Local Country Artist Hayley Verrall, a driven, passionate, and eclectic award-winning country singer/songwriter from Burlington, Ontario, is a familiar face at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre — you may recognize her as our local pre-show entertainment before Burton Cummings’s performance back in December 2019. Her original songs, including her first EP “You Ain’t Seen Trouble Yet” is described as contemplative, yet bold and fun with catchy, honest, and dynamic melodies engaging listeners. Hayley’s profound and relatable lyrics paired with her energetic melodies earned her recognition as 2019 NACMAI Female Vocalist of the Year, Burlington Post Readers’ Choice Gold Award-winner, and Arts Person of the Year among others.
Hayley is a bright light in Burlington’s music community as she is committed to using her talent to make a positive local impact. Alongside pursuing music, Hayley gives back to the community through a variety of initiatives, including one of her biggest projects: Singing for Smiles, which allows Hayley to go to nursing and retirement homes to sing old country classics and share her story. To celebrate Hayley Verrall’s performance at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Friday, January 17th, 2020 with Hamilton-based world-class guitar player and singer-songwriter Matty Simpson, we went backstage with her to talk about the inspiration behind her songs, the importance of giving back, and her advice for fellow young musicians.
When and how did you first discover your passion for music?
I have always been around music and I first discovered my passion for music when I was a young girl. My parents were in the church choir and they took me to choir practise with them when I was just a baby. My dad also belonged to an A cappella chorus when I was a toddler. I remember going on road trips to the cottage with him when I was about 3 or 4 years old and we’d listen to his A cappella tapes and sing along. I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old and then switched over to voice lessons.
I joined the church choir when I was about 10 and I truly fell in love with music when I realized how much of an impact I could create with it.
My family started going to bluegrass and country festivals when I was around 12 and at that time I started developing a taste for those genres of music. I actually learned some songs and I think I also developed my style of guitar playing around the campfire at those festivals.
I’d have to say the biggest musical influence for where I am currently is Dolly Parton. For me, she just embodies everything about country music and has always put her entire heart and soul into what she does. She is the entire package – her voice is so smooth and her songs really bring her stories to life. She displays a passion for everything she sings about and I want to emulate that. I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who doesn’t know at least one Dolly Parton song. My favourite Dolly Parton song is Jolene and it’s probably the most frequent request I get. I remember at one of my gigs someone tipped me $20 to sing it three times in a row!
You’ve won quite a few awards and have reached considerable success — what has been the proudest moment of your music career so far?
I’m not sure what my proudest moment has been so far. 2019 was a whirlwind and there were so many big moments. I opened shows for music industry celebrities like Dan Hill, Gil Grand, Ryan Langdon, I recorded in Nashville, I was welcomed at radio stations, I heard my first radio single being played on mainstream radio and numerous other radio shows and I was recognized in a big way by my hometown not just by being named Arts Person of the Year but by being invited to be part of the Emerging Artist Showcase at one of the city’s biggest festivals, Canada’s Largest Ribfest, as well as to perform in the Live and Local Series at BPAC. So it’s hard to choose just one moment.
I can say that generally the best moments of my career so far relate to the amazing musicians and professionals I’ve met in the music industry and who have guided me through the awards and the firsts, and who have provided me with really phenomenal experiences, opportunities and memories of a lifetime.
What is your favourite part of performing live?
My favorite part of performing live is being able to sing to a crowd of people and touch at least one person through each of my shows. It’s truly fascinating how my voice, my words, and my passion for music can impact someone so much. Seeing the impact my original music has on people is inspiring and helps me grow as a musician.
You say that the “topics and styles” of your songs have evolved over the years. What is the inspiration behind your music and how has that changed throughout your career?
When I first started out writing songs I was very young. I think I wrote my first song when I was 14. So it was kind of a simple fun song that didn’t have much to say. I was 14, I didn’t have a lot of experience at that point or a lot to write about. My first song was called Young Gambler and it just talked about taking chances and pursuing my music career and trying to achieve my dream as a singer.
I’m older now, I’m 22, I’ve finished school, I’ve been in a steady relationship for a couple years and I’ve been truly living my dream for the past couple years as a full-time musician. So the inspiration behind my music has changed over time as I’ve gotten older and gained experience. I’ve gained some clarity on what I want to achieve through my songwriting. I’m inspired to be more authentic and personal and to write pieces that not only speak to me, but that will connect with others and relate to their experiences in some way. I actually have things to write about now so the songs have become more sophisticated in terms of the lyrics, melodies and topics. I’ve also listened closely to the work of other musicians around me in order to hone my songwriting skills.
How did your Singing for Smiles program start and what has been your favourite part about the project?
Singing for Smiles started when I was in my third year of college. In one of my classes, we were to spend the entire semester working on a project and share it with the class. I noticed that my classmates were all doing albums and singles, and I wanted to do something different and something that would survive beyond my graduation from college. I came up with Singing for Smiles after recalling something which happened a couple years before. In 2015 my grandmother had a stroke that affected her throat and the right side of her body, and we had no idea how long she had left with us.
Knowing that she loved singing, I took my guitar to the nursing home and started singing songs she knew. When I started singing her face lit up and she tried to sing along.
When I finished singing it was like a miracle had happened – she started getting better, she eventually was able to move the right side of her body, and speak. This is when I knew my purpose in this world was to create music and positively impact as many lives as possible.
This is what inspired me to start Singing for Smiles for my school project and go to many retirement and nursing homes to sing classic country music to the elderly. My favorite part of doing this is seeing the smiles and the tears as people recognize and remember, and hearing them sing along with me.
Your involvement in the community and commitment to giving back is so inspiring. Why is it important for you as a musician to be involved in the local community and how can other young musicians do the same?
I was born and raised in Burlington, it’s 100% my home. It’s so important to me to be involved in my community because I want to see positive things going on here, positive changes, and I want to give back to the people who have supported me and helped me become the person I am today. Burlington chose me as 2018 Arts Person of the Year which is such a blessing and honour. How could I not give back to the community who thinks that highly of me? Other young musicians can easily give back to their community by engaging with community organizations and institutions, by participating in community-focused events, fundraisers, or charities. They should also become a member of their local arts council. It’s important that they give back to the community they live in to grow their music business, to become recognizable in their community as a community supporter, and to grow as a person in general.
How do you think music, especially live music, can bring positivity to communities?
Music is the one thing I think everyone has in common. I don’t think there’s one person who can go through a day without hearing some type of music. That’s huge! So I think music can be one thing that can bring people together, unite communities and bring positivity within them. I’ve seen this – the live CBC broadcast of the Tragically Hip’s final concert in Spencer Smith Park in 2016 and the tribute to Mike Taylor in downtown Burlington in January 2019 brought together thousands of people because their music touched so many different people in so many ways. Live music always brings people together.
Where there is live music there is bound to be a group of people. Live music serves as a background for people to unite, talk, laugh and destress.
As a young musician, what is your biggest piece of advice for young artists looking to pursue music professionally?
There’s so much to say here , I don’t even know where to start. My biggest piece of advice for young artists looking to pursue music professionally is to never give up — there will be people in the industry wanting to ride your coattails, take your money, and try to make your journey harder. You may feel like giving up, but don’t, because opportunities will come, you will meet the right people, you just have to experience the lows to learn and to grow.
Music is a long grind. It’s a 24/7 job and anyone who thinks any differently has not tried to be a career musician. You cannot be in music for the money. There’s not much money to be made for people who are not Carrie Underwood or Luke Bryan. Being a new artist is a bit of a double-edged sword. You want to get out and play anywhere and everywhere whenever you can, but at the same time, you need to work in order to live. A lot of the musicians you see play by night and also have a day job or even two.
People don’t understand the kind of work that goes into playing a show. It’s not as easy as just getting up there to play and sing for 2 or 3 hours. There’s endless practice making sure you can play those notes and sing all the words. There’s the travel back and forth to shows. I don’t normally play anywhere that’s more than about an hour from home as there’s no financial benefit to it. In addition, for me, when I rehearse with a band, we rent a rehearsal space so there’s that extra expense as well.
People are also sometimes averse to paying a cover charge or buying a ticket to see a band that’s not ‘famous’. People would rather pay $100 to see Carrie Underwood than pay $10 to see me. Sometimes when you’re new on the scene it’s hard to get people to stick around long enough to hear you or to just get that foot in the door. I know from experience, though, that once you’re able to get people to listen it gets a lot easier from there. It’s a long haul building an audience so that you can bring people to your shows and have the venue feel comfortable that you are bringing in business in exchange for what they are paying you.
There are so many people in the world fighting for the same dream of being able to do music full time, you need to find what makes you different, and create goals, and go for them.
Don’t expect it to happen overnight, music is a long and adventurous journey.