Interview \\ Hailey Tuck: “I find it really hard not to write sad songs”

23rd October 2018

You know those full-of-life people who decide to go on holiday at a moment’s notice, or come up to you in a bar to start a conversation out of nowhere? That’s what Hailey Tuck is like, a singer whose life —both past and present —reads like that of an alluring Scott F Fitzgerald character.

Tuck is comically self-deprecating and cinematically boisterous. Her wit is exasperated by her contradictory nature; a vocalist who sings about heavy drinking despite a strict upbringing in a Baptist military boarding school, who owns hundreds of vintage dresses yet lives on a houseboat. 

It would be impossible to guess that Tuck has spent the last decade between Austin, Paris and London, thanks to her thick, dulcet Texan accent. At 18 years old, she spent the entirety of her college-fund on a one way ticket from her home city of Austin to the French capital, making her spare change last by singing to her cab drivers in exchange for journeys to the closest Jazz clubs.

‘Junk’, Tuck’s debut album on Sony, came out this Summer. The record spills with moments that are influenced by her colourful life and features occasional pop and folk covers, too. It’s kitsch Jazz, with matter of factly stories and anecdotes that are delivered with genuine kook and candlelit warmth. She’s not short of anecdotes when we meet for a glass of wine in London’s Old Street.

“I used to work in a rare bookshop for years and years”, says Tuck. “My grandmother was a bookseller, in Texas. The people who buy rare books? They’re nuts”. She’s talking about 12thStreet Books, an appointment-only book store in Downtown Austin. “We would have guys in they’re saying ‘Can I pay for this in three different installments so my wife doesn’t know I spent two grand on another book?’. They’re absolutely crazy!”.

Tuck is excessively creative and naturally curious. As a teenager, she wrote for a feminist magazine; “I think I am — if I say so myself — a pretty decent writer”. Even fantasising about what she’d be doing in another lifetime, she’s expressive and inhibited; “I’d love to be a classical piano player, but like, as a career —a successful one. I’d torture myself, grab my music, crumple it up and yell ‘my work is so derivative!’”.

Tuck’s style is sincerely inspired by 1920s Jazz culture, circuiting creative energy from the likes of Billie Holiday and Blossom Dearie. “In a lot of my songs I tend to kind of veer towards sadder topics, slower songs”, Tuck says. “It’s always been a struggle for me. My producer Larry Klein is the same way, he prefers sadder, slower songs”. Tuck posted a demo to Klein after taking it upon herself to track down the “Mark Ronson of Jazz”. Days later, she was invited to see him in L.A. Of course, she booked a flight straight away.

“Even before making sure that [‘Junk’] was contemporary, I was trying to make sure that none of the songs were self-pitying”, she says. She also found inspiration in re-interpreting tracks that weren’t an obvious fit, including Pulp’s Underwear and Joni’ Mitchell’s ‘Cactus Tree’, determined for the record to reflect a contemporary nature; “If I want something I’m full steam ahead, I have to have it”, Tuck insists.

Now that ‘Junk’ has been out for a few months, Tuck is reflective. She’s contemplative about the tour she recently completed, her next record, and making new goals after one of her dreams come true; performing on ‘Live… with Jools Holland’.

“I was really nervous but I also had so much pent up energy. I was dancing like a maniac. Thank God the cameras weren’t on me, I was doing slut drops to the floor. It was crazy to me because, like, The Breeders were on. They’re cool; they’re an amazing, punk-rocky, two sister thing. Everyone was so composed. Laura Marling was so cool, she was barely clapping. I was just soexcited I couldn’t believe it, it was like my wedding”, she says, even more animated.“Obviously, it’s been my biggest goal that I could ever achieve, and now I need to figure out what the next goal is”. I ask Tuck about what it was like stepping out of the limelight after touring and TV performances.

“I got a bit depressed; I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough. I had this great opportunity. And also it kind of felt strange because obviously when you’re doing a campaign, I hung out with [people at] Sony more than my own friends. I would go out with them three times a week or something. Suddenly all that stopped when the press campaign was over. And I felt suddenly kind of left out although that’s completely irrational and not true  —the campaign ended, you know? Now it’s up to me. it was just like coming out of a fog.

“I spoke to Larry Klein and he was like ‘why are you sitting around stressing? Just start making a new album, come up with another great idea’. Obviously, that’s exactly what I should do, rather than sit there and think about it with anxiety of ‘what if’. I got here by being the maker of ideas”, Tuck says.

“I feel like I have no home”, Hailey shares. “I feel like I tour so much that every new place I go I’m like “I should move here”. I think honestly, London right now is the spot I’ve been most enjoying spending time in. I have a lot of interesting friends in Paris  —a lot of artists and stuff  —but in London, I have my band that I’m really close to, and friends who  —when I meet them  —I feel really inspired”.

Post tour, Jools and pre-writing, Tuck is somewhere between a maker’s paradise and a maker’s Hell; working out the next creative move. “I’m great at anything I love doing, and absolutely useless at anything I don’t like”, she shares. So what’s she gravitating towards?

“I want to write with Chris Difford”, Tuck shares. “He used to play with Squeeze and Jools Holland  —still does, and he has this kind of writing camp that he does. So I thought, it’s actually kind of a gift that I’m still just touring from the first album, hopefully doing an American tour in Spring and ‘breaking America’. Because there’s no confirmed second album, I have all the time in the world to start writing a million really shitty songs”, she laughs.

Junk is out now

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