Jazz singer/songwriter Hayley Sales’ dazzling, intimate offering “Never Before” – co-written with legendary actress Sharon Stone – oozes with sweet sentimentality.
“Never Before” – Hayley Sales, Sharon Stone
Jazz singer-songwriter Hayley Sales’ retro yet modern, romantic sound is simply spellbinding.
Through her beautifully moody vocals, she serenades her listeners with passion – a practice that began long before her debut album Sunseed‘s 2007 release (via Drifter Records), and one that continues on today as Sales prepares to release her third studio album, Ricochet (out later this year). This past month, she unveiled her new single “Never Before,” co-written with legendary actress Sharon Stone.
From the moment it starts, “Never Before” instantly reminds us of vibrant vintage songs: The cinematic tune soars to great heights with its wistful arrangement and lush, velvety vocals, all coming together to create an atmosphere of emotional triumph. Possessing the qualities of greats like Billie Holiday, but also reminiscent of current talents such as Zoey Deschanel, her raw vocal radiance shines throughout.
Sales and Stone joined forces to concoct a masterful release that is a truly delightful listen. The timeless treasure effortlessly blends soul, jazz, and classic pop, emanating a soothing familiarity. Connected by their love of classic singers, the two knew they wanted to create something authentic and pure. Never having done a co-write before, Sales did not know what to expect, but right away she felt welcomed by Stone’s warm energy. The pair took the theme of love and its messiness as the foundation for the song and from there, they came up with a piece that is unforgettable.
“Never Before” – Hayley Sales, Sharon Stone
A CONVERSATION WITH HAYLEY SALES
Atwood Magazine: First off, your soaring single “Never Before” is a true sonic paradise harkening back to old-school lounge singers. What was the inspiration behind this breathtaking single?
Hayley Sales: Thank you so much! My eyes might have gotten a little misty reading ‘true sonic paradise.’ Never Before holds a very special place in my heart. From writing the song with Sharon to the arrangement of the strings, to the performing and recording of the tune, something was captured that I can’t truly take credit for…a sort of reverberation of bold romance…something that’s a little scarce in our modern world, but at the core of everything that I am.
For me, romance has always been an extremely important and inspirational part of who I am and how I express myself. And not just that fall in love type of romance, but romance as a way of life. Music has always been a space where I can access that feeling, whether or not romance was actually happening in my life…or not. When Sharon and I began writing Never Before, we wanted to capture just that…that very special moment in life when you’re so in love, time stops, and every breath feels like velvet.
There is a true jazzy elegance that is exuding from the tune. How was the piece so delicately crafted?
Hayley Sales: Once the words and the music came together, we tried to stay out of the way when it came to production. I laid down the piano and vocal live with my bassist, Darren Parris. We tried to keep the performance as real and intimate as possible. My co-producer and dad, Richard Sales, added some glorious, subtle flourishes on electric guitar, but otherwise I just felt like more layers of instruments took away from the beauty of the tune. All the while, I kept hearing this luscious presence of strings and how they could meld around the melody. But I had absolutely no idea how to make it happen…until I met Carl Marsh, a genius string arranger with an arsenal of cupid’s romance. I shared the tune with him and attempted to describe what I was hearing, albeit terribly. He came back with the arrangement later that week. It was even better than I could ever have imagined. As the orchestra performed his gorgeous arrangement, I couldn’t help but cry as I watched from behind the mixing board. It was truly one of the most memorable moments in my life. After we finished all the recording, I handed the tune over to my mixer, Michael Brauer, who added his famous magic touch.
The song bursts with rich romanticism and a pure captivation. How are you able to be so sincere within your release?
Hayley Sales: For years I dabbled with doing what I thought I should do, creating music that I thought would get me where I wanted to go. As a teen I was told over and over again that my sound wasn’t relevant, my songs were too passionate, too emotive. Being incredibly driven and incredibly insecure, I chose to focus on songs I believed people wanted to hear. Then I lost it all. Somehow all that loss, all those setbacks and failures, stripped away the minutiae. There was nothing to lose. I couldn’t give up and I knew I had to make music, but I had to make the music that I needed to make, the music that was pressing out the edges of my heart begging to get out. I was terrified the entire time we were producing the record. The songs were so exposing and stripped down… at times my voice teetered on the edge of tears. I definitely battled my perfectionism and doubt at every turn; a battle I very nearly lost over and over again. My Dad and co-producer literally taped a piece of paper to the computer screen in the studio that said “No, it doesn’t suck you idiot.” I guess I’d asked him a couple times. But deep down, for the first time in my life, I knew I was headed in the right direction because it wasn’t comfortable. I had to sing the songs most important to me. I had to sing to get it out. I had to keep it vulnerable, raw and honest. I had to make the music that moved me. And I hoped, in being as transparent as possible, someone out there would listen and feel understood, comforted. Never Before is one of those tunes…I have to sing because it’s so much a part of me.
You co-wrote this stunning track with legendary icon Sharon Stone. How did the two of you team up and what did you enjoy the most about the collaboration?
Hayley Sales: At the time Sharon invited me to write with her, I was rattled by the insecurity of having just lost my record label that year, a label I had been with since I was a teenager. I was hoovering on the edge of being swallowed up in a swath of fake eyelashes, hair extensions and Hollywood’s blinding lights. When I showed up at her house, I was a handful of nerves and excitement…I’d never done a co-write before and had no idea what to expect or how to even go about it. The second she walked into the room, all that went away. She was so warm and gracious, so absolutely unpretentious and open. We talked for quite a while, about absolutely anything and everything. We both resonated with the idea of unabashed romance…There’s such a courage required in letting yourself be vulnerable, letting yourself be truly in love. We decided to dig in and see where that thread took us. Sharon sat down on the couch, notebook in hand, and I slipped off my flip flops and settled in front of the gorgeous grand piano in her living room. Never Before just began to unfold between us. It was really magical. Very quickly, I could sense we were onto something special. I was blown away by Sharon’s ability to weave words around a melody. The lyrics and music somehow seemed to hum at the same frequency. I can’t quite describe it, and it definitely doesn’t always happen with co-writes, but it did with us. I’m truly grateful.
I understand that you and Stone bonded over your love of vintage music. Who are some retro greats that influence you the most?
Hayley Sales: I don’t even know where to start…Everyone from Nina Simone to Queen. There are so many performers who’ve inspired me for so many reasons. Ray Charles, Prince, Nat King Cole, The Doors, Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Ben Harper, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Barbra Streisand, Etta James, Glen Miller, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Marley, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul McCartney, Al Green, Patsy Cline, Diana Ross…The list goes on.
Speaking of Judy Garland, as a child you heard a recording of hers and were instantly drawn to that sound. What is it about her unique musical style that hooks you in?
Hayley Sales: You know, she’s just all heart. There’s no façade. There’s no pretense. You can feel her enduring resilience, but also her brokenness and vulnerability. She had such a humor and sadness mixed together. It’s hard to explain but when she sings you can feel everything that’s burning inside of her. That was the type of performer I wanted to be. It’s still the type of performer I want to be…a big messy heart holding nothing back, singing because there’s something inside you that has to get out. We’re all flawed. No one wants to hear perfect.
As young as 12 you were lying about your age to perform, and before the age of 17 you produced your first demo album. What do you attribute that deep dedication to?
Hayley Sales: Before I could talk, I’d apparently raise a finger and if my older brothers and parents didn’t simultaneously break into song, I would throw a tantrum that could scare a tempest. I spent my days sitting on the mixing board in my dad’s recording studio or running around the yard escaping witches and swooning over princes, swept away by my romantic imagination. I was such an emotional little creature, I had to sing. I don’t know, it’s funny. I just needed to be singing. Once I realized I could sing and get people to watch, my mind was blown. I’d make my family sit in the living room for hours while I belted out whatever my little heart wanted. Yes, I was a fiery handful and owe a lot to my family for being so patient and supportive.
My first official performance was a talent show when I was five. I remember it so clearly…the smell of the old curtains hanging in the theatre, the creaking chairs. I was clinging to the back of my mom’s shirt, hiding behind her. Then they called my name. It was my turn. I walked on stage, the heat of the lights hit my cheeks, and began to sing Dreams to Dream (Linda Ronstadt). I was home. The stage was home. I fell head over heels in love with performing…like I’d always been meant to be there. It’s funny to say, but I feel more comfortable on a stage than anywhere else in the world. Not because I’m escaping myself or my world, but more because singing and performing is the language that’s easiest for my heart to speak. From that moment on, I had to perform. That fire has kept me going when everything else fell apart. I just love it. That moment when you look out into the audience and see the stage lights reflecting off the eyes of the people there with me, that’s kept me going. I close my eyes and remember that feeling when everything else is falling apart. I’ll never give that up that love, no matter how hard things get. It’s worth it.
On the topic of drive, your third album Ricochet is all about resilience and having the strength to never surrender. Do you have any advice for other rising artists who hope to retain that same mindset?
Hayley Sales: It’s not going to be easy. There are going to be many reasons to give up. There are going to be hundreds of doors that slam in your face. And sometimes the rejection is going to get so thick, all that you can see plastered on your horizon is a big clump of failure and heartbreak. At times, the doors will slam so loudly you can’t hear the voice inside anymore and you might even question why. I know I did. I know somedays I still do. But I genuinely hope you hear me when I say this: If you truly need to write, if you truly need to sing, if you TRULY need art to survive, let me be that person yelling out over all that rejection telling you to keep going. Don’t turn around. It might not happen overnight and that’s okay. In some ways, now that I’m starting to climb my way out of the dark, murky little dwelling I’ve been wading in for years, I’m more grateful for the loss and rejection than the successes. It forced me to develop grit.
When I lost ‘The Misadventures,” the record I’d spent five years producing, the heartbreak shattered me. I spent months crumbled up in a shell of myself. The betrayal, the unfairness, the loss, was so shattering, I almost couldn’t believe the pain. It was one, maybe two voices that got me back on my feet, that convinced me to not give up. And if there is any way I can be one of those voices for you, telling you to be resilient, to dig in and keep going, then I feel as though my entire experience was worth it. So, dig deep. Find whatever it is inside you that’s just aching to get out. There is no way you will fail. The art is worth it. People might not get it at once, and that’s okay. If you’re creating the music you need to hear, there will be many others who need to hear it too. Just focus on the art. Keep your head down and keep going. If you work hard enough and are in it for the right reasons, your time is coming. And lastly, stay grateful. Stay grateful for everyone and every little thing that comes your way. Support is precious. Friendship is irreplaceable. And most important, stay in love with your art.
Finally, is there any music you are currently listening to that you can recommend to our readers?
Hayley Sales: If you haven’t heard Michael Kiwanuka, you’re missing out. Simply love his music. Otherwise, I’ve been digging into my Dad’s truly incredible, expansive record collection from the 60s and 70s. Can’t stop listening to Nina at the Village Gate (Nina Simone), Piano and Microphone (Prince) and Monks Dream (Thelonius Monk), Love Country Style (Ray Charles), Cheap Thrills (Janis Joplin), People (Barbra Streisand), All Things Must Pass (George Harrison) and A Star is Born (Judy Garland). Honestly, grab yourself a record player if you don’t have one. You won’t regret it. I’m clearly slightly obsessed if you can’t tell. I think I stole…I mean permanently borrowed…about 300 records from my Dad.
“Never Before” – Hayley Sales, Sharon Stone
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