We had the good fortune of connecting with Hailey J. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hailey, how do you think about risk?
Risk has played an important part in both my life and career. Without having a backup plan, I took the plunge of studying opera in college. Though I loved it, I realized it wasn’t my long term goal. Later, after I graduated, I began pursuing pop singing/songwriting.
Classical singing gave me a solid foundation as a musician, but I was basically starting from scratch as a songwriter. It was fun to take on the challenge of learning how to create pop music, and I was fortunate to have my best friend (and now boyfriend), Joe, as my music partner. He is also a person who embraces risk, and together, in our electropop duo JAY II, we have navigated the waters of being independent artists. At times, the journey has been demanding, since this path does not have traditional job security. However, going after a risky career teaches you to be innovative, to band with like-minded people, and to pick yourself up again and again.
Outside of taking on an unpredictable career, I took the risk of moving to New York with ten days notice. I had always wanted to live there, and a girl that I knew from school had a last minute sublet available, so I jumped on it. I ended up staying in New York for about a year-and-a-half. I really loved my time there, and learned a lot. New York is full of risk-takers, and I quickly picked up on the hustle. Before I had lived there, I was still trying to figure out my ultimate career goals, and once I got back to LA, I was ready to dive into songwriting in a serious way.
I believe risk is a fundamental factor of personal growth. It helps us hit more ambitious targets and realize the depth of our potential.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
What sets me apart from other pop singers is that I was not a pop singer until recently. I grew up singing choral music, musical theater, and later, opera.
My musical path hasn’t been without its challenges. A few years ago, I had a cyst on one of my vocal folds. I believe the cyst might’ve come about because I was pushing my voice too hard at some back-to-back music gigs. Or maybe I injured myself because I was starting to record pop music, and I was singing with the wrong technique. Whatever the cause, I learned that I would need surgery to remove the cyst.
The procedure went smoothly, but afterward, I developed scar tissue that delayed my healing, possibly from trying to use my voice too quickly. When all was said and done, I couldn’t sing for about seven months. It was a somewhat scary and confusing time – who was I, if not a singer? However, I focused on resting my voice, learning to play the keyboard better, and writing song lyrics.
My voice slowly started to come back when I lived in New York, and I joined a large choir there called the New York Choral Society. It was a fun, low-pressure way to get back into singing. Apart from being in the choir, I sang covers and wrote songs in my bedroom. Taking the time to personally connect with music again like this helped me release fear about damaging my voice and find the joy in being a singer again.
When I moved back to LA, my music partner, Joe, and I reconvened songwriting together, and a few months later, we formed our electropop duo, JAY II. Learning to sing pop has been a long, but rewarding journey. I credit singing cover songs with helping me tap into my lower chest voice, which, in turn, helped me find my sound. Joe has also been a great “outside ear” to tell me what works sonically and what doesn’t.
My voice is now in a healthy place, and having gone through the surgery, I feel a deep appreciation for singing, and I don’t take making music for granted.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m a fan of food in The Valley, so I’d take a friend there! There’s a delicious ramen spot in Sherman Oaks called Kai Ramen, Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City has really unique, flavorful small plates, and if you’re looking for amazing chicken and waffles, Hungry Fox in North Hollywood is the place to go.
In terms of music venues in LA, the beautiful, outdoor Greek Theater is one of my favorites. I also love checking out new artists at School Night, held at the Avalon in Hollywood.
A place in LA that is special to me is a wonderful animal sanctuary called The Gentle Barn. This organization has several locations throughout the country, and their California site is in Santa Clarita. When things are fully opened up from the COVID lockdown, The Gentle Barn gives tours where you can pet animals (such as horses, turkeys, and cows) and learn their rescue stories. It is definitely a spot that any animal-lover would enjoy visiting.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost, I dedicate my shoutout to Joe Marquez, my partner in music and in life. We initially connected over our shared background as classical musicians, and this sparked an immediate friendship (and years later, a romantic relationship). We were each interested in creating pop songs, and together, we learned from the ground up. Joe put in the many hours it takes to be an accomplished producer, I trained my voice into having a more contemporary sound, and the two of us both learned the ins-and-outs of writing pop tracks. In addition to my gratitude toward everything he has given to our music, I am so thankful for the immense kindness, optimism, and love that he embodies everyday.
I also credit the wonderful voice teachers I’ve had throughout my life, including Donna Young and Catherine Cook.
In addition to being my first choral director, Donna was my first voice teacher. She taught me many musical fundamentals, including how to carry myself on stage in a professional way and how to prepare for auditions. Her warmth as a person and the confidence she gave to me as a singer will never be forgotten.
Cathy was my voice teacher in college at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I feel so lucky to have been assigned to such a kind, supportive, and knowledgeable person. With her, my voice made great strides, and my classical singing technique became stronger. However, when I discussed with Cathy that perhaps opera wouldn’t be my path after all, she was still supportive of me as an artist. She makes all her students feel seen and appreciated for exactly who they are.
My shoutout list would not be complete without mentioning several others. Thank you to my amazing parents, who always support my dreams. Thank you also to my grandparents, who came to as many childhood concerts and school plays that they could. Lastly, I’m very grateful to music director Minna Choi and her group, the Magik*Magik Orchestra. While I was in M*MO as part of the choral section, Minna gave me several life changing performance opportunities to sing backup vocals for well known pop musicians, such as The Dodos and Third Eye Blind. Being in the M*MO introduced me to the idea that classical music can integrate itself well into other genres.
Thank you to all these people for leaving an indelible, beautiful mark on my life.
Solomon Augusteyn (professional photos). Photo at The Gentle Barn is a personal one.