Hayley Wallis will launch her new album, a collection of songs she says represent the emotional transformation and growth she’s experienced in her life and music career, at the The Wise Hall & Lounge in Vancouver on November 12.
Hayley started singing before she could speak, she says, sitting in a cozy restaurant enjoying her first sip of coffee for the morning before heading to work as a Youth Care Counsellor at the Urban Native Youth Association, an organization that serves Indigenous youth and families.
“I was singing before articulating words properly, that’s what my dad would always say.”
Hayley grew up between Klemtu, Victoria and Vancouver. Her mom is Kitasoo Xai’Xais and her dad is of mixed settler descent. Her dad has been a big influence in her music abilities. He himself has always been very musical, she says, he taught himself to play “all the instruments.”
“I have five older brothers. He taught my one brother the drums, another the guitar, and another the piano. Me, he said I could sing. He used to make me sing every single day. I would come home after school and he didn’t want me to tell him about my day, he wanted me to sing about it,” Hayley says with a smile, as her eight-year-old daughter listens quietly across the table.
Doug Neasloss – one of Hayley’s brothers and also the Chief Councilor of the Kitasoo Xai’Xais Nation and a leader in Indigenous business, stewardship, bear protections and now a developing marine protected area network – likes to tease his little sis about how much she was “always singing about something,” Hayley jokes. And she was always singing, about everything.
“I didn’t ever stop.”
Hayley vividly remembers the first time she sang in front of a crowd of people, at six years old, at a Christmas concert in Klemtu with her dad.
“We sang Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’ duet, but my dad called it ‘Father and Daughter,’ and switched up the lyrics. That was a really special time. I remember looking at the people in the audience and feeling so proud,” she says.
But singing in front of crowds hasn’t always been easy. Singing in front of people used to be her “biggest fear.” But with the right support in her life, she’s come a long way since then, pouring herself into her music, inspired by her family, her community and other Indigenous musicians.
“My community has always been super supportive, uplifting and loving, they’re number one.”
Her community is a big reason she has wanted to keep going in her music career, she says. Before, she took things less seriously, singing covers in her bedroom and learning guitar over YouTube, singing at funerals to help make people “feel nice,” she says. But she’s excited about the work she’s done, especially over the last year, taking things in a new direction.
Nothing lasts forever
Hayley works with her producer/mentor David Hodges who’s based in Montreal.
“There’s a lot of songs I wrote with David. We do all our work over Zoom and on phone calls and he takes care of all the admin side of things, which has been really helpful,” she says. David and Hayley have co-written a few of the songs, she says, and others have come from moments of inspiration, all six songs on the newly released EP written mostly over the last year.
“I use writing like therapy. ‘Coffee Cup’ was the first song I ever wrote, the one that actually started everything. I went home after work one day and was so unbelievably defeated. I went into my room and it was so dark, I didn’t wanna do anything,” she says.
She saw two options at the time, give in and have a “depression nap,” sit there and feel sorry for herself and “let the day defeat” her, or pick up her laptop and “make something out of it.”
She chose to do something. She looked at a dirty coffee cup on the table that represented the energy she didn’t have to deal with it, she says, and wrote a song about feeling totally defeated and reminding herself that things can get better.
“Although this is a really dark place, I wrote about how nothing lasts forever, not even paint. I knew it was going to fade eventually, so I wrote it in the span of an hour and sent it to David and he was immediately like ‘this is great, let’s start an EP now,’” Hayley says.
Since then, Hayley has explored her creative process more. She writes down ideas that pop in her mind, ending up eventually with a whole page of notes, seeing what fits and what doesn’t. She likes to test her storytelling skills, she says, and goes to places in her mind that she hasn’t been, thinking of scenarios she hasn’t been in.
“I think it’s kind of cool you can create something that people feel so connected to,” she says. “I wrote one with my spouse. We were in the car one night with the kids, and I couldn’t figure out my verse, my voice was all over the place, and he said ‘why don’t you try it like this?’ And it turned out really nice.”
Hayley and her husband have two children, an eight-year-old girl and ten-year-old boy. When asked if her mom is a good singer, her daughter immediately responds nodding and says her favourite song is “Not That Serious.” Hayley says it’s “surreal” for her to hear her kids singing her songs.
‘A beautiful uprising’
Hayley’s excited for the show Saturday. Not only to perform and share new music, which will officially be released on November 18, but to get to see the other artists lined up to take the stage. She hopes some familiar and new faces will show up. Everyone over 19 years old is invited to attend. It’s a collection of happy and sad songs, she says.
“You’ll hear a sad song, and the next is like ‘it’s fine, life is short, it’s not that serious.’ So it’s really just my emotions on a day-to-day put in one EP.”
The six-song Soul and Pop EP is called “Halulu,” which means butterfly in her language. It represents transformation and growth, she explains, because of the transformation and growth she’s gone through to create it. The album artwork was done by Heiltsuk artist K.C. Hall.
The show will start with special guests JB the First Lady, an Indigenous Vancouver-based Hip-Hop artist and advocate in the community, and Edziu, whose ability to experiment with language and soundscapes makes Hayley super excited to see them perform again.
“That’s my favourite part of all this… realizing how incredible this community is, how big it is and how many artists are there, just killing it, but also just so supportive,” she says. “I’ve reached out to people for support and they always respond. It’s a good reminder that like, we are humble, we are community-based and really supportive of each other. It’s awesome.”
Hayley says she’s inspired by many Indigenous musicians and artists, listing off DJ O Show, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Ila Barker, Dakota Bear.
“I feel like it’s a beautiful uprising,” she says. “Watching everyone, creating and speaking out, but in such beautiful and powerful ways. This is a huge time for Indigenous people, music and creation.”