“I thought telling a story that was even more overt with this work would help to be an interesting way to use my voice.”
At some point in their lives, people will have a conflict within themselves. It could be a debate between the mind and the heart or maybe it can be a certain side of someone’s personality that they’re trying to change for the better. It’s not something as serious as schizophrenia, but this kind of internal friction is important for a person’s growth and reaching their true potential. With her melding of classical approach and rock & roll angst, Hayley Thompson-King explores this confrontation with her sophomore album, Sororicide, that she self-released on October 2. The inspiration for the title and theme comes from a story that’s almost a century old.
We recently had a talk about the making of the album, the relationship between classical and rock & roll music, the beginning of the American music industry and live streaming from her porch.
With Sororicide, what did you want to do differently than what you did while making your 2017 debut Psychotic Melancholia?
Production wise, I wanted to be able to just be the artist and I wanted my band to just do art. We found this wonderful producer who actually the guys in my band had already known, Sean Slade, who has produced a lot of great stuff. He agreed to take on our project and it’s a special relationship when you work with another person and have them come in. My band and I have been working on our own for so long, but we knew that he was the right person to do it. He is so smart and he can take in the different sort of references I’m making.
The album has a sound that’s somewhat cohesive, we didn’t want it to feel like it was all over the place because that’s a fear when you’re pulling from different styles of music. With Sean, we really trusted him so we were able to just hand it over and let him make the decisions. It’s good because when I’m in the process I try to rewrite songs and take songs off the album, I’m terrible with it. It’s good to have an outside voice of reason and he was more than that along with Benny Grotto who was the engineer. They’re such a team and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with.
With Psychotic Melancholia, Pete Weiss, who is the other guitarist in my band, and I produced it together at Verdant Studio which is a great studio in Vermont. Pete had to go back and forth with recording his own guitar solos and we had to make decisions about things that we thought would be interesting about which take we should use and things like that. The big difference was that we wanted to see how those decisions would be made with someone else involved because those kinds of things come across in the recording. We wanted to see whether or not our brains could be focusing on the work as opposed to the technical side of things and I also wanted to see if we could pull in my different vocalities. I use my voice in a lot of ways and that’s really natural for me, but I also recognize that it didn’t always make sense to everyone.
Some people really get it and expect it but sometimes it doesn’t come across. I’ll figure out how to draw in these parts of my voice and put them on display as opposed to turning away from the fact that I have a lot of vibrato or something like that. I thought telling a story that was even more overt with this work would help to be an interesting way to use my voice. Those are kind of the big differences.
It definitely does. Going along with that story, there’s a theme within the album that has to do with these two clashing twins that are trapped in one body.
What inspired this? It’s an interesting take on the process of creating art and how the end result is portrayed.
It’s definitely inspired by myself and other artists that I know. I describe it as art as object versus the art process and I think those two things battle a lot. I hear that from friends and other kinds of artists too, like painters and writers and whatnot. That’s a theme that I’ve experienced and I’ve talked about a lot with my friends, there’s these different sorts of personalities that we inhabit. I am a huge fan of the composer Kurt Weill and I’ve always really loved his work, he and Bertolt Brecht back in 1933 produced a piece called “The Seven Deadly Sins”.
That piece is really brilliant because it’s very graphic, it’s very dark but it has these two sisters that are played by two different actors. One is a dancer who only dances, the other one is a singer and their names are Anna I and Anna II. They essentially share one future while having these two minds but they’re of one body. What happens between the two sisters is that one of them kind of picks the other one out and really abuses her while making her do terrible things in order to further their cause of making it in the big city, making money and buying a house.
It kills the more creative and softer sister, she doesn’t actually die but it sort of kills her spirit. That piece was so deeply moving to me, I’ve always loved it and I thought that it would be a beautiful idea to talk about what if the process won out or if the art object did. I’ve always talked about the feeling of two people being trapped in one body but with the process, what are the parts that we’re constantly trying to attack in ourselves? What if those parts actually won and became the part that was allowed to live? What would that look like for art? That was sort of the idea while being influenced by that beautiful piece by Brecht and Weill.
How have you been able to translate this kind of artistic foundation into rock & roll?
What I love the most about classical music is how emotional and big the people and characteristics are, how dramatic it is and how big the feelings and voices are. These are actually the same things I like about rock & roll. I also like the weirdness of classical music, it’s kind of like this western art thing and all of us in the field are just so weird. We tend to be smart and interesting people and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from being in that world. I’m sort of attracted to very similar qualities and I’ve always seen them as not being so different, I see the classical material as just being so incredibly punk.
I kind of liken it to Lou Reed or someone like that, it’s art music. I think the way I physically translate it is through my singing, which is a little different than the average rock singer, punk singer or whatever. I allow myself to have a heavy vibrato and I allow myself to sing in the way that I was trained. I’m trying to embrace what my authentic sound is and I’m actually writing about that these days because I think it’s interesting how that is sort of unusual right now. It’s kind of a western classical vocal sound in rock music, which is a bit different but it’s cool.
You also teach voice and rock history at Bunker Hill Community College. When it comes to the history of rock music, do you have a certain era that you absolutely love and romanticize? Whether it’s the ‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene, the rise of punk during the ‘70s in New York City & London or even with how special the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were in Boston, what’s the period of rock & roll that you love the most?
Oh my gosh, it’s hard because I just love teaching that class so much. I do love talking about Boston because while I’m not originally from here I think it’s really cool where you can feel and see the places where things went down. You can also spot where certain clubs existed and I’m a big fan of Ryan Walsh’s book “Astral Weeks” about Boston in 1968, I make sure to talk to my students about certain things he brings up in the book. I do think Boston has such a fun history and I also really love talking about the very beginning of the American music industry. Especially stuff like classic blues and artists like Bessie Smith and other black women who talked about their lives in a very real way around the turn of the century into the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.
Billie Holiday took such a risk and I love thinking about how she sang these songs that were sort of Tin Pan Alley and banal about the ideal American life. The way she sang them really brought this perspective of a black woman to the table and even before her, women who were writing and performing blues marked the beginning of the black entertainment industry. I’m really into Angela Davis and she credits the era for that. A major thing that rock & roll is based on is authenticity and that’s where it started. I find it really interesting and exciting to look at women back then and women today like Beyoncé who sort of carry on some of those traditions.
I also think as an artist about how I fit into that, where does my voice help and where it doesn’t. I guess that early classic blues and relating that to how it’s cohesive to rock & roll I find to be so moving.
I love that you mentioned Billie Holiday. I learned about her when I took a History Of Jazz course in college and how ahead of her time she was. With Sororicide being out and live music being scarce at best because of COVID-19, what are your plans to promote the album?
I’ve been lucky enough to get some good press and I’ve been doing some radio stuff which has been great. I have a friend in New Orleans who had me come on his radio show and I have a friend in Seattle who I did the same thing with. It feels really good because I feel like I’m actually connecting with people more and more in an intimate way and so far the record has been selling, which is also good. I recently did a live stream and it was so much fun so I definitely plan on doing more of those. I really enjoy the whole process of it and I also plan incorporating visuals into it so it’s like watching a music video.
I live out in Lynn and I’ve been out on the patio doing little live streams which have been so much fun. I love it and people have been so supportive, it’s felt really good to do it because it’s something to have going on.