Trevor - Welcome back to “Have you Heard,” the podcast where we discuss underappreciated music from different genres, artists and eras. I’m your host, Trevor. In today’s episode, we’re going to be talking to Northwestern alum Haley Davis (Comm ‘21), whose album Smiling Pains came out in 2019. Hope you enjoy.
Haley - Hi there.
T - Hi, how’s it going?
H - It’s going pretty well, how are you?
T - I’m good. Thanks so much.
H - Thank you for inviting me.
T - So first, in our email, you said that you’re actually doing a global music program in Spain. Could you talk a little bit about that and what’s that like?
H - Yes, it’s been great. So far, I guess, the beginning of September was when the program started. I’m getting a masters degree in global music business. There are like 40 kids in my program specifically, and it’s cool. I mean, I’m getting to learn about different areas of the industry. I’m taking music business finance and a law class. So it’s pretty comprehensive, but it’s very interesting, and it’s very international. There’s just people from all over the world in the program, which is really cool. And I’m enjoying it a lot so far.
T - Yeah, that’s great. Have you found that it’s changed the way that you yourself create or even distribute your music?
H - I haven’t really written too much since being here. I mean, I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know before, especially about music distribution and the law and copyrights. And where you can make money from your music. There might be a lot of self-releasing artists who know about PROs [performance rights organizations] and everything. But I didn’t really know what a PRO was. And, you know, about publishing rights. And that being a way you can make revenue, so I’ve learned a lot. And I just haven’t quite applied it yet, just because I’ve kind of been so focused on my studies.
T - How’s the transition from going, I guess, undergrad to the master’s program, you said, you haven’t been able to write as much. How’s that affected you?
H - It wasn’t as much to do with me being in the master’s program. I just feel like I go through phases where I don’t write very much at all and then phases where I knock out five songs in a couple of weeks. I think it’s more about what I’m going through personally at the time. For me, it’s like, that’s kind of a therapeutic thing. But I do still want to be able to write and work with people here, because there are so many talented people and I should take advantage of that opportunity while I’m here. But it’s also about balancing time, which is just a lot, especially after the pandemic and everything I just feel like it’s weird to get back into the swing of things and have things be fast paced again. But it’s good.
T - I definitely agree with that. I wanted to ask you a little bit about your process, something I always ask. I’m so fascinated with how they write music, or if they even go in with the intention of writing a song or an album. When do you think is the time that you write the best or the most?
H - Oh gosh, I mean, it depends. Usually … it’ll be you know, if I have a crush on someone, or maybe I’ve had a friend breakup – that’s the worst thing – but it’s really to process the emotions, I think, in terms of my relationships, is when it comes out the easiest. I wouldn’t say they’re always the best or anything, but I think that’s when I find myself naturally writing the most. But I also write just lines at a time. I’ve got like, a big list of lyrics in my notes that are just one or two lines. And I’ve kept … I mean, a lot of them kept in there and they never turned into anything. I do a lot of bit-by-bit writing, too. So, it really depends, and I don’t write songs the same way, anytime really. Sometimes it’s lyrics first. Sometimes it’s the melody. Other times you know, guitar, whatever, but it totally varies and that’s what I like about it.
T - And when I listened to Smiling Pains, your album, a lot of it seemed to be real stories and like self-experience, you know – that’s what I really, really enjoyed about it. When you sat down to write that was it sort of the same thing you were talking about just, you know, periodic, or were you going in with the expectation to write an album?
H - Some of them I had written kinda like in my senior year of high school, processing my freshman year of college. For me, that album was kind of like a coming of age thing where I was … it was such a kind of culture shock of a different lifestyle, everything, and freedom. But it also had that same kind of I’m meeting different people, and I need to process these things emotionally. And I met my producer Tony Winter Quarter my freshman year. And so, he was like, “I’d love to, you know, work with you, maybe make an album or something.” And then I started kind of like writing the rest of the songs, kind of, to fit an album. So I would say about halfway, like half of the songs are already written. And then kind of spurred the rest of the kind of songwriting from there. So I’d say half of it I had it in mind that I was making the album and the other half, no.
T - On Spotify, it says that you made it in someone’s bedroom. Was that your producer Tony’s bedroom? Could you talk a little bit about how that went?
H - We started talking about the logistics of recording and what I wanted, in terms of an album, at the very end of my freshman year. And then sophomore year we came back to school and started recording. And yeah, his bedroom was like in the attic of a house on Foster. And we would do that maybe once or twice a week. And it just took ages … like it took months and months and months doing it like that. But I also think that worked for me, because I am not the kind of person who can sit down for more than three hours. That felt really draining at times, to work like that. And so it was kind of, I felt like it was good that it took a long time because I really struggled especially, like, once we started to produce it. And he was like, “Okay, do you like something like this?” Eventually, all these things are like, mixing and blending in my mind. And I was like, “I can’t even, it all sounds the same.” And so he was very patient and a really calming, patient person to work with. And that was important for me. And it got finished the spring of that year. So it took like, I think like six, seven months.
T -That’s amazing. And like I said, I really, I really enjoyed the album.
H - Thank you so much.
T- Do you think that … Well, first of all, do you have a favorite song from there?
H - Oh my gosh, it’s really, it’s really hard to pick a favorite. But I like “Tennis Courts” a lot. It’s a song I wrote about my mom and how she grew up. And that’s a song about that. So like I just, I was really struggling to write the chorus. I could not get the melody in my head. And I mean, I was stuck on it for like a month or two and Tony’s like, “Just let me know when you got it.” And I was like, “Okay,” and then it came to me in the shower, and I hopped out of the shower and voice memo’d it so I wouldn’t forget. I think because it’s personal and it relates to my mom. It just felt very personal. And I felt proud of it once I was done. Maybe that’s because I was just stuck on it for so long but, one of my favorites.
T - Were you able to perform any of your songs at all? I know that I’m not sure the whole timeframe of when COVID happened and when your album came out but, were you able to perform at all? And how was that experience?
H - Yeah, so it came out at the end of my sophomore year, and then I was abroad beginning of my junior year. But I did play one Dot Wave show. It was like an apartment show. Yeah, that winter. And it was really fun. It was just me and my guitar though, it wasn’t like a full band. Tony and Kaylee and I were always trying to do stuff together. Kaylee played the drums for a lot of the songs, one of our other friends, and I got to play once and that was really fun. But then COVID hit and tragedy struck so we didn’t get to play after that.
T - Besides personal experience or stories in your own life, where do you draw inspiration from your music? Or do you think it’s all just personal?
H - No, I mean, I definitely … Some of it’s totally made up, some of it’s fiction. Like, you know, lyrically. But I think in terms of songs themselves, I steal from other people all the time, like chord progressions that I like and … I’ve recently started to learn what’s actually legal to steal from my law class here. But yeah, I totally do that. I like to take different parts of people’s sounds. I started doing that when I was songwriting in high school, I took some stuff from the Beatles. You know, I’ve taken different kinds of singer-songwriters’ chords that I found interesting. But I think generally, I won’t write unless I personally connect to it. And a lot of that has to be that I need to emotionally process something. So yeah, lyrically, I think that’s why I think I have these periods where I'm not writing at all. I’m just uninspired and I’m not writing, but ideally, it would be a practice.
T - Thanks so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed that episode. This is Trevor Duggins for NBN Audio.