We talked with Haley what led her to change her name, the creative process for the new album and her views on nowadays society.

You may know her as Haley Bonar, but last year she decided to change her name to Haley McCallum and now she releases her music under the name HALEY. But that’s not all. She has recently released her most defiant and bold effort to date. Pleasureland is an entirely instrumental record and its details and musicianship are superb. We talked with Haley what led her to change her name, the creative process for the new album and her views on nowadays society.

You have released your new album that is totally different from your previous releases.
I’ve spent the last almost two years working on a lot of these pieces and I recorded it in January. The process of making this record and releasing it has been very difficult more than I anticipated, which just kind of shows you how shitty the music industry can be regards to artists, particularly female artists. Changing, evolving and doing what you feel is inspiring and right for you at the time, but it’s not marketable to an Apple ad then you can get a lot of shit for it. It’s been interesting and I’ve lost a few working relationships because of it, but it makes me want to do what I want to do even more. [laughs] I’ve always followed my instincts and it has always served me, even if it hasn’t been the most palatable thing for somebody in a business suit. That’s not why I make art.

Last year on International Women’s Day, you announced that from there on you would put out music as simply HALEY and you were known as Haley Bonar for the past 15 years. You changed your legal name as well, to Haley McCallum, after your grandfather’s last name. Can you tell me more about that decision?
It was something that I had been considering for a long time, but never felt that I had the right to do because I felt like I would be betraying my dad and betraying my father’s family. I am very close with both my dad and my mother’s family and my mother’s last name is McCallum, but I kind of got to a point where I was tired of living my life for other people. I’m not making decisions that I wanted to make out of fear, and although it was difficult for my dad to understand, ultimately, it’s not his life, it’s mine. I felt like my name was harmful to me. It was a point of major harassment in my life for my entire life and I didn’t want to carry that pain around anymore. That being said, I’m proud of my lineage, both my mother and father’s family, but I also thought just because the patriarchy is slowly crumbling, I wanted to show solidarity with the matriarchy and take my mother’s name to sort of enact that in my own life.

“People are starting to tell the truth and they’re starting to examine themselves and how they participated in tyranny in their own lives. I feel like when I was going through this process with the rest of my country, I had nothing to say, like there was nothing that I could say with words that could possibly explain how I felt.”

To be honest with you, I’ve never thought about the name Bonar that way, and it’s really mean people reacting in such disrespectful way. But, how does it feel for you now that you did the change?
I feel free of that. People are going to be shitty and I’m no stranger to that. If it’s not my name, it’s my looks. If it’s not my looks, it’s what I’m wearing. It’s just part of being in the public eye, especially as a woman like being interrogated about that. I’ve grown a really thick skin because of it and I’m strong because of that. But I just reached a point where I was like, “I’m trimming the fat and I want to be the best version of myself” in anything that was preventing me in any way from being that just needed to go. I wasn’t doing it for other people. I wasn’t doing it because I was scared or because I was necessarily actively hurt by it. It was just like I was tired of that attachment to my name and to my art. Ultimately, it’s been a good decision and I feel like my family is at peace with that now.

Pleasureland will be the first album under HALEY and it’s entirely instrumental. It’s definitely a stunning and bold sonic experience with haunting melodies. What led you to it as an instrumental album?
The 2016 election definitely had something to do with it. That whole year living in the United States was stressful and anxiety inducing in its own right, but ultimately it sorts of set the tone for the dismantling of our culture as we know it. All of these things have come out as pain, frustration and ignorance on many sides has been a healthy thing. People are starting to tell the truth and they’re starting to examine themselves and how they participated in tyranny in their own lives. I feel like when I was going through this process with the rest of my country, I had nothing to say, like there was nothing that I could say with words that could possibly explain how I felt. I wanted to create something that was a feeling and an atmosphere. I also thought that me not using my voice was more powerful. It was sort of an examination of silence in that way and how it can be constructive and destructive at the same time. It was definitely political in many ways, but ultimately playing my piano and writing these pieces was the only thing that kept me sane.

This album is definitely more piano based and you explore other instruments as well. How were the songwriting sessions for it? Did you anything differently this time around?
I did. I played the majority of the parts myself for my demos and then basically I had a few other musicians coming in and do a better version of whatever I wanted to do, like I did the strings’ parts on the synthesizer. “Pig Latin” was specifically written with saxophone player, Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Bon Iver), and it was a pretty fully formed. There were certainly some things in the studio that we did that sort of took on a different character in the song than I had originally intended, but that hasn’t been my process in the past as much. I’ve gotten the songs written and then sort of figure them out with a band, see what feels right and we make some changes, but ultimately just play it until it feels good and do it in the studio live. This was definitely a more informed record beforehand. Yeah.

You had many amazing musicians and artists contributing to this effort. Can you tell me about recording sessions and in which way did those musicians contributed to the record?
I had the engineer from the studio that I worked with come to my house and we set up about eight microphones in different places in my room and the hallway to get the piano, because I really loved the way that my piano sounded. I’m very picky about that as you should be when your record is mostly piano. I didn’t really like any of the other studio pianos that I tried and so I just decided to bring it here. We set everything up and press record and then Zach, the engineer left and I just played versions, took notes and recorded some of the songs like 60 times before I got to take that I liked. It was cool to do that in my own house, in my own environment, and then sort of take those to the studio and add other layers. Jeremy Ylvisaker, who played a guitar as well on the record, he and I have been playing together for years. We’re definitely like musical soul mates in a lot of ways. [laughs] He’s great at anticipating what I want and he always brings something interesting to the table, for sure. Steve Garrington, who plays with Low came in and did bass and upright bass and then I had two string players coming in and did the string parts that I had arranged prior to the session. The only other instrument that was recorded at my house was the saxophone in “Pig Latin” and that was because I wanted it to sound very real, like you were hearing somebody breathing right next to you. I think we achieved that by doing it live together.

I really love the song that you wrote for your daughter Clementine, which is “Next Time (For C)”. You were talking about that the album is political and then having this song there makes sense. How’s been like for you to raise your daughter on nowadays society?
Being a mom is a huge part of my life and ultimately does affect my art. I felt like I wanted to have some hope on the record as well. She is like a light and the kids are like that. She’s not even seven yet, but all the junior high school students right now are taking action and standing up to this white male or oligarchy that we have and making changes with the gun laws, assault, bullying or being queer in school. It’s really inspiring. I talked to my daughter about Patriarchy and Misogyny all the time and she’s very aware of it, and because she’s growing up with that, she’s able to think critically about things. For instance, there’s this game called “Clumsy Ninja” and it’s free, but you can be one of two male characters, but then if you want to be a female Ninja you have to pay money. She was like, “I want to be this, I want to be the female Ninja” and I was like, “Actually that costs money.” She was like, “What? That’s patriarchy.” [laughs] She was like, “It does not make any sense. Why should I have to pay money just to be a female character?” and I was like, “Yeah, I know, that’s the world and it’s good to be aware of it.” When we read certain fairytales, we talk about just like how ridiculous it is that a woman is always stolen away or enslave to be somebody’s wife or whatever. I feel secure in that, but also, I feel like her generation and all these kids are going to really make really solid and lasting changes. There is hope, it’s not all despair.

“People are starting to tell the truth and they’re starting to examine themselves and how they participated in tyranny in their own lives. I feel like when I was going through this process with the rest of my country, I had nothing to say, like there was nothing that I could say with words that could possibly explain how I felt.”

I love the bond between “Infinite Pleasure Part 1” and “Infinite Pleasure Part 2”, I couldn’t stop imagining your voice on those two songs. Have you thought on putting lyrics on those songs for a different release?
No. I never thought of any of these songs that way. I feel like if I felt compelled to put lyrics on it, I would have. I definitely wasn’t like restricting myself in any way, but I just really loved playing those and I think the restraint in that is what is more powerful. I like to sing and I love writing, but I wanted to exercise a different part of my writing and a different part of my voice. Just because it’s not coming from my body it doesn’t mean that it’s not my voice and I felt like that to me I conveyed more of a feeling than me singing about something in particular just because of the way that things are right now.

How’s been the feedback from your fans on the new songs?
The feedback has been great from the fans, which is like hopeful for me because I got so much discouragement from people that I trusted and I worked with. It started getting in my head about it and thinking like, “Oh, maybe this is a shitty idea and maybe I shouldn’t do it and I’m scared.” I just had to remember that I put two instrumental songs on my record [Golder] in 2011 and both of those songs have been licensed more than any of my other songs. I played Leo almost every show and always gets a great response. It’s such a breath to hear this beautiful instrumental song in the middle of all these other songs that I’m singing. I remember people from management saying, “Don’t play that song live” and I was like, “Fuck that! This song is good and I’m going to play it any way.” I’ve never looked back. Last night I had people who had not heard my music at all and people who had been following me for years and they all said like, “Those songs are so powerful.” The feeling comes across and that’s all that matters. If people don’t like it, they don’t like it, but I feel like they will. I think it’s relevant now.

Pleasureland will feature videos made by you, instead of the tradition of releasing singles and their accompanying videos. Can you elaborate more on that?
I started making the videos earlier this year. Actually, I was going to create like a web series about being a depressed artist/mom single parenting and being a working artist, having mental health issues and I thought, “I’m going to try to make something out
of this like in four-minute increments. Just getting warmed up with the camera and figuring out how to be in that medium was really fun
.” I easily transitioned into the editing of a bunch of found footage that I had from my family and from old TV commercials and things like that. I started to kind of cut those things up and manipulate them, and found that it was a really interesting way to sort of juxtapose a lot of the music. “Credit Forever Part 2” is probably my favorite song on the record and it’s like arpeggiated and it’s got like the French romanticism aspect to it, but it’s also kind of messy and there’s something kind of punk about it too, so I wanted to create a visual that was funny and political about consumerism and capitalism. I got this footage developed that was in a dusty tape for my dad’s basement. I had no idea what was on it and there was about two hours of footage of my family and then about six hours of just shitty TV from the early 2000s with commercials. [laughs] I was like, “Oh my God, what am I going to do with this?” I started kind of cutting that up and realize that the footage I was watching was from the summer of 2001, which was the year that everything changed in our country and the world with 9/11 and that was also the year that I graduated high school and moved to Minnesota to start college.

I thought it was just really interesting to sort of use the images of the news that was happening from George Bush to Dick Cheney shaking hands with Yasser Arafat and all these things that mixed with “Buy this” and “Do this” and “Whitening your teeth” and whatever using sex to sell everything. That’s all the same, but there was something so creepy about seeing all of that before September 11th happened. It was like this window back in time and so I think I’ve an eight-millimeter film found a way to put a visual to it that’s not necessarily like “This is what the song means,” but just kind of a visual interpretation. I did half of the videos myself and then had five of my artist friends just sort of pick what song they wanted to do and have 100 percent creative control. I said, “Do whatever you want, submit it by the end of August and we’re good to go.” It was like Christmas opening these videos and seeing what other people’s interpretations were. I’m very happy about it. They’re all like anti music videos in their own way. They’re DIY and lo-fi. They didn’t cost a lot of money. There’s two of them that are all done in an 8mm film and I think it’s really cool.

Words: Andreia Alves & Photos: Colin Michael Simmons // Pleasureland is out now on Memphis Industries.

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