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Concert Preview: HALEY Record Release at the Cedar Cultural Center (Exclusive Interview!)

The artist talks songwriting, kindness ahead of her 12/8 show

HALEY Bonar
Credit: Colin Michael Simmons

Known formerly as Haley Bonar, HALEY has been a hometown staple for the past 15 years. Her latest work, the all-instrumental Pleasureland, is an enchanting journey that has the same powerful melodic force as her earlier work. I got a chance to speak with Haley before her upcoming show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday, December 8th. 

In 2017, you announced that you would be known professionally as HALEY. Has
this change resulted in any creative shifts or other personal and/or professional
changes that surprised you? In changing your stage name, do you think your
identity as a performer feel the effect as well? 

Changing my name was a difficult decision which I had taken considerable time to
make, and I found that when I reached the point where the reasons not to do it no
longer controlled me, the choice was more clearly defined. It was not intended to
be a shift in my career as a performer, though it sort of became that organically, if
only because Pleasureland is a “departure” musically in some ways.

As a singer and songwriter, you’ve created music by yourself as well as in a
band (most recently Gramma’s Boyfriend). What draws you to both methods,
and do you have a preference?

Writing my own stuff is easier, mostly because I’ve been
doing it for a very long time, and there are fewer schedule barriers involved. 🙂
Writing songs for Gramma’s Boyfriend is a completely different process, but when
we are playing together, the ease is incredible. There’s something about being
vulnerable in front of each other enough to take risks, and just go with it, that is
impossible to do in the same capacity alone. Because the lyrics are so stylistically
different in both projects, it’s almost like playing a character and writing from the
inside out.

As an artist, being vulnerable is a crucial aspect of the work you do. But being
vulnerable is hard, and a tough outer shell is pretty beneficial when it comes to
being a fierce woman in 2018. It can be tempting to put a wall up, but I
imagine that as an artist, you have to compromise. Have you been able to find
a sweet spot, and share your heart with your audience without being taken
advantage of?

Yeah, I wish the internet didn’t exist most days,
even though I’m guilty of using it as much as the next jerk. For some reason, it’s
not so much the vulnerability that is at stake as your freedom of speech. If artists
say their opinion or post something about a cause they believe in, that makes them
a target for trolls, even though said trolls (and everyone else for that matter) do
the same thing. I do notice that women get trolled a lot more for their political
beliefs than male artists – of course, they get it too – but it is usually not a personal
attack. I do have a tough shell, and I consider myself a strong person, but man oh
man people can be cruel, and I am by no means unscathed by the wrath of
venomous words.

Your latest album, Pleasureland, is all instrumental. You’ve expressed that that
was because you were frustrated with the state of our country and world, and
you were sick of trying to portray those emotions with words. Did this method
of creation make you more aware of your own emotions because you didn’t
have to put a label on them? Were there any times during the process when you
missed using words?

I don’t think I was necessarily ‘sick’ of writing words as much
as I could not come up with any to align with how I felt. When I began working on
piano pieces, I realized that was where my energy was directed, and I needed to
trust that. Writing a song without lyrics is still writing a song. It’s the same level of
intensity, creativity, and commitment to something you believe in. I don’t think a
lot of people realize I’ve written instrumental music before: a couple of EPs and two
songs on my record Golder from 2011. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but
this time I took it to another level.

What’s a cause your most passionate about right now? What should we learn
more about?

At the risk of sounding really cheesy, if am honest, spreading
goodness is a cause we could all benefit from, and not just around the holidays. I
do what I can to give, and have had the honor of working with plenty of wonderful
organizations. I teach my daughter the value of giving and try to refocus which
currency is real in this life. All of us continuing to support communities through
action and recognizing privilege is the only way the much-needed work can be
done. Being kind to others is the basis for true growth.

HALEY’s new album Pleasureland is out now. Be sure to see her this Saturday, December 8th, at the Cedar Cultural Center.

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