It’s an exciting time to be Haley Reinhart. The season 10 American Idol favorite recently released her new single, “Free,” off her soon-to-be released debut record, Listen Up!. The song stays true to the jazzy, retro-soul songstress that we came to know on the singing competition a little over a year ago.
The singer has been on quite the press tour as of late, which included making her return to the Idol stage earlier this month, as well as appearing on the popular CW drama, 90210. Earlier this week, Reinhart graciously took the time to chat with me about her new single, having creative control on her album, and what she hopes her fans will take away from Listen Up!.
How does it feel to have your new single, “Free,” finally released?
Oh, I couldn’t be happier. It’s really amazing to finally have some of my own material come out. It’s been very fun. I’m eager to see the charts and wait to see what happens.
How has the reaction from your fans been about the song?
It’s really good. They find out so many things, like it’s crazy. They find out stuff before I do a lot of the times. With the song, they’ve been eager to see what is going to come from me and the sound. I think that they’re pleased with the direction. They agree and know it’s the right direction for me and it’s the kind of artist that I want to be.
I read that you first crossed paths with song “Free” last summer while you were on the Idol tour; what was your first impression of the song?
I had gotten a bunch of songs, and that was the one that I was like, “Wow.” You know, it just had a lot of different things that caught my attention. It had this hypnotic, kind of very retro, sultry vibe to it and it captivated me from the get go, from the first piano chord to the end. There’s a lot of different qualities about it that made it special, and I could just hear myself singing it thinking, “This is the path that I want to go down.”
Was the song’s impact on you something that came into play when it came to deciding which song you would lead off your album with?
Yeah, we just thought that “Free” was perfect on many different levels. For a first thing to come out and to maintain my artistry the way that I want to be represented, as well as letting it have these pop undertones and sending [the song] out to radio and having them take a listen and want to play it. We thought it was perfect in a lot of those different areas.
I think it’s a great first single for you, and I really enjoyed seeing you perform the song on American Idol (Top 10 results show) last week. How did it feel to return to the Idol stage to perform your own material?
That was so much fun. I got to see people that I spent so much time with and reconnect. Being able to come back with my own stuff, it feels great to know that I started on that Idol stage and I’m back doing my own thing.
You started out your performance in this giant birdcage, and I was wondering where the idea for that came from?
Most of the times with the whole album and the creative process, and the video and everything like that, all my ideas have been there. But this one, there’s been so much going on and Idol’s just been one of the things going down. And it’s so important, so we got Wade Robson to come in, creative director, and he actually had this idea for the birdcage. And I’m all about vision, so we made it happen. It’s huge, it weighed tons! It was really cool to actually see it in person and make it come to life.
It was a great visual when you hit the chorus and the cage rose up above you. I thought it was really perfect for that part of the song.
I’m glad you liked it. Yeah, I thought it would also connect with the words, lyrically, and just be a good, cool symbol.
Since you were in the same spot last year as the contestants, what kind of advice would you give them when they are given advice from their advisors that they don’t necessarily agree with?
I met most of them and I talked with them briefly, but to some of them I told them, “There’s going to be so many opinions. They’re all over the place. And everybody’s entitled to one, but now it’s your job to take it all in, take what you need from it and move forward. And really your gut, your instincts, are really what’s going to lead you in the fast direction for you, so take the best advice that you can, but when all is said and done, what matters most, is what is right in your heart.”
Switching over to you new album, Listen Up!, which is set to be released on May 22, where did the album title come from?
I was doing a lot of the creative [stuff], like the album artwork at the same time, and I had this idea and it kind of coincided with the title. I’m going to have an exclamation, like I really just want it to be a known thing. Like, “Hey new generation, old generation, whoever, take a listen to this stuff.” I put a lot of hard work into it, it’s organic and raw, and has a lot of elements that I’ve grown up with, as well as being very modern and fresh. I just want people to give it a listen.
We don’t usually hear about singers coming off of Idol having a lot of creative control initially, but it seems like you have taken your project by the reins. How did you approach making this record with your recording team?
Starting off with tour, I knew in my heart that for me to be all over this project, which is the biggest thing of my life, having an album, being given this opportunity, I didn’t want to waste it or let it slip beneath me to do other written material. I wanted to be completely hands on with the process, and it went really well. I’m lucky to say that they let me wait until after the tour, and as soon as I got off tour and moved to L.A. and hopped right into the writing process. I flew all over the city and did a lot of speed dating for about three months and wrote the whole album – wrote about 30 songs in that period of time. It went really smooth.
When you’re starting to brainstorm a new song, do you usually start with the lyrics or the melody?
First and foremost, I like to fill out what I’m going to be talking about. I like telling stories. I think words are just as important as the melody, but they need to make sense and they need to have substance to them. They need depth.
Melodically, melodies always come very, very easy to me. Words do as well, I’ve been writing poetry since I was really young, but at the same time when you’re co-writing, the lyrics really need to come from both ends. Melody-wise, my melodies pretty much stuck through with all the material, because it just comes to me really quickly. I probably owe that to The Beatles and a lot of the great musical geniuses that I grew up listening to.
Since your lyrics are really important to you, are you drawn to certain topics or do you just go with whatever comes to mind in the studio?
I like to have a direction, they need to make sense. So in order for them to make sense, we have to create the story that’s going on. When I walk in, I always have an idea and the more and more that I got into the process, I’m like, “Alright, I want to talk about this story about a girl and boy who are best friends. I’m in love with this guy, and I want to make him see that I’ve always been here for him. And any flaws that he thinks he has, I think they’re beautiful,” and we’d write a whole song about it. That one I did with busbee, called “What You Don’t Know,” it’s fun, you know. I like songs that take you on a journey and take you somewhere else and really sink your teeth into it.
What are you hoping that your listening audience takes away from your new record?
First of all, I hope that people of all ages will enjoy it. It’s great to know that Idol has a huge, wide-range audience. And that’s fantastic, because I wanted to be talking to a younger crowd as well as a much older crowd. I hope that everybody will give it a listen and really just see that I wanted it to be a very organic and natural experience. I want them to be able to get lost in it and relate to it. All the songs are very relatable. I know that people have gone through these kinds of experiences. I want them to be able to hear me and what I’m saying.
Over the weekend your music video for “Free” made it’s unofficial debut on the internet. From what I saw, it’s just beautifully shot. I like the retro vibe and it seemed to really fit the song. Was the concept your idea or more of a collaboration with the director?
The director Christopher Sims, he’s fantastic. I gave him a full outline of what I wanted. He came back, had some minor tweaks in how he wanted to film it with the camera. Otherwise yeah, he went with my idea. Everybody liked it over at Interscope and 19, so we ran with it.
We got to go to an old-style diner, and Christopher had this idea of the camera spinning around, making this kind of whirling, spinning, crazy effect. Very difficult and very fun; it was a great challenge to be moving fast with heels and holding onto nothing. [laughs] It was really, really cool to see my vision come to light. It’s something I’ve dreamt of my whole life.
Was it surreal to be on the set of your own music video?
Oh my gosh, yes. I was in the best mood ever the entire day. We went through the ringer; it was a 19 hour day pretty much, 18-19 hours on set, but completely and utterly worth it. I was just so pumped the whole time, and then by the end of it when they were finally like, “It’s a wrap!” I just like cried a little, I’m not gonna lie. And everybody around was just clapping, and they were all, “Oh my gosh, that’s so sweet!” I mean, I had a perfect team around me that I was working with and it just came together. Literally, I could walk through the gym of my high school and imagine videos. It’s just been a dream come true. I can’t even tell you.
Last question – how would you sum up the last year or so of your life?
Well before this last year and a half or so, I didn’t even know what the word “whirlwind” and that’s definitely a word I could use to describe it. It’s been incredible to be able to accomplish my goals at this young of an age. I’m 21-years-young. I’ve had my aspirations, knew I had to make this dream come true, and believed in myself. And knowing that every single aspect of my life has changed in the midst of one year, it’s just incredible. I’m taking it to the fullest and soaking up each moment.
Haley Reinhart’s new single, “Free,” is available now. You can pre-order Listen Up! on her official website.
Photo credit: Harper Smith