On May 22, Haley Reinhart releases her debut album, Listen Up!, which arrives almost exactly a year after the Wheeling, Illinois native finished third on American Idol season 10. First single, “Free,” premiered in March, providing a taste of what Reinhart and her team have cooked up for her first full-length, a fantastically catchy mix of musical styles old and new.
That blend of classic and current sounds perfectly suits the 21-year-old Reinhart, who grew up singing in her parents’ classic rock cover band and also studied and performed jazz. With a little over a week to go until Listen Up! hits the street, I spoke with Reinhart about her album and her wide-ranging love of music.
POPSERVATIONS: You co-wrote all of the tracks on Listen Up!, with the exception of “Free.” Did you approach the process with a total blank slate or did you have sketches of songs or lyrics you’d been working on pre-Idol or along the way?
HALEY REINHART: “Well, I started off writing songs way before Idol. I really would have liked to put songs on the album that I solely wrote myself, but actually this process was very different for me. I jumped right into the co-writing process right after the Idol tour ended, and wrote 30 songs with different people in three months or less. It was a really, really beautiful process. It was very smooth, and it came easy. I’ve been waiting all my life to write like this, so it came out.”
Did the experience of performing with your parents for so many years, and the musical education that came with that, make the process of being thrown in a room with producers and writers you hadn’t met before easier?
“Oh yeah, especially, aside from creative speaking, socially, you know? I’ve been surrounded by an adult crowd my entire life. So being able to walk into a room with strangers and connect with them, lyrically, and be able to know how much you can give of yourself. I wrote a lot of these melodies, they came to me quite easily, and then for lyrics, I had to connect with this person across the room from me. So yeah, those kind of skills really, really helped.”
Having ‘listened up’ to Listen Up!, there’s a definite retro flavor to the tracks. Songs like “Wonderland” and “Wasted Years,” which I’ve got stuck on repeat, obviously reference the classic Motown sound. Was that mix of old and new sounds something that you were looking to do on your album?
“Yes, yes it is. There wasn’t much that I was premeditating, but that was definitely something I needed to keep in mind. My roots, the classics — they mean so much to me — so being able to have that instilled in the record and still bring it together with a contemporary feel was definitely something that I wanted to represent.”
“He was fantastic. We really had a good time, and he gave me a lot of great feedback and appreciated that I was looking to make real music, raw, organically. So I appreciated him just the same right back. He really made it comfortable, and we had fun. We wrote a couple of songs ["Hit The Ground Runnin'," "Walking On Heaven"] that are some of my favorites.
To that point, that Mike appreciated that you were looking to do ‘real, raw music,’ what are your thoughts about this moment in pop music? Where do you think you fit in as an artist?
“I think I fit in the new wave that’s about to roll on in. I’m really, really happy, it really is the perfect time for me. The kind of music that I’ve always wanted to create — unless I was a huge, new innovator — I don’t think that I would have had such a chance until now. Right now, there are people like — well, Amy Winehouse, when she was around, bless her soul, she got things rolling — and Adele and Gotye and fun., and people like that who are really stretching the bill. They’re creating this lane and just opening up people’s ears and minds to more ‘raw’ music like we’re talking about.”
Back to the writing process for Listen Up!. Do you have favorite lyric on the album?
“Oh, that’s hard! I don’t half-ass anything, so when I’m writing all these things really, really matter to me! I wrote poetry before I was writing songs, so each word, there’s no throwaway in my eyes. The first one that pops into my head is from “Now That You’re Here.” (Recites) Feels like this chemistry might be the end of me / If love is my enemy, don’t set me free / Now that you’re here, there’s no one else for me.”
Is “Now That You’re Here” also your favorite track on the album?
“That was my favorite for a long time. But as I wrote songs back to back, I liked that one more than the other one, and then that one. It kept on happening like that. There’s not one in particular that I favor, I like them all for different reasons.”
This time there’s just one featured guest on your album, B.o.B. [lead track and reported second single "Oh My!"], besides your dad, who plays guitar on a few tracks. Looking to the future, if you could record a duet with anyone, whom would you choose?
“I definitely want to continue to do stuff with Casey Abrams from Idol. We’re gonna collaborate together more. There’s other people out there, ladies like Esperanza Spaulding or Janelle Monae or Corinne Bailey Rae. I love the three of them so much, that would be amazing. Paul McCartney. I wish. That’s a dream!”
Nothing wrong with aiming high. You are performing at Lollapalooza in August, and that’s pretty major. What’s it like to be the first former Idol contestant to grace the Lolla stage?
“It’s pretty incredible. It’s an honor to be invited to do such a cool festival. Live performing is something that has been a part of my life forever, so I can’t even imagine the fun that we’re gonna have. My band kicks butt, and I can’t wait to start playing all these different tracks from the record. And being surrounded by acts like Black Sabbath, The Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Shins — the list goes on and on — so being on that same bill is really, really, really a honor.”
I love that you have a real appreciation for all sorts of music. Who’s your favorite current artist?
“Well, if we want to go with the most current and on the radio, I haven’t really listened to Top 40 since I was in middle school, because I really got into classic rock and jazz, and everything else. But I’ve definitely been listening it now and I need to know what’s out there. Gotye, I’ve only heard his whole album a little bit, but I’m really digging it. I’m really excited that people like him. It’s so far displaced from anything else that out there, and I really have a lot of respect for him. It sounds like classic rock, like Sting and The Zombies, and it’s just kinda wild.”
It’s a really interesting year for music so far, and you’re coming up, like you said, at the exact right time. Thinking of earlier eras, what’s THE classic song or album you couldn’t live without?
“There’s a million and one songs, but if I had to choose one album, I probably would go with a Beatles album, just because I’ve literally grown up with their entire catalogue embedded in my brain. Listening with my whole family and it takes me back to times with them. Abbey Road is one of the most incredible albums ever written, and the collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney is just amazing, so anything from them. So maybe Abbey Road or Rubber Soul or Sgt. Pepper’s…
I was just about to ask if you were more of an early Beatles, mid-Beatles, or late-Beatles fan.
“Ah! I’m an all-over fan! I grew up with Beatles For Sale. That was the album that I grew up with as a kid. That was really old stuff, I mean, “Baby’s In Black” and all that, and I absolutely love it. And I just follow everything they do, the psychedelic age, I mean they evolved. That’s the coolest thing about The Beatles, they evolved so much in a short span of less than 10 years, around six years, so really, that’s just too much!”
I think it’s awesome and unusual for someone at your age to have such an appreciation and knowledge of music across genres of pop, rock, and jazz. I think you’re gonna go far and wish you all the best, Haley. You’ve definitely got a fan in me, and hopefully we’ll get some more for you too.
“Oh, thank you so much, I really appreciate that. Good talking to you!”
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Haley Reinhart’s debut album Listen Up! is out on 5/22. Pre-order via iTunes, and watch the video for “Free” below: