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VMP Rising: Jackie Hayes

On September 9, 2021

Photo by Adam Alonzo

VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today, we’re featuring the new EP There's Always Going to Be Something from Jackie Hayes.

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Many rising music stars want to present an image of effortless success — they’re the kid in high school who got all As despite never studying, and still made it to every party. Jackie Hayes is the opposite. She’s all about showing her work, and isn’t afraid to share how much of her late teens were defined by time spent by herself.

At 22, Hayes is young by nearly any measure except that of freshly minted music stars, who, somewhere in the last decade, have begun to be anointed as early as future Olympic gymnasts and NBA stars. She says for a while that was a source of insecurity for her, even as her career was steadily building steam through well-liked singles and opening gigs.

“I think my downfall when I was younger was setting extremely unrealistic expectations for myself that I was never going to be able to meet, not because I wasn’t capable, but because I didn’t have the record deal or the resources to do it sometimes. I was looking around me at all of these ‘bedroom pop’ people that were blowing up at 17, 18, 19, like, ‘Wait, is this when you’re supposed to blow up in music? Is this when you’re supposed to become successful, at this age?’”

Hayes’ sound is moving more in the direction of gritty alternative rock. She says she always enjoyed the genre, but had a “negative emotional association” that stopped her from exploring it artistically. Over the last couple years, her writing pushed her more in that direction and away from the bedroom pop style that she says she felt obligated to work in as a “very impressionable” 18-year-old artist.

“I’m making stuff that’s just fun for me,” she says. “Stuff that just sounds reminiscent of a different time.”

She says that the work of psychedelic animator and indie folk musician Jack Stauber inspired her new EP’s crunchy textures, which give every guitar and synth line the almost tactile feel of crushed velvet clothing or a cragged rockface. Hayes worked on the EP, There’s Always Going to Be Something, with producer Billy Lemos (a former VMP Rising feature), as well as Michael Penn II, who co-wrote songs like “omg” and “have fun.”

She jokes that being in a stable relationship made her less interested in writing the kinds of probing love songs that helped first earn her fans as Family Reunion (she says changing her name helped serve as a kind of reintroduction). And Hayes found plenty of material worth mining from her life, including her upbringing in the northern Illinois city of Waukegan.

Having supported herself financially since her late teens, Hayes has always been frank about the work that she’s done to support her music — including 50- to 60-hours-a-week service jobs, and a gig modeling for a cosmetology school that contributed to much of her hair falling out. The realities of the modern music industry mean that often even established artists have to have some sort of side income, and the way Hayes has spoken candidly about her various jobs helps to demystify what it’s really like to be an artist in the 2020s.

“So much of my personality and who I am has been formed around work, because I’m always working,” she admits. “I mention work, even in a bunch of my interviews, because I was just working and going home and making the EP and I was just holding on. At that point, finishing the EP, I was holding onto a fucking thread. I was breaking down at work crying.”

On “sunday,” she reckons with her upbringing in a strict Christian family that had her attending church three times a week. Hayes’ lyrics can trend toward abstract, but her weariness at the oppressive nature of organized religion is palpable. “I treat every day like a Sunday afternoon / In my room I do nothing / After you told me there was only one way / So to you this would be a bad ending,” she sings atop a chugging, fuzzy guitar that seems to circulate like blood through a body.

“brand new” grapples with the isolation Hayes felt after graduating high school early, but electing not to pursue college. This meant that she was the rare 17-year-old kid not ensconced in a school structure, and she says that even now she still wrestles with those same feelings of loneliness.

“I’ve been dating [my partner] for three years, but there are a lot of times where I still feel alone. Probably because of mental illness or some shit,” Hayes says. “Or maybe it would be one of those things where you’re used to being alone because you’re an only child, and that’s something you just carry with you even into situations where you’re not.”

There’s Always Going to Be Something also touches on Hayes’ reflection during the lockdown. “A lot of the EP, mostly, was about introspection and realizing that I had a lot of self-work to do,” she says.

Hayes, who has had anxiety issues since childhood, says that she’s spent much of the last year assessing and reflecting. Those themes come up on songs like “material,” on which she sings, “Don’t run me down before I open my mouth / Finally been getting better but I don’t feel like myself.”

With tour dates alongside Briston Maroney slated for 2022, Hayes is eager to get back on the road, something that has always been a respite from the fickle ups-and-downs of the music industry.

“The one thing I had before COVID was touring. I couldn’t control if I was going to get on a Spotify playlist or something, but I could always win over some people in the crowd,” she explains.

Lacking the kind of financial safety net some artists have has made parts of Jackie Hayes’ journey to success feel Sisyphean, but with serious momentum from There’s Always Going to Be Something, she’s OK with it being all uphill from here.

“People say 22 is the year that a lot of creatives, at least, start to question or falter. They say between 22-27 is the most important time period of your life, and it can feel like you want to give up, but you shouldn’t,” Hayes says. “I just kinda took that to heart and was like, ‘I really just wanna try, you know?’”

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Grant Rindner

Grant Rindner is a freelance music and culture journalist in New York. He has written for Dazed, Rolling Stone and COMPLEX.

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