Haley Shaw wants to do her latest EP justice.
So, she's having a hard time just letting the songs speak for themselves. Before cutting on the most recent mix, she pauses, then leads with sentences like, "I had a really rough night out before I wrote this. Two musicians I dated were in one bar!" Then she reminds the listener to wear headphones for better sound quality.
Then she stops herself and taps play on a song that’s about finding your place in the world, like that was a momentary lapse in confidence and she's just remembered her own lyrics and how damned good they really are.
Haley is nothing if not self-aware.
After growing up in Charleston, leaving to try and make it in Nashville for four years, and then returning home, she's becoming a force as one-fourth of the production company The Royal Wild. As their brand strategist and marketing guru, it could be said that Haley both works for and is a part of Charleston's creative community.
She pauses a lot, too, when she speaks of her songwriting's place in Charleston, eventually says, "The thing that's impressed me most about Charleston's music scene lately is how warmly everyone seems to be embracing storytellers. 'Singer/songwriter' has always and will always be my genre, and, here, I look around and realize what incredible company I'm in."
Her music is like the voice of Alison Krauss on a Stevie Nicks track, with the lyrics like their child.
Phrases like "mystic man," and, "a goddamned halo of cigarette smoke is still a halo," seem to be of Nicks' influence, but the declarative, "I would not be the prodigal/ I would be the good son," is all Krauss.
She likes this new description of her musical style, how it illustrates her growth, and says, “You talk about self-awareness, and I think that that self-awareness held me back in a lot of ways. Writing music, for me, has always been an emotional process. It’s a lot out of me. The more comfortable I’ve gotten in my own skin, the more equipped I feel to not release my music and run and hide from it. That’s what I’ve always done in the past. I release it, and then I don’t play for a year.”
Haley's current headspace is less quiet glory and more, "Here I am, Charleston." She says, “I’m really excited to play these songs live, which is new for me.”
She’s keepin’ at it. “At two in the morning, I’m sitting on my bed writing songs in a town where I know everybody.”
“Trying to date in a town...” I start.
“…Where I know everybody," she adds and laughs her usual laugh, which includes throwing her head back and really meaning it. I know it’s tough, because Haley and I are good friends, and I have intel into these things.
In Charleston, we both have dated that guy Haley references in "Burn As Bright": “I've been here before/ in the arms of a close-talkin' man/ He's praying to his god, and I bet he plays a mean guitar/ He'll love me as far as he can throw me.”
She even finds a way to eloquently reference selfies in song, and it fits because her music is all modern-dating-feel with a slide guitar.
“Every time I’ve ever broken up with a guy or parted ways, someone has always said, ‘Bet you’re going to get a good song out of it!’ And I want to kill them for saying it.”
But it’s true. I just said it to her a couple weeks ago, and she did get a good song out of it!
“In Nashville, I felt like my music leaned more towards wanting to be known by people in a really deep way, and in Charleston I feel a little bit raw from being known too well. But that’s been, honestly, a really freeing thing in my songwriting."
Haley continues, "In the past when people have commented upon my songs, even in a complimentary way, I felt exposed and I think I was still too immature to deal with that.”
And, now, on the cusp of 30, she says, "I feel seasoned and experienced.”
Watch Haley with Steven Fiore performing "Delicate Things" here.
Words by Elizabeth Bowers
Photos by Landon Neil Phillips