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Heartwarming and Honest Haley & Michaels talk to Maxim about letting fans share their big moments
Hi Shannon and Ryan! Thank you so much for taking the time out today. You dropped your new single, ‘Born Yesterday’, the same month that you gave birth to your daughter, Keira. You recorded the song before Keira was born - how does it feel listening back to the song now?
Shannon: I love your question, it really does change the feeling about the song now that she’s here. It continues to take on new meaning. We were actually singing it to her just yesterday when we were trying to get her to go to sleep, and while that failed…it was still really wonderful to just be holding her and singing the song, and thinking about how she’s already about to be three months, which just blows my mind because it literally feels like she was born yesterday. It was really meaningful writing it and recording it while I was pregnant, with all the anticipation, but we just couldn’t know exactly what it was going to feel like. I think the song is going to continue to change meaning as she continues to grow.
This song is a really unique and special moment. What was it like getting to create and sing this song together at such a meaningful point in your lives?
Ryan: The thing about us as a duo, when we went from being individuals, to being married, to being in a group together, for us it was always about representing all sides of a situation and a relationship. That is what evolved into our sound and what is ‘Haley & Michaels’, rather than Shannon and Ryan individually. We had our wedding song, ‘Giving It All (To You)’, which has probably been our biggest song so far, and we wrote a song called ‘Hail Mary’, which is about overcoming adversity, where we both had things together and separately that we put into that song. So it made perfect sense to us that there would naturally be a song, ‘Born Yesterday’, representing a mom and a dad. It’s really special and hopefully moms and dads can see themselves in the song.
Keira’s heartbeat is included in ‘Born Yesterday’, which adds a whole other layer of meaning to it. What made you want to put this in the song?
S: When I first heard the recording, it really took me off guard and it made me cry, whereas usually you get so close to your music that you don’t expect to have that type of emotion hearing it back. I love the way it turned out. It was actually Ryan’s idea to use the heartbeat for percussion in the song. So the next time I saw my doctor I told her, ‘You’re gonna get an engineering credit on our next song!’
You mentioned in another interview that you used meditation to help you during the pregnancy, is that right? If so, in what way do you find this helps?
S: We meditate quite often, and before pregnancy it was really helpful for both of us in different ways. For me, I discovered meditation and mindfulness in college when I was going through a hard time, and it really helped me mentally. It helps me get in touch with my thoughts, and recognise that your thoughts are not who you are, so if you’re having bad thoughts about yourself it doesn’t mean that they’re true, and you don’t have to believe your thoughts. All of that work was really important for me to help me grow. It’s still hard, and I have to remember that sometimes and I have to catch myself in the middle of a complete spiral, so meditation has been really helpful to slow things down. In pregnancy, it was helpful just to connect with my body and my child, and to really feel like I was taking the time and enjoying it, rather than just rushing through it. It made me aware that this was a time I wouldn’t get back, and it helped me overcome the different anxieties that can come up when pregnant.
What inspired you to form this duo together, and why country music?
R: One of the things we bonded over when we first met was our love of country music. Growing up in California, you can be made fun of pretty easily for liking country, and that’s not so much the case anymore obviously now it’s gotten so huge. But at the time it was definitely something to bond over. We grew up listening to 95.3 KRTY, which is a San Jose radio station, and we’ve been so excited to get to work with them since. I grew up in a family music store, and my dad was a pedal-steel player, so I grew up on weekends going to my Uncle’s place, where he would educate me on classic rock and roll, and then on the weekdays I’d write country songs with my dad.
S: For me it was that same radio station, I heard country music for the first time there and fell in love with it. My mom also played a lot of Randy Travis and Reba around the house, so from before I can even have memories I was listening to it and absolutely loving it. One of the things we love the most about it is how the songs talk about real life and what you actually go through - the lyrics tell a story. That ties into the whole theme of mental health and whether it’s a break-up, or heartache, or loss, country music to me is the format with the songs where you can really find people that have gone through what you’re going through.
Your songs are often very personal - this is epitomised in ‘Giving It All (To You)’, which was based off your wedding vows, and the music video features parts of your wedding ceremony. Is there a certain pressure that comes with having a spotlight not only on your music, but your relationship as well?
R: I think quite the opposite - for us, doing things like this interview, having real conversations, that is actually what drives us to keep going. If you get into the music industry because you want to be famous and make a lot of money, then you’re in the wrong business. But what drives us is the opportunity to have real conversations and hopefully uplift and connect with people. The more of that we’ve gotten to do, ironically the better our career has gone and the more people have resonated with the music. Occasionally there’s a selfie of myself that I probably wouldn’t sign off on, but I guess that’s when I’d have to go to my place of mindfulness…!
Do you write all your songs together?
S: It’s different for each song. We usually do, but with our most personal songs, like the two we’ve talked about - ‘Born Yesterday’ and ‘Giving It All (To You)’ - one of us will start it, like with ‘Born Yesterday’ I had this idea and part of the chorus just came to me. I always play my ideas for Ryan, and if it’s something that he really connects with then we’ll sit down and just write it. And vice versa, Ryan will bring songs to me and if it’s something I resonate with, we’ll write it. It’s almost like if the ‘creative spirit’ is with one of us, then the other one will just dive in and we’ll help each other finish it. I love how it’s different for each song. But I do think it’s interesting that for our two most personal songs, it was a similar process.
R: I would add to that, that obviously the lyrics and the melodies are what drive everything, but sometimes the production can end up being really important. In my case, where there’s a lot of influence from rock and roll as well as country, we spend just as much time working on the guitars as we do writing the melody. On the great records that I grew up listening to, it wasn’t necessarily just a word or melody or guitar part, it was the whole record.
The title track from your album, ‘Hail Mary’, was featured in the Netflix film Walk. Ride. Rodeo., which is based on the real story of Amberly Snyder, who became paralysed in a car accident, but managed to return to the sport she loves - rodeo barrel racing. What was that experience like, being part of telling such a powerful story?
S: It was so incredible. We wrote the song about our journey, but as you said, it takes on a totally different meaning as a part of her story. We could not have dreamt of a better way to release this song. To know that the song was part of the fabric of highlighting this moment in the movie and her life, when she drives again for the first time - we were just so honoured. She’s so inspiring and such a powerful woman, and the fact that it meant something to her is the whole point of music, that it can take on different meanings for each person’s story. It was incredible to see how much she overcame and to feel that sense of inspiration with our song behind it. It was one of the coolest things for sure that’s ever happened to us artistically.
You have a big UK fanbase, and you’ve said previously that even your daughter’s name is a nod to the UK because of its spelling. Do you have plans, COVID-permitting, to play in the UK in future?
R: Absolutely! We’re so passionate about the UK - the people, the passion for music, the rich history and tradition. My grandma is from Leeds, so we always wanted to go over there and for us, having our music played on UK radio has just been a dream come true. We’re excited to get back over there just as soon as the world allows, certainly with something like Country2Country, the Long Road Festival, Nashville Meets London, as well as some other tour dates we’ve talked about. So for us, we’re looking at a long-term commitment to continuing to go over there. We’ve been so humbled by the amount of support we’ve gotten from the UK.
"What drives us is the opportunity to have real conversations and hopefully uplift and connect with people"
Finally, the question we ask all our interviewees - what are your top 3 songs with a theme of mental health?
1. Shannon: 'How to Save a Life' - The Fray
This song strikes a very personal chord for me. One of my very best friends committed suicide when we were 23, and it just changed my life, and so many of our lives, forever. One of the hardest things was the people that loved her didn’t know the depth of her pain, we just didn’t know. That song is helpful for mental health for not only spreading the word about people that struggle, but for me, it’s for the people that have lost someone, and it’s about what would you would have done differently. For me, it was a moment in a song where it does what we were talking about, where it just shows that, ‘Okay, that person knows what I’m going through’, and that song is a theme for my life. It came out right around that time, and whenever I hear it, it takes me back. I think it’s such a brilliant song.
2. Ryan: 'I’m Here' - Kezia Gill
We’ve been spending a lot of time in the UK ‘virtually’ this year, and I had an opportunity to put a virtual concert together that was broadcast live on Chris Country and for Country Music Week on social media. We had some incredible artists featured, but for this particular one we had Kezia Gill, who’s a phenomenal UK artist. We met her when we performed live on BBC Radio 2 originally, and during her performance she played a song called ‘I’m Here’, and it was specifically about being there for people at a time when they need it. She has this incredible following - they call themselves ‘The Friday Night Crew’ - and she’s been doing live performances every Friday night during the pandemic. We were overwhelmed by this whole group of people that, throughout her live stream for our concert, were just thanking her for being there for them during this difficult year.
3. Both: James Taylor's version of 'You’ve Got A Friend' (originally by Carole King)
This year we have worked up a cover of 'You’ve Got A Friend’, and it’s just been healing. We’re not seeing each other as a community anymore, in person, and I know that I’ve really noticed the loss of that, and just how being together in person is so important. So ‘You’ve Got A Friend' is a really important song to help us remember that, even when we’re not with each other, we’re still there for each other.
Haley & Michaels' new single, 'Born Yesterday', is out now on all platforms