“Go on and make a good livin’ girl, don’t forget to make a good life” is a lyric off of country artist Hailey Whitters’ song Janice at the Hotel Bar.
Hailey says it’s her new mantra she learned from an 80- something year old woman named Janice who she met in a bar (literally) and I think we can all learn something from it.
We caught up with Hailey on how she’s doing during the pandemic as an artist, what it was like to quit her job as a waitress to pursue her career as a full time musician, and how she can finally say she is living the dream.
What first got you into music?
I grew up in a tiny little town in Iowa, in the middle of a cornfield. The only source I had to country music in particular was through country radio. I grew up listening to what was on country radio and there weren’t a whole lot of music venues or performers in my town. I had learned early on that a lot of my favourite artists at the time – you know, Dixie Chicks, were big and they wrote all of their own songs. I had a guidance counsellor tell me “you should start writing your own songs!” So, I got a guitar and started booking shows in my town, but I was kind of like the anomaly in that sense. It was strange that I had this drive to be in music because I really wasn’t seeing it around me.
What is your creative process like?
I usually write Monday through Friday with co-writers. It’s very much like, wake up, get the coffee going, sit down, log onto Zoom and “go.” I’m always keeping ideas handy. I’ll be out walking or ironically enough, when I’m cleaning the house, I get a lot of ideas that pop into my head. I’d say it’s a mix of both given that I have a schedule that’s planned out Monday to Friday, 9-5 for me to co-write and there’s a lot happening where I’m being prompted to just sit down and do it. But other times, inspiration strikes, and I know I better sit down and try to do something with it before it slithers off somewhere else [laughs].
Speaking of Zoom, how has the pandemic affected your work as an artist?
Well, you know “goodbye touring” which has been sad. To not be able to perform these songs live to an audience has been very bizarre but on the other hand, writing has been really easy to do remote from anywhere, not necessarily in Nashville. My entire song writing community in Nashville has gotten onto Zoom. It’s strange and I wouldn’t say it’s ideal, but it works and there are some good songs that have come out of it. I will say, I’m anxious to get back into the room with some of these people and really get to feel that energy, live again. You know?
You came out with your album The Dream last February. What was your inspiration behind that album?
I think I started making it honestly before the inspiration really hit me. I had a lot of “come to Jesus” moments the year I started making that record. I was feeling very frustrated and confused, broken hearted with Nashville and I kind of just had to tune out a lot of that noise and turn inward into “what do I want to say?” In a lot of ways, I had hit my breaking point with the town. I was like “I’m going to make one more record and nobody may like it but if it’s the last thing I’m going to make in my time here in Nashville, I want it to be something that I believe in and something that I love.” I had a handful of songs at that point. I had Ten Year Town, Dream Girl, and Heartland and I went to the studio and laid those down. I remember later that year; I went up and wrote with Lori McKenna in Boston. We wrote Janice At the Hotel Bar and we wrote the song Living the Dream. Once we wrote those songs, I was like “okay, I know what this is about now, I know what this record is wanting to say.” That’s really where I solidified the concept of calling it THE DREAM. You know, having it be kind of a time capsule of my 12 years in Nashville trying to make it as a country music artist.
You have spoken openly about your journey with waiting tables while you were working on The Dream. Can you tell me about the feeling of finally being able to say goodbye to serving and being able to pursue your dreams as a full-time singer/songwriter?
It was a really, really trippy experience quitting my waitressing job. Go in, clock in and out of my last shift with an apron and then it was days later, I’m on stage at Radio City Music Hall opening for Maren Morris. It was just a complete 180 and such an unreal experience to have done both in that same week and really feel that. You know? Feel that journey in the span of a week! It was just really wild to get to move into that mode of being able to do this full time, being able to tour and hang up the apron strings. It was just this wild time.
Yeah, very surreal. Good for you! Honestly, that’s a massive accomplishment.
Well, there were a lot of breakdowns along the way [laughs] but you know, it’s something really cool when you can see some of that hard work start to pay off and some of those dreams come to life.
Living The Dream, the deluxe version of your album The Dream is out now. Can you tell me about your musical collaborations on that project?
It was surreal. We got to go in the studio with Little Big Town and we were abiding by COVID protocol and everyone’s wearing masks, and all that. To get to experience that, of seeing them [Little Big Town] all in the room, on the microphone, singing the song, hearing our voices together for the first time, and their harmonies, it was just like heaven on earth. Each person that was selected for the LIVING THE DREAM deluxe is someone who has had a very big part in shaping my journey and making it possible for me to put out that record, THE DREAM. I remember getting the mix back the day Trisha [Yearwood] laid down the vocal and I was back in Iowa, driving those backroads that I used to drive as a teenager and hearing her on the radio, and I’m driving those same roads in that truck again listening to a song that has both of our voices on it. It was just an out of body experience. You see that young starry-eyed girl who had no clue what she was getting into. Yeah, they’re all just so special to me. Brent [Cobb], and Jordan [Davis] put me on a tour as an independent artist and that income source helped me not have to go back to waiting tables. Hillary [Lindsey] and Lori [McKenna] were two of my “top of the list” songwriters that I had dreamed about getting in the room with one day. They had taken a chance on me as a new singer/songwriter all those years back. Everyone was really hand-picked and true to the story of LIVING THE DREAM and what this deluxe meant to the whole project.
If you have one, which track do you think resonates with you most off of Living The Dream
I would say on the deluxe album, Fillin’ My Cup (feat. Little Big Town) really resonates with me because it feels like my whole last year. You can’t appreciate the sugar if you never have the salt, taking the good with the bad, putting it all in one crazy glass and trying to “cheers” the good times and stay positive.
This is a fun one. What’s your go-to Spotify or Apple playlist?
Is it bad to say one of my own [laughs]? I just made one over the weekend called “How Far Can It Go.” And I’m really vibing with it because it’s all of these 90’s country artists that I grew up loving. I mean, Jo Dee Messina, Trisha [Yearwood], Martina [McBride], Faith Hill – all of these badass women from the 90s. I’ve also been listening to a meditation playlist. I’ll go sit in the bathtub, fill up the tub with hot water, light my incense, get my bath bombs out, and play my peaceful meditation playlist and try to get Zen after the crazy year that we’ve all had.
What’s next for you?
Well, the Living The Dream deluxe will be a bittersweet end of the chapter for The Dream record for me. I’m really hoping we can get out there touring safely at some point this year. I’m just really missing the fans and getting to share this music with them. And then, I think I’m going to try and go back in and start working on a new record. I would love to get back in that mode and get to tell a new story, and a new chapter, so, hoping to do that.