I don’t really know why it comes across more mature or anything like that, but I really just try to focus on what I’m going through and write from there. So I guess it’s just that kind of headstrong thing comes out when I’m writing. I’m not too sure.
Or maybe it’s because, as you mentioned, when you came back to music you decided it was what you wanted to do. A lot of people might go deep into their career and never question what they’re doing and then have essentially a crisis of faith and go back to it. You’ve been through a process where you’ve been away and come back and made that decision at an early age and that’s what I’m hearing in the music.
I think I’m very fortunate to have decided very early on. I decided when I was eleven. I’d always done music and always done dance but then when I was eleven I decided, This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Everyone said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re eleven, you don’t know.’ But I definitely knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Now I’ve really accepted that and there’s nothing else that I want to do and nothing else that I really can do, so I know that this is what I’m meant to do. And with everything that’s happened I’m a big believer that life is short and there’s no point in wasting it doing something that doesn’t make me happy. And music makes me happy so I’m just going to do that.
I think that’s a very reasonable conclusion. So when you were eleven and you made that decision, were you already singing and playing an instrument?
I was only singing. I’d always sung and done choirs in school, and I think at eleven I’d just picked up the guitar. I had done other instruments. I’d dabbled in violin and trumpet and clarinet but when I picked up the guitar I thought, Oh, okay, this is it – this is the instrument that I want to stick to. Because up until then I just couldn’t find something that I wanted to stay with. So I was already doing music but I think it was a combination of picking up guitar, I started writing songs when I was eleven, so I think it was just that year that I decided that this is what I’m going to do.
And you have persisted with great results. I also want to ask a question about the Dag retreat and the CMAA Academy – what are the relative virtues of those programs? What have they brought to your career?
The Academy definitely opened up a lot of doors for me. Up until that point I was very fresh and didn’t really know anyone in the country music industry in Australia, so that really opened up a lot of doors in terms of meeting people and networking and understanding more of the business side of things. I would say the Academy gave me that early knowledge of the business and really made sure I paid attention to that, and from there I met a producer. A producer saw my graduation performance and got in contact, and that’s how I started the EP at the end of 2012. Then the Dag I went to in 2014. Mostly I was just hoping to become a better songwriter and it definitely did that for me. But because I met so many great artists again, it was another great networking thing. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of those artists who were on the first retreat. I still see Roger Corbett and say hello to him. Luke O’Shea I see. And obviously Karl and I stayed in contact quite a bit. I became really good friends with John Krsulja, who owns the Dag. Just from all those trips I did with Karl, the three of us became really, really close. [The artist at the retreat] really inspired me and pushed me to be better. They said, ‘You need to go home and be performing every week. Hone you guitar skills, do this, do that.’ I take all of that kind of advice on board and that’s what I did, I went home and said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ Whenever people give me advice I usually do my best to try to make myself a better musician.
It all feeds into that early decision of yours to do what you’re doing now. You’ve seen all these opportunities as chances to learn and develop and keep going. Therefore, I’m curious about what’s next. Are you heading out on the road? Already thinking to a new album?
I’m really happy at the moment promoting this album but I’ve already starting thinking about songwriting for the next one. I’ve started writing a couple of songs by myself. I think I know how I want it to sound for the next album, which is kind of cool. I’ve been doing some research into that and I’m pretty certain how I want it to sound, so we’ll if it turns out that way. I really want to go on tour. I’d like to go and do some performances in my home town, which is Mount Isa. I’d like to go up there and maybe do an album launch. I’m going down to Victoria in May to support a friend for his EP launch. I’m doing a couple of gigs around the place. This year will be focused mainly on songwriting and more gig performances – doing more festivals. But all in all I really want to start touring, that’s my dream.
I’d think you’d be a natural for the Mount Isa rodeo.
Oh, I really want to do that! [laughs] That’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid. That’s definitely on my bucket list. I need to do that. That’s not a want – that’s a need.

Further Than Forever is out now.

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