Her Chemical Life – Hailey Tuck talks ‘Junk’ to SJF

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“Basically, I tried for years to get signed, obviously as everybody does,” laughs 27-year-old Hailey Tuck, a jazz singer originally from Austin, Texas, whose debut album, ‘Junk,’ is about to be released by Sony Music. She’s recalling the time, not so very long ago, when she was a struggling musician and trying to get record labels interested in her music. Evidently, it proved a tremendously frustrating and ultimately futile experience for the young Paris-based singer, who was told by several labels “your songs are too sad, like Radiohead.”

That annoyed her – “it bugged me out” she exclaims – but eventually she managed to get an A&R man’s attention, who agreed to see her live show. Excited by the promise of having a major record label (which for discretion’s sake shall remain anonymous) declare an interest in her, Hailey arranged a showcase. “I rented out the 606 Club (in London) during lunchtime, hired a band, and rehearsed my ass off with them,” says Hailey, who then reveals that A&R man didn’t show up and, furthermore, didn’t reply to her emails afterwards. For anyone who’s been struggling to break in the music business, this, sadly, is par for the course. Summing up her experiences at the hands of record companies, Hailey says bluntly: “I felt like I was getting one night stands from frat boys all the time.”


But born out of her frustration came the germ of an idea that would change the trajectory of her career. “I thought, what if you could go via a producer,” she explains. “There has to be a Mark Ronson of jazz, right? Someone who everybody will trust and whatever he does will be good.”

With that thought in mind, the singer rifled through her record collection, looking for the names of record producers. “When I saw Larry Klein twice (the four-time Grammy-winning producer of albums by Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Madeleine Peyroux, and Melody Gardot),  I looked him up on Wikipedia. When I saw his whole discography, I thought, oh my God, this guy’s amazing, he’s produced  everybody including a lot of females.”  

Hailey was determined to touch base with Larry Klein and after a lot of online research and digging, she found his email address. She sent a speculative email to him about herself with examples of her music and he replied back, saying he liked what he heard (Hailey had released several self-funded, independently-released EPs). He added that if she was ever in LA, she should look him up. “I think he thought that it was either never going to happen or would happen way down the line,” says Hailey, who reveals that she wasn’t about to pass that invitation up. “I hopped on a plane instantly and went to LA and went knock, knock, knock. Hello? I’m here!”


Unfazed, Klein (pictured above) agreed to lunch with Hailey and they got on like a house on fire. “Larry Klein is the nicest guy in the world,” she gushes, “and instantly we had a really good connection –  and, even better than that, it was one of those magical conversations where because we had a lot in common like we liked the same musicians. He said something about Billy Strayhorn and I was like, ‘oh, have you read Lush Life, a biography I read of his.’ He said ‘oh my gosh, it’s on my nightstand right now actually,’ and I told him how good it was. It’s different things like that that fell into place.”

Hailey asked Klein to help her with an album project and the producer agreed. She told him she didn’t have a concept for it but just wanted to “make jazz that’s cool and listenable but as un-hateable as you can get.” Klein liked her vibe and where she was coming from. Her image, too, was different. A fan of vintage fashion, she sported a Clara Bow bob and dressed like a 1920s flapper at the height of what US writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, called the ‘Jazz Age.’ Enchanted, perhaps, by Hailey’s look and kooky personality as much as her music, Larry Klein wrote an email to all the major record company executives he knew. “I wish I could get it tattooed on my forehead,” laughs Hailey, “as it’s the nicest email on the planet. It’s embarrassing for me to say because it’s so nice but he wrote, ‘I met this girl yesterday. – she’s beautiful and ambitious, but in a good way, and we’re going to make a great album together. So, who wants to pay for it?'” 

With his impressive track record of working with female vocalists, Klein started a bidding war for Hailey’s signature from the major labels.  Says Hailey: “Before anybody had even picked up the bill, we started recording it. We started emailing back and forth talking about our concept and it was like a tennis game. It was really intense but it was great.”

In a flurry of back-and-forth communications, they mulled over what tunes to record and eventually set a studio date. They came up with an eclectic choice of material, ranging from tunes by revered singer/songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell to four songs associated with British acts – namely Colin Blunstone, The Kinks, Pulp, and Paul McCartney. But all were uniquely rendered, transformed into bittersweet, finely-nuanced jazz serenades.

The resulting album, ‘Junk,’ is a magical, melancholy-tinged confection that is utterly enthralling from the first note until the last. Hailey’s voice is delicate and girlish but also extremely magnetic and carries a lot of emotional resonance.

The album’s bookended with two songs whose theme is junk – Leonard Cohen’s ‘That Don’t Make It Junk’ and Paul McCartney’s ‘Junk.’ “We came to the concept of starting and ending with junk because I wanted to make the album about emotional baggage,” Hailey explains.  “So we’ve got ‘Alcohol’ (as recorded by The Kinks on their 1971 album, ‘Muswell Hillbillies‘), that’s addiction, and for me the word ‘junk’ mean sex or the emotional baggage that you carry around; or your materialism or your drug addiction or whatever. Larry and I really love the same sort of sad, deep songs but we needed some lightness too, because it’s such a heavy concept to come from. It needed to have some fun but we also didn’t want to have anything kind of stupid next to the dark songs.” To illustrate her pint, Hailey mentions the inclusion of Solomon Burke’s early ’60s R&B chestnut, ‘Cry To Me.’ Says Hailey: “It’s a song about a breakup – nothing can be sadder than a glass of wine alone – but it’s fun also.”


One of the most haunting tracks is Hailey’s version of ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone’s (pictured above) 1972 Denny Laine-penned UK hit, ‘Say You Don’t Mind.’  “I love that song,” gushes Hailey. “I’m obsessed with The Zombies, though. I love them and actually I met them because I covered their ‘Tell Her No’ (on her self-titled 2014 debut EP). They shared the song on their fan page. We got in contact after the Zombies twitter account tweeted ‘what a lovely rendition’ and so then I went and hung out with them at the South By Southwest (SXSW) (a music festival in her hometown, Austin). They were absolutely amazing, really great, and even better live than they are on their recordings.”


In sharp contrast, Hailey also covers Sheffield Brit-pop group Pulp’s ‘Underwear.’ “I really, really love Pulp (pictured above) and I have a huge crush on Jarvis Cocker,” she laughs. “I wanted to do a Pulp song that I thought would be cool. This one I thought was so interesting because it makes you think, what is this song about? Is it about rape, it is about voyeurism, is it about all of the above? It was really hard to pick which one to do actually but Larry and I kind of came together on it that it should be this one.”

Though she had recorded before (cutting three EPs and a Christmas single), Hailey says she was a little overawed at first in the studio, especially at being in the presence of some of the musicians that played on the album. “I was so nervous when I got there ’cause there were people like (noted drummer) Jay Bellerose and all these complete legends in the room,” recalls Hailey. She says Larry Klein was very patient with her, though he could also be a hard taskmaster. “Larry would make me do a take, basically, a zillion times because I’m better when I’m a little bit tired. But he would just go ‘that’s great’ after every take or ‘that’s wonderful, why don’t you try one more time. I know you can do it.’ He also comes up with creative tricks. I was having problems with (Joni Mitchell’s) ‘Cactus Tree,’ cause it’s almost like jazz rapping. It’s really wordy and he had me sing it line by line. He said don’t worry, just sing the first line up to here and then we’ll stop and then sing the next line and stop.”

As a performer, Hailey is able to transform other people’s songs, inhabit them, and own them completely. Does she consciously try and shape them to her own personality or is the transformation that she brings about purely instinctive?  “I hope it happens naturally,” she answers. “I’m not a very good formal singer – I didn’t go to music school and  I don’t even like warming up – so I never think about ‘oh, it would be so cool to change this part.’ I have to sing a song a million times until it’s kind of in my bones more.”


Hailey contributes two of her own songs, ‘Last In Line,’ and the rather wonderful ‘My Chemical Life,’ the latter co-written with Larry Klein. “The title is a W. H. Auden quote,” reveals Hailey. “He said that in order to wake up, he would drink coffee, down a shot of whiskey, and take whatever drugs would get him into the mood of writing and he called it his chemical life. So the song’s about a suburban wife who is addicted to drugs kind of try to escape the banality of her wifey existence. When Larry talked about it, I just instantly kind of connected to it.”

Hailey says that she started off in life wanting to be an actress and when that didn’t come to fruition, she left home at 18 – using money from an insurance settlement after being burned in an accident she had when she was 13 – and went to Paris. Her father hoped she’d use the money wisely to fund a college education but Hailey had other ideas. But the money soon ran out and she ended up living in a dingy squat. “I was really lonely in Paris,” recalls Hailey. “I thought Paris was going to be me drinking champagne with supermodels and then I got there and it was just so lonely. So I went to the library every day just to read and be alone.”

It was there that she met a girl – a burlesque dancer, no less – who was house-sitting for a Parisian couple away on an extended vacation. The two became friendly and the girl invited Hailey to stay. It turned out that the owner was a member of the French aristocracy and they returned home just as Hailey and her friend were having a wild party in the apartment. Says Hailey: “This lady sat down next to me and I said to her, do you come here often? She said, ‘yes, this is my house.’ I said ‘I hate to tell you this, but I’ve been living on your velvet couch.'” Though the lady, who it transpired was a Countess named Sorrell, was annoyed at first, she struck up a conversation with Hailey.  “She said, ‘okay, tell me about yourself, what do you do?’ I told her,  ‘I don’t know, I’m here in Paris and I’d really like to sing jazz, but I don’t even know how to become a jazz singer. How did you just become one? How do you put together a band and learn songs? It seems kind of abstract to me.'”


The Countess asked to hear Hailey sing there and then and was impressed. “She was like, ‘okay, I love you, you can stay on my couch and I’m going to hire you for all my events,'” says Hailey. She introduced Hailey to all sorts of people. “There was this guy who was a miniature portrait painter and another guy making corsets for a living –  all these kind of weird, abstract jobs,  and I told myself, if this dude can be a miniature portrait painter for a living then clearly I can figure out how to be a jazz singer.”

So where did Hailey’s ambition to be a jazz singer come from? She says that she heard the music a lot as a child: “Both of my parents loved jazz and my grandfather was a jazz piano player. It wasn’t his job, but when he retired he played like eight hours a day.”

At school, Hailey was drawn to musical theatre but because she didn’t have a powerful, strident voice, she was often overlooked. “I never got any of the good roles because my voice isn’t very loud,” she recalls. Eventually, though, her persistence paid off. “I finally got the lead, I was Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz,” says Hailey, but recalls her music teacher giving her some serious advice, which although initially deflating her, actually sowed a seed of inspiration. Says Hailey: “My music teacher had a ‘Come To Jesus’ moment with me and said ‘Hayley, I want to tell you that I don’t think that you have a very musical theatre voice. If you’re planning or want to do this as your career, not a lot is going to happen for you …but I do want to tell you that the second I heard you sing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ you had the part. I think you have a really jazzy voice and you should check out some more jazz and try to sing some jazz.'”

Following that conversation, Hailey started listening avidly to jazz. “I got Ella Sings The Cole Porter Songbook and just completely rinsed it,” she says. “I felt like when I was singing it, I finally sounded good. I could hear myself sounding like these people, though obviously, I’m not comparing myself to someone like Ella Fitzgerald.”


In terms of other influences, Hailey says that she fell under the spell of Blossom Dearie, an American singer who, coincidentally, left her homeland for Paris as a young woman in the 1950s.  Hailey says that she was inspired to follow Blossom Dearie’s example: “To me, Paris seemed to represent a place where all your dreams come true. So yes, definitely, I was trying to follow in her footsteps. I also loved Chris Connor,  who died in obscurity in Las Vegas, and I love Anita O’Day. I think she’s so cool…and Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington”

 Hailey is an aficionado of vintage fashion and fascinated by the 1920s, an era that she looks to for  inspiration. “I didn’t feel like classically pretty when I was growing up,” she confesses, “so I studied dressing. It felt like they were costumes to put on. It made me feel like I was special somehow by wearing a cool, vintage dress.” I change outfits twice a day. It’s like a mood thing for me. I wake up and put in an outfit and I’m like this is on the right outfit for the day, this is in the mood I want to be in, and put on something completely different, which also means that my room usually looks like a bomb went off in an underwear factory.”

Returning our conversation to her album, ‘Junk,’ Hailey discloses that her foremost goal is a pragmatic one. “I’d like to pay my rent and have a thousand dollars in the bank,” she laughs. “That’s the number one goal.” She also says that she would like to perform jazz in places that don’t normally accommodate it. “I’m trying to play a lot less jazz venues,” she says. “I want to play different venues. Non-jazz venues. Like I played South By Southwest the last couple of years. Also, a friend of mine owns a hip indie rock spot and they have punk. So I told them that I wanted to be next to a punk band. I thought it was really fun to have jazz outside of these cool bars and display it in a grungy rock bar.”

In regard to what comes after ‘Junk’ and what she’ll do next, Hailey is non-committal. “I’m definitely not a very good planner,” she laughs, “so I don’t have any specific plans right now. Actually, what I’m most excited about is the next album because I learned so much during the recording process of ‘Junk.’ Like I told you earlier, I was such a nervous wreck but the album still sounded great. Even now, I’m thinking of ways I can make it even better next time and I’m so excited that I’m going to get a second shot.”

Hailey’s producer, Larry Klein, a mix-board master who’s worked with some of the best female singers in the business and who obviously knows what he’s talking about, describes her as “one of a kind.” He’s not wrong. Her voice, which is gentle but powerfully expressive,  combined with her novel approach to jazz is as daring as it is refreshing. With ‘Junk,’ Tuck and Klein have conspired to create one of jazz’s most arresting debuts by a new singer in recent years. Thankfully, the album doesn’t live up to its title. It’s pure gold.



GET THE ALBUM HERE http://smarturl.it/HaileyTuck_Junk