#CMchat Exclusive Interview: Hailey Verhaalen

Born and raised in Oregon City, Oregon, in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, Hailey Verhaalen’s passion for music has driven her since she stepped in front of her first large audience at a third-grade talent show. 

What music and artists influenced you as you grew up in Oregon?

“When I discovered Miranda Lambert, I was instantly her biggest fan. I want to say I was about 15 when I heard about her, right around the time I picked up the guitar for the first time. My favorite songs to learn were always hers! Since discovering her, I’ve seen her in concert about seven times, and let me tell you, it’s the same feeling every time I see her rock the stage! She is amazing and is definitely a big part of why I want to be a country music singer.

The Eagles were a huge influence on me growing up as well! They sort of became mine and my dad’s thing. We would listen to The Eagles Greatest Hits every time he would take me on camping and hunting, and now when I listen, it reminds me of those memories I made with him and my brother on these road trips when I was younger.

Kelly Clarkson was and still is a HUGE idol of mine. I remember sitting starry-eyed, cross-legged on the floor watching her win American Idol and thinking ‘I want to be her someday!’ I’ve loved her ever since.”

How has your family supported your career? Read that your first guitar was a hand-me-down from your Grandma.

“My family has been HUGE in supporting my music, and honestly with anything I’ve wanted to try! My parents always provided avenues for me to explore new hobbies, and I am very blessed because of that. I remember the creative avenues always struck a chord with me, and I found myself loving to sing and perform ever since I was a little girl. At 15, my grandma gave me her old guitar she had had for years, and I taught myself to play enough to start writing songs to music. My family has always encouraged me in whatever I’ve done, and I am 100% convinced that I wouldn’t be living in Nashville chasing this dream if they hadn’t.

When music became the career path I decided I wanted to chase after, they never once showed any ounce of doubt or discouragement, even though it meant moving 2,500 miles away from them. I remember first bringing the conversation of moving to Nashville to my mom convinced that she would beg me to stay and that I would if she did. But with tears in her eyes (and mine) she said something along the lines of ‘Hailey, if you feel like this is the next step you have to take, I fully support you and believe in you’. That was the moment I knew it was okay to go and take the next step in my career.”

What are your fondest musical memories?

“I have a couple that come to mind. One being winning my high school’s senior spotlight competition by singing a song I wrote for my Grandma Bonnie who had passed away just a week before. A few days after she died, I was so filled with sadness and needed to let it out in a way other than crying. I wrote the song in about an hour and didn’t have any intention of really sharing it with many people because it was so sad, and I wrote it for me to heal.  I was all set to sing a different, cover song at Senior Spotlight, and at the very last second decided I wanted to sing the song I wrote for my grandma instead. I ended up winning the competition, a $700 scholarship, and getting a standing ovation from the audience. That moment is something I will never forget because I could feel my Grandma smiling down on me, and it offered me some of the closure I needed to move forward from her passing. Music is SO healing, and I got a lot out of sharing that emotional moment with the audience.

Another fond music memory was the first time I ever stepped foot in a studio to record my first EP. I was pretty unfamiliar with the process back when I recorded it, and watching my songs come to life for the very first time was something I will NEVER forget. It was the first instance of seeing part of my musical dreams come true, and it felt amazing!

My last show in Oregon before moving to Nashville was another incredible memory. We had this going away show at Duke’s Bar and Grill in Portland, OR, and the place was completely packed with a line out the door. I was an emotional wreck knowing I was leaving my home state in a couple of days but getting on that stage and seeing all of the support I had in one room like that was an amazing feeling. It tops the list as being one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played, and I left that night feeling love and support from every angle!  There are a lot of instances where I feel very blessed, this night was definitely one of them.”

Can you remember the first time you wrote a song?

“I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember I started writing lyrics and poems when I was about 10 years old. I have old notebooks with some of my old songs in it! It’s pretty cool (and funny) to go back and look at the things I was writing about. Let’s just say, my songwriting had improved a lot since I was 10”

If you were to compare yourself to another female artist, who would it be and why?

“I have been told that my sound is like a mixture between Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. I’m definitely not mad about that!”

Who are you a big fan of and what do you find most inspiring about his/her music?

Ashley McBryde has been making big strides in the music industry. Everything about her and what she stands for is so inspiring, and I look up to her very much. Her songs hit you right in the heart!”

What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen and what was so special about it?

“I would say either The Eagles or Merle Haggard’s ‘Sing Me Back Home‘ tribute concert. For The Eagles concert, my dad, brother, sister-in-law and I went. Listening to them live in concert was one of the most inspirational moments ever. Their harmonies, passion, and love for one another shined through as they told the stories behind each song. You could see the thousands of hours that had gone into perfecting their craft, and it was truly incredible! I didn’t think I could love The Eagles more than I already did until that night!

I had always dreamed about seeing Merle Haggard in concert and was so sad that I never got to before his passing, but let me tell you, his tribute concert in Nashville, TN in April of 2017 helped make up for that! A TON of my very favorite artists performed Merle’s songs for like 3 whole hours! It was AMAZING!”

Do you ever wish you grew up before the era of social media?

“Sometimes I do because it has a way of controlling our lives and taking us away from the experiences that are going on right around us… But at the same time, it has been an amazing way to help get my music out of there, and I am very thankful for that opportunity to share my songs with people all over the nation that might not have heard it if it hadn’t been for social media.”

First heard you on Women Crush It Wednesdays, the weekly online show with Melanie Meriney and Krista Angelucci. How has the move to Nashville affected your music?

“Well first and foremost, the move has affected me as an individual, outside of music, in beautiful ways. It is very hard being away from my family, and not being able to be there quickly if something bad were to happen, but the amount I’ve grown as an individual has been very fulfilling. That change and growth has helped me musically in many ways! It has forced me to be more outgoing and get out there and meet new people, it has motivated me to get better at songwriting and playing the guitar and has aided in me gaining connections that have helped me move forward in my career. It has been a crazy and amazing experience that has done a lot of good things for me and my music!”

What is it like to perform on legendary Nashville stages like the Bluebird Café?

“It is an incredible, yet nerve-wracking feeling singing at any famous venue. A lot of hearts have been poured out on these legendary stages, and you just hope that the performance you give lives up to those who have been on the stage before you, because those are the people you’ve looked up to for years and are part of the reason you were inspired to chase your dream.”

Broken Home

How does it compare to playing Oregon’s biggest festivals, rodeos, along with Portland’s Moda Center?

“I try to go into any performance with the mindset of giving it my all, no matter the size or reputation of the stage. Any performance I go into starts with nerves, adrenaline, and excitement, and the nerves are there because I really care about what I’m about to do! With that being said, I feel like it compares pretty closely. In Oregon, I’m in front of my home state crowd, and all I’ve ever wanted to do was make them proud! So, while the nerves are there for a bit of a different reason than the legendary stages in Nashville, they’re there in the first place because I want to do justice to my performance!”

Your last EP, Girls Night Out, was so well written – very relatable, centered on real-life emotions, love, and heartbreak, friends and family.

What can fans expect from this new EP, The Real Stuff, which was written in Nashville since your move two years ago?

“Thank you so much! The idea of any material that I release is to be real and hopefully help people feel things on a deeper level, whether it’s a happy or sad emotion. I like to put stuff out that people can listen and relate to, and fans can expect to hear just that on this next EP, with a few fun and maybe unexpected twists along the way!”

Girl’s Night Out

Can you share the backstory the title track to “The Real Stuff?”

“’The Real Stuff‘ idea came to me before playing a show at a local bar in my hometown. My dad was sitting across from me and got up to grab a drink. He was wearing his favorite leather jacket that night! Before leaving the table, he took it off, set on the chair behind him and said, ‘No one steal this, it’s not real, its pleather and not worth any money’. His comment struck up a conversation with some friends around about the stuff we had that ‘wasn’t real or high-end brand or super expensive’. This got me thinking…There are a LOT of material things in my life that are fake, that I got proudly on clearance, or are hand me downs. And how awesome I feel about having those things.

We live in a society that pressures us to spend our hard-earned money on buying flashy, name brand things and keeping up with all of the latest trends so that we can be looked at as ‘cool’ or ‘classy’. It often seems that if we don’t succumb to that pressure, we can start to feel less than the those who do. I just wanted to remind people in a lighthearted way that they don’t need to follow all of the latest bank breaking trends to be ‘cool’. Being genuine, being yourself; that’s what makes you cool! I chose The Real Stuff for the title of this EP because I feel like it accurately depicts who I am, what I stand for, and what I hope others will stand for too after listening to it.”

Where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs and what’s your favorite part of the process?

“As a songwriter, I always try to pay attention to what’s going on around me in everyday life. Song inspirations can literally come from anywhere! While the entire process is a blast, my favorite part is after you’ve worked hard on a song, recording the work tape and having that finished product in your hand to listen to. It is such an accomplishing feeling!”

How did you choose the venue for your upcoming release party? Read it will be July 14 at the Ponderosa Lounge & Grill in Portland.

“Ponderosa Lounge has always been a big supporter of my music over the years. From having my 1st CD release party there, to opportunities to open for big names such as Love and Theft, it just felt right to have it there!”

Release Party Tickets

What are your career plans for the rest of the year?

“I will be touring throughout the summer in the Pacific Northwest. When I return to Nashville, I plan on continuing to write and play shows as much as possible to continue to grow as an artist. I am also hoping to do sort of radio tour to shine light on my brand-new EP!”

Tour Dates

How do you balance your music with other obligations?

“It can be stressful to try to balance the two. But with a little trust in God, a big support system, and multiple flips through my daily planner, it’s a little easier to manage.”

What are the five things you can’t live without?

“God, My family, My friends, My guitar, My phone!”

What’s your motto or the advice you live by?

“My motto is to ‘Walk by faith’ – There can sometimes be periods of doubt in this career path. There are a lot of ‘no’s’ and ‘you’re just not what we’re looking for’s’ and it’s easy to get down on yourself and wonder if you’re meant to keep chasing your dreams. To get through those periods of doubt , I place my trust in God and the gift he gave to me.”

What’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t writing or playing?

“I love going and sitting by the lake or floating the river! I live by Percy Priest, so it is a short drive between me and the shore of the lake. I’ve always been a very outdoorsy girl, so anytime I can be out in nature is a good time in my book.

My other favorite thing to do is spend time with my friends and family! Getting older has really taught me how valuable that time is.”

The Real Stuff  

1. Rerun (Hailey Verhaalen, Kyle James, Kelly Seidel)

2. The Real Stuff (Hailey Verhaalen)

3. Shooting Stars (Hailey Verhaalen, Kelly Seidel)

4. Guilty As Charged (Hailey Verhaalen, Erica “Sunshine” Lee)

5. The Damn You Didn’t Give (Hailey Verhaalen, Paige Nichols, Kelly Seidel)

6. Cheap Shots (Hailey Verhaalen, Kelly Seidel)

Pre-order The Real Stuff EP (produced by Jason Snell / recorded at Sound Emporium Studios)

Follow Hailey

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Author: Donna Block

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