Although she’s currently in the middle of her first-ever headlining tour, there’s a good chance that country music fans of Philadelphia are already familiar with Hailey Whitters. 2019 saw the Iowa-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter supporting Maren Morris at The Met and just last November she opened for Midland at the Elec… err, Franklin Music Hall. Just prior to the pandemic Whitters released her second studio album, The Dream, which reflects upon the musician’s decade and a half in Music City and made it to the #1 spot on both Stereogum’s “10 Best Country Albums of 2020” and Garden & Gun’s “Best Southern Albums of 2020.” March 18th will see the release of Hailey’s follow-up album, Raised, whose 17 songs cover her pre-Nashville years growing up in Iowa. Last month she dropped album track and latest single, “Everything She Ain’t,” along with an accompanying video that satirizes her time in high school. Hailey Whitters’ Heartland Tour will be making a stop at The Foundry at The Fillmore on February 25th. I recently got a chance to chat with Hailey about her teen years, live music, and where she gets her fabulous style.
Izzy Cihak: You’re about to release Raised. What can fans expect of the album? How do you feel like it compares to previous releases, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it?
Hailey Whitters: Raised feels like the prequel to The Dream… I had to put out The Dream to talk about my Nashville experience and what I was going through with the industry at the time, but Raised feels like the record that I was always gonna make… On this record, I get to take fans back to the people and the place that inspired me to pursue country music in the first place. Production-wise, it definitely feels more “country” than The Dream… we’ve got fiddle on nearly every song on this one. It feels very much like the country music I was raised on (pun intended, haha).
Izzy: I understand that the album was largely inspired by your youth in Iowa, so I’m curious what are some of the biggest things that stand out in your memory about your time there? I heard that the video for “Everything She Ain’t” is a parody of sorts of your high school.
Hailey: I had a really great childhood growing up in Iowa, or at least that’s how I remember it… I came from a big family so there was always something to do or something going on… We grew up in the country, so I spent a lot of time fishing, riding fourwheelers, and sitting around a bonfire out at my dad’s farm. Growing up in a small town allowed me to grow up slow and as an adult now living in a busy city, I can look back and feel a lot of appreciation for getting that pace as a kid.
Izzy: You’ve been in Nashville for quite some time now, which is home to a lot of my favorite artists and industry friends. What are your thoughts on the current music and arts scene in Nashville?
Hailey: As for the country scene, more than ever it’s a period of folks discovering music from sources other than just country radio and I think that’s allowed a lot of freedom in creative expression. Having grown up in more of a burnt CD generation, I feel like I am able to create in ways that can reach a more diverse audience than just your stereotypical mainstream country radio audience.
Izzy: I realize this is an enormous question, but what have been some of the highlights of your musical career so far, whether experiences it has afforded you, reactions that you’ve gotten, or anything else that really stood out for you?
Hailey: Getting to play the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry were major bucket list checks for me… The Dream quite literally “turned it all around” for me as being the record that allowed me to quit waiting tables and actually commit to music full-time. Being up for a “Song of the Year” Grammy this Spring just absolutely blows my mind and still doesn’t feel real… I’ve been very fortunate these last few years to get to see so many dreams come true.
Izzy: This is another big question, but is there anything that you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about you, whether relating to your background or your aim as an artist?
Hailey: I like to have fun, I don’t take myself too seriously. I always say, “I’m a songwriter, not a heart surgeon.” I’m not saving lives or anything, just hoping to be a daymaker through the soundwaves. My aim with my music is to make people feel good… like they have somewhere to go and a shoulder to lean on when real-life feels heavy.
Izzy: You’re about to kick off your first headlining tour, so I’m curious if you have any favorite live artists? Have there been any shows that left an exceptionally huge impression on you or that have served as inspirations for your own performances?
Hailey: Ironically, a giant pandemic “live” discovery artist for me was Billy Strings… I have yet to see him in person (hope to soon!), but I tuned in to several of his livestreams during the pandemic and was absolutely blown away. There’s so much energy around him and his bands’ raw talent that you can feel it through the TV… I can only imagine what it must feel like to be in the room.
Izzy: Are there any shows you’re especially excited to play, or cities you’re especially excited to get to visit or revisit? I saw you’re also playing some pretty huge festivals.
Hailey: I’m very excited to be playing back-to-back nights at my hometown dancehall, DanceMor, in May. We’re wrapping our headlining tour there and last time we played we drank them out of beer so people were going across the street to the bar next door and bringing buckets back… I have high expectations for what kinda fun we’ll get into this go ’round. Also really excited to get to go to Europe finally and play C2C this March!
Izzy: What can be expected of the live show when you’re here headlining The Foundry, both in terms of the setlist and just the general vibe of the evening?
Hailey: I was blown away by the crowd response when we played Philly last fall with Midland… it was one of my favorite crowds on the entire tour! I’m very much looking forward to being back and getting a full 90 minutes with the audience this time. We’re going to have a longer set list and be able to play some of the deeper cuts on the album… the set is pretty high energy from the get-go, a little throwback, but also going to be playing some songs off the new record as well.
Izzy: Finally, not to detract from your music, but you also have a really amazing sense of style. What does that draw inspiration from? Do you have any particularly significant style icons? And is there anything you’d love to see fans wear out to the shows?
Hailey: I love wearing things that tell a story, second-hand, vintage/etc. Dolly Parton and Brigitte Bardot are major style icons for me. I grew up being in dance recitals since I was three, so putting on costumes feels fun to me. I like to do it up when I’m onstage, but when I’m home, I’m mostly a blue jeans and ballcap kinda girl. As for fan-wear, whatever it is that makes them wanna throw a beer back and have a good time… I had a gal tweet at me that she was gonna wear a corn cob costume, and I’m here for it.
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