Singer-Songwriter Hailey Knox Releases Emotive Hardwired Mixtape
Since her 2016 debut, pop singer-songwriter Hailey Knox has skyrocketed to success as the kind of artist you both want to be and want to hear. Honing in on a one-of-a-kind sound that finds modern pop iced with a soulful edge, Hailey is steadily building up a discography for the masses.
Back in November, Hailey released her latest effort, the Hardwired Mixtape, 25 fleeting minutes of lazing voice memos and demos and established anthems. We caught up with Hailey to chat about the record and what she’s got coming for us next — skip down to the interview below or stick with us here while we gush about the music.
Hardwired Mixtape is not broken up by the quick interludes that slice the album every once in a while — it’s bridged by them, each track curated to merge seamlessly enough into each other, but with a slight jarring effect, like driving on a smooth road then mounting a speedbump. Ultimately, the record dabbles equally in pop and soul dynamics, each style doing an impressive tango.
The release opens with “3am,” a stunning 50 second demo that introduces Hailey’s voice as the breathy wisp it is, floating over tender guitar strums. This right here — her serene vocal tone and her thoughtful treatment on guitar — is what we’ve got to look forward to on the rest of the record, but on “Traumatized,” we realize there’s so much more to Hailey’s arsenal of talent. Punchy and edgy, the track is a major singalong anthem that somehow manages to weave impossibly soft moments into a larger quilt of indie-pop layers. On “Red Eye,” we quickly return to the delicacy of Hardwired’s beginnings. It’s only a minute and a half, but it feels longer because Hailey takes her time delivering an impassioned vocal performance over a lush bed of piano notes and what becomes a wholly unexpected smash of warbling, echoing rhythms, before ending abruptly.
“Runaway” is a quintessential soft-pop track. Resting somewhere in the blank space between a ballad and an anthem, it once again expertly merges Hailey’s two worlds — the gentle quietude and the in-your-face frenzy. Packed with some of her best lyrics and pulsing with percussion, it oscillates between repose and eruption before moving into the 30-second “Unicorn Mushroom” voice memo, a totally hypnotic moment in which Hailey effortlessly crafts the sweetest idea of breath and fizz. The halfway point of the Hardwired Mixtape finds its title track “Hardwired,” a song so sincere it packs a punch. Written in a kind of confessional style, it’s led by the quiet hum of a steady base as Hailey confronts, line-by-line, her internal makeup. On top of rollicking waves of guitar and deep blooms of percussion rising in the distance, she takes inventory of herself: her uncertainties, her insecurities, her admissions. It’s a moving composition that marks the heart and soul of the record at its very center.
On “Fake A Laugh,” Hailey designs a haunting soundscape plucked on high strings. Her voice is nothing but a whisper, coolly crooning quick lines in this stripped-down arrangement for a while before, at the very end, the strums double up and breathy harmony enters to close out the piece in eerie abandon. On “Bitch Bitch Bitch,” we veer from the softness of the last few songs in favor of an edgy, angsty track. “Don’t Got One” follows, another soul-pop song that could very well find its way to the radio cycle nestled between artists like Daya and Alessia Cara. It takes a gentle approach for a while before the climax hits, blooming into a sweet singalong built on staccato beats and some of Hailey’s best vocals. “Hold Me” is Hardwired’s last brief demo — under a minute long, it’s far too short for the kind of breathtaking soul it suggests. It’s laced with dreamy harmony and a creeping guitar rhythm — we demand more! After 25 minutes, Hardwired Mixtape ends with “You Do You,” an anxious, anthemic conclusion. Rich with frosty melodies and the tongue-in-cheek wit we’ve come to know from Hailey, it closes out the album with a final blast of energy.
Hardwired Mixtape is everything — it’s pop and soul and indie, ballad and anthem, melodic and melancholic, and so much more. It only works because Hailey Knox is buzzing with such far-reaching musical talent that she can’t help but spin magic out of miscellany. It’s special.
Listen to Hardwired Mixtape below and connect with Hailey Knox on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Read on for The Music Mermaid’s exclusive interview with Hailey about voice memo-ing, her current favorite artists, and more. Catch her on tour with Bailen this summer!
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Hailey Knox: I live in upstate NY and have been singing, jamming, and playing open mics since I was around 7 years old. I was in a duo for a few years with my sister Samantha and we sang locally upstate. I began working on my first EP A Little Awkward when I was 15 which led me to a lot of amazing opportunities. I spent the last few years touring with a lot of amazing artists, working with talented writers, and have just finished my very first headlining tour! I released the Hardwired Mixtape a few months ago and am now working on new music. I’m touring more this summer with Bailen which will be very exciting!
TMM: So you grew up in New York suburbia but you’ve have had the chance to play across the U.S. and Canada. Has there been one place or music scene that you’ve felt totally at home in?
HK: I love playing out on the west coast and seeing a lot of my friends. I’ve met so many incredible artists online and a lot of my NY friends have traveled out to California so it’s always great being out there.
TMM: In what ways has your music evolved since releasing your debut EP, A Little Awkward, a few years ago?
HK: I feel like as a person I have grown (and am still growing) so I have more to write about and I’m becoming more confident in my ideas. I do feel I am still finding my voice and developing my sound but I love incorporating soulful melodies and guitar within the tracks. I’ve also been working on producing which is exciting — to be able to record and track my own ideas.
TMM: What was the songwriting process like for your newest release, Hardwired Mixtape? Do you usually write stream-of-consciousness then refine the result or do you have a more structured approach?
HK: “Hardwired” began in my bedroom with a few lyric ideas that I had voice memo’d and saved in my phone. The lyrics came to life from a conversation I had with my cousin about relationships. I played the unfinished song on piano for my family and ended up flying to LA a few days later. I played the song for a friend of mine, Maggie Peake, and she helped me to finish the song. I think the verses felt like a stream-of-consciousness because it was me opening up about how I felt at the time — a lot of the song feels like I’m just talking. I have a difficult time when I start thinking about structure. I feel I’m most inspired and create best when I think less.
TMM: Something I’ve noticed on Hardwired is how much unease and uncertainty finds its way into your lyrics. Were these motifs intentional or do you find that they naturally have a home in your work?
HK: The concepts for each song weren’t intentionally written for the whole body of work, but indecisiveness and uncertainty are reoccurring concepts because I find myself feeling those ways a lot. “Hardwired” was the last song to be written and I feel like it ties all of the songs together. We had a lot of songs to choose from and there just happened to be similar lyrics even though some of the songs are from three years ago.
TMM: I read in an interview with Atwood Magazine that you saw most of yourself in “Hardwired.” Songwriting is obviously so cathartic to artists in the way that it sort of expels a part of your soul to make a home in public, but does it ever feel too close for comfort to share your most personal pieces?
HK: I remember singing "Hardwired" during the writing process when it only had a verse and half of the chorus written. I played it on piano for my family and it was tough to get through. I think being honest in my lyrics is very important though — if I’m singing about something I don’t really connect with, you’re going feel that.
TMM: The interludes on Hardwired are so beautiful and so surprising -- what was the thought process behind choosing which piece bridged the next?
HK: Thank you! I have a lot of ideas and sometimes became so attached to the original demo that I want to keep them as is. Songs like “Hold Me” and “Fake A Laugh” feel complete even though they are around a minute long. It took me awhile to figure out which order felt the best but after playing the track list though five million times, I found a way to make each song transition into the next.
TMM: “Fake A Laugh” completely stuns me -- it’s my pick for most soul-snatched track on Hardwired Mixtape. It’s evil to ask, I know, but is there one track off the record you’ve felt closest to or even most surprised by?
HK: Thank you so much. I always love playing “Fake a Laugh” live because it’s the only song in the set that I play on ukulele. I do feel like “Hardwired” is a song that I feel very connected to — it’s an emotional one to sing because it is so personal.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for you?
Hailey Knox: I’m working on music! I have a lot of new songs that I can’t wait to release and play live on my upcoming tour with Bailen.
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Featured photo by Shervin Lainez