If you haven’t heard of Hailey Whitters yet, it won’t be long before you do. From a small town in Iowa, Hailey moved to Nashville at seventeen years old and went on to sign with Carnival Music before releasing her debut album ‘Black Sheep’ in October 2015.
Her first cut as a songwriter came in the form of “Low All Afternoon” by Martina McBride and recently you may have Little Big Town’s brand new single, “Happy People” which was co-written by Hailey and Lori McKenna.
We got the chance to speak to Hailey recently about her journey so far and what’s to come in the future.
CC: You’re from a small town in Iowa, what has your journey been from moving to Nashville to now?
HW: I moved to Nashville when I was 17… I didn’t know a single person! A lot of my experience here has been just diving in headfirst. I started going to open mic nights, I played down on Broadway for a bit, booked co-writes during the day. Just tried to meet as many people as possible and play out as much as possible… I think that helped get me on the radar of some industry folk.
CC: Your album “Black Sheep” is a brilliant body of work, and the tracks I found myself listening to constantly were “Low All Afternoon” and “One More Hell”. Do you have your own personal favourite and why?
HW: They’re all pretty special to me! I would have to say “One More Hell” & “Low All Afternoon” feel the most personal. One More Hell was obviously about losing my little brother, and Low All Afternoon was the first song I’d written solo in a long time so I was sort of able to tap into this different head space than I’d been doing with co-writing.
CC: The trends in Country music were very male dominated, which was still around the time that you will have been creating “Black Sheep”. The tides seem to be changing again now, but was there a pressure there during the creative process when it was seemingly very difficult for women and especially new artists to put music out and have it be heard as easily?
HW: I think so? I really wasn’t focusing too much on where Black Sheep would fit when I was creating it. I just tried to make my best body of work and put it out there… I knew people were going to come to their own conclusions about it and I couldn’t control that, so I just wanted to create something that felt true and real to me.
CC: When I’ve recommended your music to people, I have described you as someone who is kind of a mix between Kacey Musgraves, with that sweet vocal but the song writing grit of Brandy Clark and Miranda Lambert. How would you describe your sound to people who may be new to your music?
HW: I like that! I respect all those females and their career paths… Lyrics are usually what I gravitate towards so I try to make them a big priority in my songs. I grew up listening to anything from Dixie Chicks to Alanis Morisette to Pink to Johnny Cash.
CC: You are gaining attention as a songwriter too, with your first cut being “Low All Afternoon” by Martina McBride. How did that come about and what was it like having another artist record a song that was on your own album?
HW: The first line came to me one day as I was leaving a demo session… It was about 3PM and it just kind of popped into my head. I went home and started playing around with it and the word “ultimatum” came out at me. I then knew what the song was about as I was seeing the whole storyline unfold through a friend of mine. Once I knew what it was about, it was just about putting the parts all together.
Having a song recorded by Martina was incredible! I’ll never forget the first time hearing her voice on it, I was driving down music row, and it was just this surreal moment of feeling like everything was starting to fall into place.
CC: You also toured with Martina McBride on her Love Unleashed tour, can you tell us about that experience and what were some of your highlights?
HW: Yes! It was so awesome… I learned a lot from her. I would put a chair next to the stage every night after my set and watch her show. She’s such a legend. Probably my biggest highlight from the tour was when she asked me to come out and sing “All You Need is Love” with her. I’ll never forget that moment.
CC: You wrote “Happy People” with Lori McKenna which is on Little Big Town’s new album “The Breaker”, what was it like writing with Lori and are there any more tracks from that sessions that may be heard in the future?
HW: Writing with Lori was incredible… I feel like we tapped into something really cool on a spiritual level with Happy People. One of us would say a line and the other had the follow-up. I tend to spitball a lot, but working with her she really showed me how to craft it all together. We wrote one other song on that trip… At the time it’s not set to be on anyone’s record, but you never know! It may be on my next one.
CC: Country music in my opinion is all about the songwriting, that to me is the most important element and what sets the genre apart to others. You are both a singer and songwriter so get so experience both elements, what would you say comes more naturally and what excites you more?
HW: Lyrics tend to be the first thing that comes to me. I’m always fascinated by quirky words/phrases people say. Once I get a lyric, then I’ll usually sit down and try to put a melody to it
CC: Who are what would you said are your biggest influences musically?
HW: Lately I’m on a big Tom Petty kick. I’ve always loved him, but just more recently digging into his catalog again. I love Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlins. Growing up I always wanted to be like Shania Twain or the Dixie Chicks. I really love digging into a Patty Griffin record.
CC: Your career is really just getting started, what are some of your bucket list moments that you hope to achieve?
HW: I’d love to play the Grand Ole Opry, win a Grammy, collaborate with Dolly Parton, come play the UK!
CC: You’ve described yourself as a risk taker, what are some of the biggest risks you’ve taken and did they pan out as you’d expected?
HW: I jumped out of plane once. I’m still alive so it definitely turned out better than expected haha!
CC: With the release of “Black Sheep” in 2015, and with you gaining more recognition for your song writing lately do you feel added pressure in terms of a second album, and what can fans expect next?
HW: Definitely! My first record was sort of a shot in the dark, I had all this music and just wanted to put it out there and see what would happen. I definitely feel a little more pressure to be intentional with this record, but I’m trying to just tune out all the voices and do what feels right to me. Hopefully fans can expect some new music later this year!
You can buy Hailey Whitters’ debut album “Black Sheep” here, and make sure you keep up to date by following her on social media;