By Amin Fereg
Transcribed By Joseph Lopez
Haley Smalls is a young and upcoming artist hailing from the 6ix. She reps it well as a beautifully talented singer, songwriter and engineer. Smalls became an overnight sensation when Queen Bey Beyoncé shared Haley’s cover of Pretty Hurts on her Facebook page back in 2014.
In part II of this Northern Touch interview Correspondent Amin Fereg discusses with Haley Smalls about the Voodoo Doll alter ego, record contracts, and her latest single: Dopamine and her experiences navigating the music industry as an independent artist.
Amin: How do you determine as an artist what records you want to put out as singles, and what records you want to make videos for?
Haley: I think we just go with how we feel. Obviously, you can never really predict the way the audience is going to take your music. I’ve definitely released records that I didn’t think too much of, and then next thing you know the fans are like, “Yo, I love this record!” And there’s ones that you think are going to do really well, and then they do well, but they don’t do as well as you think they’re going to do. You just really never know, but I think you just go with how you feel, and hope for the best. But the people are always going to decide for you.
© Haley Smalls | YouTube
Amin: I’ve seen the visuals for your latest single, “Dopamine”, and I really liked them. Can you explain to the viewers what the basis of the treatment of the video was?
Haley: Well, if you know noticed, there’s a character in that video. It the same character as in previous videos I’ve done. The character is called “Voodoo Doll”. So that’s kind of like an alter ego of mine that we’re kind of trying to integrate into my music and my videos now. “Dopamine” had a kind of a creepy vibe and which is what we were going for. But at the same time, it had a modern vibe as well. So we were kind of just doing like a parallel. As you can see, there was brighter scenes and then there were darker scenes in the video, and we tried to merge them together. Realistically, right now, we’re just doing performance videos. Down the road I definitely want to do some more creative treatments for videos, where we can do storylines and stuff like that. But for that “Dopamine”, it was really just a performance video. We wanted to bring out the bikes, have some fun, and bring out my character. I really wanted to bring it back, so people could see that it wasn’t just a one-time thing, it wasn’t just a voodoo doll. It’s actually a thing.
Amin: So, in the future, you might get a voodoo doll record? As in performing as a voodoo doll. Like singing, rapping…in that nature?
Haley: Yeah, it’s possible. We’ll see.
© Hayley Smalls | YouTube
Amin: How would you say your music evolved from the very first record you made to the most recent one?
Haley: I’ve been in the studio for a long time. Technically, I did records when I was like twelve years old. But, that was definitely just part of me growing. So, I don’t really know where to start with that, but I do know that my music has definitely drastically changed over the past four years. Like I said, I’ve been really trying to develop my sound, and I feel like at this point now I have a good hold on what I want to do sonically. I’m always growing and stuff like that, but before, I was still just finding myself. I was trying a lot of different stuff. I would do dance-pop records, I would do more R&B records, and still to this day I want to be versatile and do different types of records. I feel like now when I do different types of records across the board, there’s a sound that gets carried throughout them. It’s not like I sound like a completely different artist on one song, and that you wouldn’t even know that it’s me on both records. I feel like that was more of what it was back then. Now there’s a consistency in the sound throughout the records. I hope that’s what people hear.
© Hayley Smalls | YouTube
Amin: Just to touch back on “The Cure II”, because I really like the cover for it, where it had the skyline, the CN Tower silhouette and what not. What does it mean for you as a Toronto artist to represent your city?
Haley: I think it’s important. I really love the fact that Toronto is getting its recognition now. I think everybody does. It’s just dope to be from Toronto. It’s always been dope, but not everybody viewed it that way before. When I was growing up in the industry, I’d go over to the States and you’d tell them that you’re from Toronto and they’d be like: “Oh…you still got igloos up there?” A lot of people would say: “It’s hard to make it out of Toronto,” but now it’s so different. The reaction is just completely different. I think that’s just what we got to do, we got to represent the city. That’s where I’m from, so I’m not going to pretend that it’s not where I’m from, and I’m proud to be from here.
Amin: For someone who has been in the industry for a long time, what advice would you give to young, up-and-coming independent artists looking to navigate their way through the industry?
Haley: I think it’s really important to stand your ground, know who you are and find who you are. There’s a lot of people in the industry that will try to dangle things in front of you or make you feel like this one opportunity that they’re presenting to you is the only opportunity. Desperation is the worst thing you could have in the industry. The best mentality you can have, is to be like: “I know I’m worth this.” Do your research and figure out what you want as far as any deal, or any contract. It doesn’t matter if it’s an endorsement deal, a record deal, or a management deal. Know your facts, and know what a good deal is and what you want out of your career. There’s a lot of artists out there, and this was how it used to be for me too. You want to make it so bad, and somebody comes with an opportunity and it sounds good, but something in the back of your mind will know that something’s not right. But you have that feeling that if you don’t take this then maybe you’re going to miss out on something, and that’s how people get into really bad situations.
I really think it’s important to know your worth, and have people around you that know your worth, and don’t try to encourage you to take things that don’t reflect your worth. Cause I’ve been in a lot of really bad contracts because of that. Just out of feeling like I needed to take that opportunity because I wanted to make it right now. Hard work is always going to push you forward. You could turn down a $100,000/ $200,000 in a contract, because you got to know that you’re worth more than that, and if you actually, really work hard and you wait and be patient, the right opportunity will come for you. And you’ll just know that it’s the right opportunity. I think that’s the most important thing.
Amin: You just got to have a lot of patience.
Haley: You got to have patience, you can’t rush success. I don’t have that mentality at all because I’ve been through so many things in the industry, and my producer now is the only person who has really been adamant about that and I appreciate that, because that’s how I always felt. I’ve always had a lot of people around me that were like: “Oh, if you don’t take this opportunity, then what’s going to come next. You don’t know if anything is going to come after that.” Now, I’m working with somebody who’s like, “Nah, we’re not taking that,” and I’m like: “Yeah, forget that. We work hard.” We work hard, and I know what I’m worth. I know what my hard work is worth. I’m going to be smart about it. I’ll entertain opportunities, but I’m not going to just take anything
Amin: Is it a bit different when there are other creatives around you, per se, that are actually putting into the work?
Haley: Yeah, it’s important who surround yourself with. That’s going to make a big difference in the things that you do. They always say: “Surround yourself with like-minded people,” because people influence you, whether you like it or not. You spend enough time with somebody, you’re going to start talking like them, and you’re going to start like walking like them. That’s just how it goes, it’s just how human beings are. If you surround yourself with people that are going to push you to be your best self, you will become your best self. But, if you surround yourself with people that are just interested in the money, making cash and cheques, and they don’t care how they get there, that’s what your career is going to reflect.
© Hayley Smalls | YouTube
Amin: So, what are some things that are up next for Haley Smalls?
Haley: I’m going to be travelling to New York and L.A. in the next couple of months to do some label meetings. So, we’ll see how that goes. We’re also exploring endorsement deals and partnerships right now as well. And obviously, music. I’m in the studio every day, I’m just always working on music, and I’m going to be releasing more music. Just pushing forward. Trying to keep expanding the audience.
Amin: Where can listeners connect with Haley Smalls?
Haley: I’m on all streaming platforms. Spotify, ITunes, Apple Music, Youtube Music, Youtube, Instagram. I’m everywhere.
Amin: Instagram, Twitter, and all that?
Haley: Instagram is @HaleySmalls, Twitter is @HaleySmall because I couldn’t get my handle for Haley Smalls. Yeah, I need to get that. Everything is “Haley Smalls,” or “Haley Smalls Music.” Just Google, “Haley Smalls” on all of the social media platforms, everything’s there.
Amin: What track do you want to get into now that best represents you?
Haley: Definitely, “Body,” off The Cure II.
© Hayley Smalls | YouTube