Just as the UK went into lockdown for the first time in March 2020, I was introduced by a dear friend, to an artist that he just absolutely adored. Her name is Hayley Ross, and her voice is like velvet.
Debut album The Weight of Hope is one of my albums of the year. It allows you to escape the existential hell we are all living in, and take off to somewhere far more relaxing. The self-taught musician keeps her songs expertly focused, compelling and distinctive. From breezy, pastoral English folk to darker, elemental arrangements drawn from nature itself.
The album features evocative sounds of birdsong and thunderstorms, alongside a menagerie of instruments and ideas all captured by Hayley on tape at home before she ventured anywhere near a studio with the recordings. A musical saw, crystal wine glasses and a psaltery (a type of zither) in amongst harmonium, stylophone, cigar box guitar and other more conventional instruments make for an earthy yet magical sound.
To these, she adds some cathartic lyricism reflecting on love and other aspects of the human condition, sung with an almost childlike voice at times that evokes Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini, dashed with Lana Del Ray and Noughties popstrel Kate Nash’s estuary English. She leaps from delicate to dusky to powerfully soulful with ease.
The laid back “Tumbledown Love”, with its warm cello and twilight guitar, rubs shoulders with acres of space in “Big Black Car”.Her voice framed by tip-toeing percussion and brass until she lets it off the leash in Florence Welchian style—an effective device deployed again to bookend the brooding swell of electric guitar and brushed percussion in “Moving All Around”. It is this track which leads Hayley’s new EP of the same name.
A song about living in a state of transience and yearning for a life less complicated, when writing “Moving All Around” Hayley found herself seeking escape from the humdrum of the day-to-day in a world entirely different for her own. Developing a fascination in the evocative photography of Tim Richmond and his documentary project The Last Best Hiding Place… A Contemporary Look at the American West; the unique landscapes and people he captured soon began to filter intrinsically into her own work.
“This imagery inspired the whole feel” says Hayley, “I just wanted to live in his shots. I liked how I felt when I looked at them. Wide open spaces, small towns, dust and heat.”
With a distinct Americana touch more than detectable in the dusty roots-rock of: “Moving All Around”, its companions on the forthcoming eponymously-titled EP showcase a singer whose confidence and spirit of adventure is only growing.
The dusky, sinister late-night grooves of “All These Things”, finds Hayley revelling in “the darker elements of what can come as part of the package that is love and being in love with a person… being flawed, impulsive, reactive and sometimes at the mercy of our own emotions”. Coupling tex-mex traits with the surf-rock stylistics of sixties gunslingers like Link Wray and The Tornados; the addition of a theremin from Nick Pynn offers a haunting complement to the smoky noir of Hayley’s vocals.
“Hope That I’m Wrong”, closes the collection with a wistful reflection on “missing places and people from periods in your life that you can never get back to… like childhood, when it’s over, it’s over and it’s gone”, Hayley says. Reminiscent of Beth Orton in her majestic ‘Trailer Park’ era, the song was written in under 10 minutes while Hayley rehearsed for an acoustic show one evening. While its sparse arrangements place Hayley’s tender vocal and spindled guitar work squarely in the spotlight, the stirring cello section heard was added later by Joe Giddey and compounds the song’s essence of vulnerability and fragility.
While the songs featured on the new EP were initially written around the same time as those on The Weight of Hope, the tracks here are evidence of an artist already determined to push her craft in new and exciting directions. Working with co-producer Martyn Barker for these songs, all tracks were further mixed by legendary producer John Leckie (The Stone Roses), who also produced Hayley’s debut album.
While the live music scene remains in limbo, to mark the release of Moving All Around, Hayley will be preparing a filmed album playback at The Loft at Ooosh Tours, Brighton. Performing her album in tracklist order, Hayley will also be playing “Lay Me Down” with a pianist live for the first time.
Earning support from the notorious IDLES AF GANG community on Facebook, on 11th November, Hayley will also be taking part in a live Q&A with Brian Mimpress (that same dear friend who introduced me to Hayley’s music) in his Goth Kitchen to talk about the new EP release and more. Join the chat here.
I am looking forward to getting to know Hayley better, though I already know she’s the sweetest person from her live sessions in her home over lockdown part 1. She sounds great live with just her voice and an acoustic guitar, so I bet her future shows with a full band will be a spiritual experience.
The Moving All Around EP is out on 9th November on Barracuda Recordings.