“I really think that I need to calm down,” Jackie Hayes chants in her pillow-punching Over & Over single “Focus.” Per the LP’s circular title, such anxious sentiments tend to resurface on the Chicago singer-songwriter’s 10-song LP, which is a coming-of-age portrait of an early 20-something learning how to sit with herself. “I had a lot of these self-imposed thoughts about self-sabotage,” the 23-year-old artist says of writing Over & Over. “That was something that I struggled with for a really long time, and I still do to a degree. I was feeling very insecure about all aspects of my life, whether it’s my personal relationships, how I come across to people, my looks, my career.”
Hayes’ perfectionist tendencies happen to be paying off at the moment: With the October release of Over & Over, Hayes is currently back on tour after doing a handful of summer dates with The Regrettes. She recently left her longtime Chicago home to live in Los Angeles. She has a new label home as well (Pack Records), and she recently played her first two headline shows in three years in Chicago and New York. Thousands of fans are connecting with Hayes’ visceral, heart-on-sleeve lyrics as well as her charismatic live sets.
In keeping with the recent outpouring of ultra-confessional Gen-Z lyricism (Beabadoobee, Flower Face, Snail Mail), Hayes’ writing tends to channel internal angst into her music. But unlike the aforementioned bedroom-pop artists, Hayes’ compositions lean aggressive — every word delivered with a sob or a snarl. On the screeching Over & Over opener “Intro (One Dimensional),” Hayes rails against a partner who refuses to put themself in her shoes. “It feels one-dimensional / We're not unconditional,” Hayes concludes with a moan. Meanwhile, the early single “Bite Me” oscillates between soul-bearing vulnerability and wall-erecting iciness. (“Can I ask you a question? / I’m scared of the answer / Just patch it together / And I’ll fix myself up / So that you will like me / What do you know now? / So they all can bite me.”)
Packed with lo-fi, ultra catchy guitar-pop tunes, Over & Over is, as Hayes wrote on Bandcamp, “a diary of how i felt of my last year or so, a stream of consciousness, internal monologue, scattered thoughts piecing them together to make full songs, a lot of it can be open to interpretation, a lot of times i don’t know what i’ve written about until i’m done.”
Indeed, Hayes can’t emphasize enough how stream-of-consciousness the songs are on the DIY-core debut, which was produced by Billy Lemos (Omar Apollo, Binki, Dua Saleh, Lava La Rue) and mixed by Henry Stoehr of Slow Pulp. “It was basically like how a journal entry works, where you’re just jotting down every single thing that’s coming out of your brain at the same time and getting it all out,” she says. To accompany this type of musical bloodletting, Hayes felt drawn toward high-powered, propulsive melodies — the type of dynamic playing that would lend itself to the live experience. “I want to portray myself as being a more high-energy artist,” Hayes says. “I like to think about how things would go live. Personally, I enjoy performing on fast-paced songs, running around on stage. It’s just more fun for me.”
That sort of punk-fueled approach dates back to Hayes' early days, growing up outside of Chicago in Waukegan, Illinois, when she would enter talent competitions and cover emo staples from bands like Paramore and Pierce The Veil. Raised in a religious family, Hayes left home at just 19 and moved to Chicago, where she became active in the DIY music scene and worked a series of gigs at grocery stores and restaurants to pay the bills. Along the way, Hayes released a handful of singles and EPs, including 2020’s take it, leave it and 2021’s There’s Always Going To Be Something. She also pieced together a chosen family of fellow artists — longtime collaborator Lemos and Michael Penn II co-wrote There’s Always Going to Be Something as well as five tracks on Over & Over.
Additionally, Over & Over represents a personal and professional triumph for Hayes, who began recording last December but had to overcome a series of obstacles to even put the finishing touches on her debut. In early 2022, as Hayes played her first live shows opening for Sunflower Bean and Briston Maroney, she was unexpectedly dropped by her former label and lost her voice while on tour.
To make matters worse, Hayes had to get stitches after a wine glass exploded in her hand while at her day job, making it so that she was unable to play guitar for a month. “There was a lot of stop and start with this album,” Hayes recalls. “It was a pretty emotionally difficult time for me… I was alone. It took three months to actually heal. There were times where I would try to force myself to play because I felt like I needed to get this done.
“I'm thankful that it did heal, because for a second, it just did not feel right,” Hayes continues. “Like, even though the stitches had faded away and everything, [the guitar] just did not feel right in my hands. It was scary. I feel thankful that I’m able to use it again, but it definitely did take some adjustment.”
Looking ahead, Hayes is most excited to be back out on the road in support of Over & Over. “Performing is my favorite thing,” she says. “That has helped me get through everything.” Hayes is also currently working on her sophomore album, about “completely different stuff that has happened since” the events of Over & Over. “But I like to consider this album to be like the introduction to my music,” Hayes concludes. “I see this as just the very beginning of what I hope is a long music career.”
Rachel Brodsky is a culture writer, critic and reporter living in Los Angeles. You can find her writing on music, TV, film, gender and comedy in outlets such as Stereogum, the LA Times, the Guardian, the Independent, Vulture, UPROXX, uDiscover Music, SPIN and plenty more.