I often need to be reminded that people are interesting.
I used to work at a grocery store with a customer base of mostly old ladies. Sometimes, I would be commissioned to walk them out to their (usually beige) cars and help them pack their groceries into the trunk, and we would talk for a few minutes. Some of them would ask my about my life, and some of them would tell me about their own.
The crazy part is that they all grew up in a world much different from mine, but their stories still seemed to connect to my own. Lessons they learned from living through the Cold War, I learned from fighting with my brothers. Lessons I learned from high-school basketball, they learned from knitting. Lessons they learned from breaking a boy’s heart when they were young, I learned from getting my heart broken by a girl who I hope isn’t reading this.
My point is, it would be easy to write off someone else’s specific circumstances and choices as unrelated to my own. But that’s the cool thing about the specificity of people’s individual lives:
Instead of creating a gap, it builds a bridge.
Specificity reminds us that people are all interesting, and that stories are worth hearing and learning from, even if they didn’t happen to us.
I think that’s why I liked Hayley Reardon’s music the second I heard it.
She’s sharply specific about people and places, most of which I’ve never known or seen. Her newest song, “Bethany”, begins with a straight-up description.
Bethany is five-foot
with hair down to her knees.
Full disclosure, I’ve never met Bethany. But I can picture her, and as the song goes on, I get to know her. I get to know her relationship with a boy, her relationship with her father, and her taste in music (how 70s of you, Bethany). And instead of being turned away by the specifics, I’m invited to connect what I’ve learned from my life to what she’s learned from hers.
Reardon’s standout voice and intimate guitar playing only emphasize her songwriting ability. She’s as descriptive as artists like Tyson Motsenbocker or Maxx Marshall. She’s used to playing small shows in personal settings. And, above all, her songs are honest.
So, selfishly, I wanted to find out how she writes songs. Below, check out her thoughts on songwriting, and get the story behind “Bethany”.
Also, you should follow her on
to make sure you don’t miss anything. And here’s her website.
How did you start making music?
We always had a guitar in the house, and I decided to pick it up one summer when I was about eleven. I started writing songs of my own as soon as I could play a few chords.
Who are your influences?
I love Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin – the list is endless.
Do you set aside time to write, or do you wait for inspiration?
I kind of swing back and forth between trying to be very regimented about writing and just completely surrendering to the mystery of inspiration. Because of that I tend to have really prolific periods and then periods where I don’t write a whole lot.
Lyrically, I was blown away by the way your songs are able tell such detailed, profound stories in such short amounts of time. How did you arrive at that writing style, and what does the process look like?
Thank you! That means a lot. I’ve always found that the more detailed a piece of writing is, the easier it is for me to relate to it — even if the picture it’s painting is one that’s unfamiliar to me. I find it so fascinating that specificity can often make a song all the more universal. You’d think it’d be the opposite. I guess as a writer I really try and live by that basic idea of showing rather than telling.
What makes a song good?
What advice would you give to other songwriters?
That living and listening and observing are as much a vital part of the process as sitting down to actually write.
What was the first part of “Bethany” to be written? (A lyric, a melody, a riff, etc.)
Bethany started with the little guitar riff that is now the intro of the song. It felt nostalgic, and for whatever reason brought to mind a friend of my mother’s and the stories she had told me about living in Santa Barbara in the 70s.
Talk about the story the lyrics tell, and where it came from.
I got a lot of the references and images in the song from her – her name is Beth, she lived out of a school bus, loves Joni Mitchell and always asks me to sing her “Blonde in the Bleachers” off For the Roses (hence the lyric in the chorus). I wanted to capture her free spirit, but also build a fleshed out narrative around the amazing tidbits she’d given me.
What’s your favorite lyric from the song?
Freedom never comes easy,
and love, it never comes freely.
It’s sad and 100% not always true, but that was the line that really tied the story together for me.
The production is beautiful, largely thanks to the tension and release in those string parts, and the way the guitars and (I think, though correct me if I’m wrong) mandolin play off of each other. How’d that come together?
Ah, we have my brilliant friend and producer Ryan Hommel to thank for that! It’s actually a nylon string guitar – Ryan’s idea and playing. The strings were done by an amazingly talented player from New York named Bobby Hawk. I couldn’t be happier with how this arrangement turned out.
What was your purpose in writing the song?
I don’t think I really understood the main message of “Bethany” until I was finished writing it. In the moment it felt like this lighthearted little story song about a young hippy. It wasn’t until it was finished that I realized the heart of the song is about the fact that there is often a lot of sacrifice in the search for freedom.
Any new music in the works?
“Bethany” is the first single off an upcoming EP that will be out March 1st. It’s called Where I Know You, and each song on it tells the story of a different person in my life.
Are there any touring plans we should know about?
Starting a month long European tour in a few weeks… then doing some Northeast EP release shows following that this spring. All my tour dates are listed here. Always adding new stuff though, so anyone who’s interested in staying in the loop should sign up for my mailing list!
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