The truly transcendent figures in American Music all share a common instrument, and a great number of them have had that instrument shaped and consecrated in the most venerated wellspring in all of song. That instrument, that source, is the human voice lifted in praise in the gospel tradition. No other musical tool has the capacity to bring every nuance of human experience and emotion to bear on the ribbon of sound as does the voice. Down thru time it’s been the foundation of all music, and it’s how Haley Cole will build a kingdom in your heart.
And with wisdom and humility far outweighing her years Haley realizes that her voice is a divine gift, that it has a purpose and a promise to fulfill and fortunately for us she has decided to let it shine. With the same glowing intensity found in her singing she softly but insistently pounded the top of a picnic table outside Gruene Hall on an autumn afternoon and said “I was given a voice, I was given this voice, and I have to sing… I know deep down that is the reason for my being, to try to relate to people in song. It’s what I’ve been called to do and I’m not going to deny it.”
Moments later the conviction, passion, and honesty in that voice thoroughly captivated the typically polite yet casually passive weekend tourist crowd of Gruene Hall. Each of her songs were received with the kind of rapturous applause that even celebrated headliners of that hallowed dancehall can find a bit challenging to summon. But Haley’s gentle command of that space subtly reveals a history of channeling the secret forces that lay hidden within music.
Her magnetism on stage and her ability to hold an audience spellbound is the natural harvest of years spent singing spirituals with her family at church gatherings and small revivals surrounding her tiny hometown of Birch Creek, Texas. There she witnessed the magic that moves in music and felt its healing power for the first time.
She reflects on that formative period saying “Early on when I started playing in church that was where I really felt it, when I saw what a song could do to people, how it touched people” and the impact of that struck a lasting chord “I was only….I don’t know thirteen of fourteen years old but there was never a time I didn’t feel moved. It was always a very emotional thing for me, singing, but it came from someplace else – I can’t explain it exactly. It wasn’t just the song, the melody, the lyrics, the chords, it was something bigger… it was an experience I’ll never forget.”
But just as every chord resonates and stirs the notes that surround it, sometimes somber tones are shaken from their slumber. When her utopian adolescence was unexpectedly shattered by dissonance she discovered a sanctuary and solace in songwriting.
She explains “We were in a bubble until my parents divorced, and that was when I started playing guitar and writing my own songs… songs for me were a way to work through a really, really tough time. It was a way of figuring things out on my own… and learning from that experience.”
And though her song-craft was met with praise and found expression in diverse forms that revealed Haley’s broadening musical palette, her departure from home for independence in Bryan-College Station quickly found her immersed in a plodding existence that was depleting her creative energies and leading her away from her inspiration.
She recalls that time saying “I knew really early on in life [what I wanted to do] but I didn’t listen to it until I was in a really rough spot where I was completely unhappy. I was in school for something that I didn’t love; I was in a nine to five job that I didn’t love. I was just doing what other people told me to do but I realized it was not where I was meant to be.”
With a new found sense of urgency Haley’s focus was reignited. She laughs thinking back on the whirlwind events that followed “I got away from there and went to Steamboat [Music Fest at Steamboat Springs, CO] and played everywhere I could play, every open-mic, and it was amazing. I got all this wonderful feedback from other writers and the people I met and it lifted me up.” It lifted her right out of College Station in fact and landed her in the San Marcos musical community that she finds so loving and supportive.
“That was a big turning point in my life. I didn’t know a lot of people here but I took this huge leap of faith because I wanted to pursue music full time and I believed and I just did it.”
And seemingly the universe rewarded her decision with a sudden rush of material, she explains “When I moved to San Marcos that’s when I felt in tune with everything, and that’s when I wrote all the songs that are on the new album.”
Her new record Illusions, set for release in January 2015 and produced by former Sons of Fathers fireball David Beck, is a panorama of tonal color every bit as lush and beguiling as the Texas Hill Country that she now calls home and illustrates Haley’s fearless approach to composition. “The thread running through all of these songs is me. I listen to everything and when I sit down to write I don’t limit myself in any way.”
Haley’s trust for the organic nature of the creative process is on display throughout Illusions; from sequencing the album in the order the songs were written to allowing the tracks to take their own shape in production to recording them live, often in a single take.
She says “I think that’s what’s so liberating about the album and why I’m most proud of it. We didn’t restrict ourselves or worry about a right or wrong way of doing things. What mattered was what the songs meant to me and what was the most natural way of playing them.”
In that philosophy she discovered a collaborator remarkably in sync with her vision. “Watching the songs develop was amazing. David listened to them and just knew where they were going. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it… that would have taken the natural essence out it. It all just came together and that’s what you can feel.” That spontaneity and immediacy can be felt throughout the record.
The album opener “Existing” is a commentary on the stifling shuffle she experienced slogging through the 40 hour a week mediocrity that distracted her from her musical aspirations. The track builds beautifully toward the joyful liberation of escaping that life in its closing lines.
“Roses” she calls a song of ‘overwhelmed joy’ and it’s full of the sublime feminine observation at work in the first fleeting moments of a new love and every bit as exhilarating. Listeners will catch themselves singing along with its blissful chorus before they know it.
“Time to Go” leaps from the speakers like a golden era Fleetwood Mac studio outtake that Haley has added her own vibrant vocals to, and with all the same commanding authority as the female voices of that famed band.
“Runaway” has a pulsating rhythmic gallop that perfectly mirrors the lyrical motif in the chorus. The fiddle and Haley’s voice pursue each other across its lovely scenery in a thrilling chase that leaves the listener longing for more.
“Ghosts” and “Illusions” are enormous texturally rich cinematic explorations that resemble soundtrack music awaiting moving images of equal beauty to partner with.
And then there’s “Jaded”, the album’s breathtaking centerpiece and a deeply personal glimpse at the lingering emotional scars caused by heartbreak and regret. It is at once an impassioned lament to lost love and a testimony to Haley’s ascension as a songwriter and vocalist. Her voice soars like a firebird from the ashes of sorrow, hardened against further harm, as David Beck’s thundering piano evokes every painful moment it takes to heal a broken heart. It’s a hauntingly beautiful invitation inside the intimate architecture of loss and resurrection. Like the finest songs borne of very private experiences it has a spellbinding authenticity.
But then authenticity and honesty are core elements of Haley’s approach to music. Even with the excitement of an album of this magnitude on the cusp of release Haley’s hopes are remarkably humble and perfectly illuminate her gratitude and her spiritual connection with her muse.
With her eyes seemingly set upon some faraway place she says “The reason I’m excited about these songs is because I feel like I was able to touch upon everything I wanted to and they’re all intertwined. They all have their own life and their own reason for being. I hope they move people the way they’ve moved me, that’s my ultimate goal with this album and everything I play.”
Friday, April 7 | Boyd’s Jig and Reel @ 10:15 PM – 11:15 PM
Saturday, April 8 | Lonesome Dove Courtyard @ 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Sunday, April 9 | Boyd’s Jig and Reel @ 4:15 PM – 5:00 PM