Australia’s Hayley Marsten made her debut in 2019 with her first album Spectacular Heartbreak, receiving a number of accolades, along with playlisting and play on country radio stations. It was year that found her headlining her album tour. And then like so many, 2020 brought things to a sudden halt.
Now with the world beginning to return to something resembling normal, Marsten has released her latest single “Drowning Myself”, which is a big departure from her earlier work – moving in a bright and upbeat pop rock direction.
Marsten took some time to speak to us about her latest single, and her decision to take things in this new direction.
Indy Review: When did you first start writing music, and what were some of your earliest inspirations?
Hayley Marsten: I wrote my first song when I was 7. I think mostly because I am an only child and I had plenty of time to create by myself. That song was basically a rip off of “All-Star” by Smash Mouth embarrassingly, I was really into the Shrek movie soundtrack at the time obviously. But as I’ve gotten older and my writing has gotten better (and less derivative of children’s movie soundtracks), I’ve always been drawn to female singer-songwriters who are honest and vulnerable. One of my biggest inspirations of all time is Taylor Swift – she was the first artist I ever felt really connected to since I’d heard ‘Teardrops on My Guitar’ when I was 13. I think her songwriting has always been amazing and at the core of everything she’s done. Whether it’s been in country, pop or any of the genres she’s explored in between. Which is something I hope to emulate in my music, always keeping that focus on the writing.
IR: Your latest single “Drowning Myself” takes you in a new direction musically from your earlier alt-country styled music. Did you know you wanted to push yourself in this new direction prior to writing the song, or did you find yourself gravitating towards this bigger pop song as the single was written?
HM: Deviating from alt-country was never a plan for me. In fact, I think one of the things I was really ‘drowning myself’ over (pardon the pun) was making sure I keep in the lines of that genre, which made for a really stifling creative process. But coming out of the depression that in part inspired this song, I felt more like I needed to just create and trust myself and make something for me before I tried to worry about what other people might think. The song came out as this darker power pop and I just let it be what it needed to be for the first time. It was actually really freeing to just create without boundaries. And I’m lucky that I had so many people around me in my co-writer Kieran Stevenson and my production team Dan Sugars and Magoo who really fostered that mindset of letting the song be what it is rather than what I think I should make.
IR: This is also the first time you’ve played guitar on your own song. What led to this decision and step in your artistic evolution?
HM: I think I’m finally in a place as a person and an artist that I actually back myself and trust myself. I’ve always had a mindset when I’ve gone into the studio that if someone better than me can do something they should, which I still maintain. But with this song, both with being a producer on it and playing one of the guitar tracks just made sense. I think at the time I assumed it would be way down in the mix and no one would even hear it but it is actually a fairly prominent part! (It’s the acoustic guitar you really hear in the first verse and bridge) Making this single was such a transformative experience in terms of really trusting myself and my vision. The person I was when I recorded the last record I would never have suggested playing on it and certainly never being a co-producer. It feels really great to have this extra confidence in my music now.
IR: The opening guitar chords and (I believe) keyboard lines during the chorus remind me of some of the great pop rock of the 80’s. Were you trying to capture a particular feel or era in the song’s production and sound?
HM: Thank you! Maybe subconsciously, my co-writer Kieran and I were talking about how much we loved “Only You” by Yazoo around the time we wrote it. And Kieran is an amazing synth-pop artist in his own right so having him play on the keys/synth in the writing and recording I’m sure played a part in that too. I also remember us listening to a lot of Dolly Parton‘s ‘pop’ releases in this time that had some classic 80s drums too. The brief I had for Dan and Magoo when we started production was HAIM meets Shania Twain. So I think the 80s pop/rock vibes are a very HAIM nod in the production. And the subtle steel guitar and acoustic was more the Shania flavour.
IR: When did the song’s concept of realizing you’re holding yourself down through the metaphor of drowning yourself first come to you? Was there something specific in your life that inspired it?
HM: I remember I couldn’t sleep one night in May last year and the chorus hit me like a lightning bolt. I was in lockdown and was spending so much (too much) time alone with my own thoughts. It was incredibly hard to go from touring 3 weeks out of the month to being homebound and working had become so much a part of my self-worth that I really, really struggled. Then I would make myself feel guilty for struggling with that because I’ve always been such a resilient person and what seemed like all of a sudden, I couldn’t bounce back and fight through rejection or failure. It was a really vicious cycle and reflecting on it that night I just felt like ‘I’m making this really difficult situation so much harder, can I not just give myself a break?’. I think sometimes when you are struggling it does feel like you are drowning or the worries keep getting deeper so that ocean/water metaphor just fell right out.
IR: There are some great lyrics in the song – is there any one line you’re particularly proud of?
HM: Thank you! I really love the bridge ‘the hand that drowns is the hand that pulls me out’. I love when lines sound so simple but are so succinct and I think that really sums up the feeling of the whole song. I’m also really excited about the line ‘I push my face in the mis-steps, the mistakes, spectacular heartbreaks’. ‘Spectacular Heartbreak’ is the name of my debut album. It has a lot of meaning for me in that I have definitely felt really embarrassed about my poor relationship choices in the past but also for a long time I thought I would never write anything as good as the songs from that album. But I don’t think that anymore.
IR: Is “Drowning Myself” going to be a stand-alone single, or the first taste of a new EP or album?
HM: “Drowning Myself” is slated to be the first single from my second album that I am currently finishing writing and recording. I think it’s a great introduction to the music on this album, it’s a lot different from my last album. I’m steering out of my favourite genre of break up songs for the time being (the downfall of being in a healthy relationship for once I suppose) and really exploring sadness in other ways. I love writing sad songs in all forms. There are some things other than sadness on there too but I’m really excited to share more sides of me as an artist without trying to put myself in a box as a country artist or a pop artist. I just want to make great music that I can be proud of.
There you go. Take a listen to this first taste of Marsten’s next album in our A Single Sit-Down Playlist!