Full disclosure: I am a massive Bailey Wiley fan, and not just because she makes a few good tunes. I think she’s one of the country’s best female artists — beyond talented, driven, a fellow sneaker-head and absolutely humble in her accomplishments, and for someone not quite yet 30, there is a growing list of impressive things that have already been ticked off. If you haven’t yet heard of her; sit up straight, pay attention, read this feature and then go find some of her music.
With a string of major festival performances under her belt including Rhythm & Vines (Gisborne), Rhythm & Alps (Queenstown), Northern Bass (Mangawhai) — which she has performed at for three years running, and a list of talented artists that have been keen to collaborate with her over the years, she is a force to be reckoned with. She has had the opportunity to work with some of New Zealand’s best local talent, including; Julian Dyne, Mellowdownz, Sola Rosa, Tiki Taane, Six60, Che Fu, Homebrew…. the list goes on. So what makes Bailey so special?
Originally from Taranaki, Bailey was introduced to her love of music through her grandparents who put her into singing lessons at the age of just six, “it was wild — music has always been a massive part of my family” she says “but I really began to compose music when I was in high school.” Bailey’s songs at that time started life on a guitar that her mum bought for her, they were simple at first, created with just two chords.
As time moved on, her technical ability grew, whereas the subject matter was still rather simple. What did she write about? “Boys!” she laughs, of course, “you write about what is important at the time, I listen to those songs now and I honestly don’t cringe — it was a representation of the person that I was back then.”
“I really found my voice when I was in high school, I actually used to be classically trained when I was younger” she continues “from there I discovered 90’s R’n’B and a whole new style of singing.”
Following on from high school, Bailey moved to Christchurch, then Dunedin for two years. While there, she fully invested herself in her creative pursuit; collaborating, writing music and getting into the studio for the first time. It was at this time, the artist Bailey Wiley we see today, was musically born.
With so much immersion in her passion, I ask her about the way that she is currently producing music and if that has changed over the last few years. “Definitely, I don’t play the guitar as much anymore as I am collaborating more with other people,” and this has, in turn, changed the way in which she is inspired.
No longer drawing solely from herself, she explains it could be a conversation, a melody or a beat that she has heard that sets the creativity in motion. “I’m now more inspired by my family, friends, the meaningful relationships in my life, our community, what we see in our newsfeeds —things I may or may not agree with. As an artist you are always tuning in to things that you are receptive to, which allows us to evolve and give our audience a variety.”
Having moved cities and countries quite a bit, when Bailey moved to Auckland in 2013, she didn’t really know anyone. “It was great, I could start fresh,” she explains “looking back, I can’t believe how much of a brave move that was.” So how does a fresh artist in a new city even begin making creative connections? “I have a lot to thank Rakino’s for.” She reminisces, the tucked away bar was a music mecca located on Auckland’s High Street, and sadly closed in 2013.
Each Tuesday, Rakinos would hold it’s freestyle night, Free Piece Collective “it was my first night out ever in Auckland, and a friend had suggested that we go,” she says “there was this band there, Yoko-Zuna, that were performing with ENO X Dirty, who was on the mic at the time, and I hit him up asking if I could have a turn.” The mic was passed and in true Bailey style, she just did her thing. It was a sink or swim situation and in the process, she gained some life-long friends. “Those nights meant a huge amount to me, making some beautiful friendships. It’s where I first met Yoko-Zuna, Mellowdownz, Raiza Biza, ENO X Dirty… it’s where it all began for me. I’m so thankful that Rak’s was still around at that time or so many of these artist collaborations might not have ever happened.”
Remaining true to her authenticity, Bailey explains that she is not an artist that can write about something that she didn’t experience first hand, and in an age of supermarket style music production where an audience’s trust is often taken for granted, it’s something that is important to her to maintain. “It’s real, it’s what I know. It buzzes me out that people can write about things that haven’t happened to them.”
A stance that is evident in the last few works that Bailey has released; modern themes that are about herself but also women as a whole, our trials and tribulations, the ways that we are treated and that constant external perception, “these themes run fluidly through my music — it’s something that is really important to me as a woman, that we are treated well.”
“It’s as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised my responsibilities to this platform that I have. If you’re going to say something, say the right thing that means something. You won’t find me singing about being in the club or anything like that.” A true artist with a voice that is sans bull shit. I like it. I am curious however about this stance and whether or not there has been any pushback within the New Zealand music industry, especially around pressure in retaining a certain level of male focussed commercialism in what she is ultimately producing. Bailey goes on to explain the majority of the people that listen to her music are in fact, women.
“At my shows, it’s women up the front. If the guys see the girls, where are they going to go? The front. So then I’ve got these guys singing my lyrics and I’m like ‘get it, yip’ they’re into it” she laughs “but that’s cool because what I am trying to do, it’s working.”
Making the transition from a student studying music in Dunedin to an aspiring artist at freestyle nights to an almost full-time musician in New Zealand, performing at some of our biggest festivals is no small feat. There are few that ‘make it’ in what is on the surface a cut-throat and harsh industry, but not in all places. Northern Bass festival organiser, Gareth Popham, has asked Bailey to perform three years running, an invitation that she gladly accepts. “I definitely have a lot of gratitude to Gareth and the Nothern Bass team, I want to support those guys as much as they support me.”
Her show has changed significantly since those first appearances, that consisted mainly of jumping on stage and singing a few songs before thanking the audience. Her shows are now a sophisticated operation, complete with live band, lighting designs, a production team and of course several rehearsals. Bailey definitely now keeps her head in the game and working from the moment the tour van leaves home until they’re all back again.
But the road to where she is today hasn’t always been without its challenges, the biggest Bailey says is real life. The ability to hold down what is going on in her life with personal relationships or family. “I took a little time off from music a few years ago,” she says “my family needed me and I knew that music would always be there, it’s important for me to replenish creatively so I can keep creating.” And she was right; returning refreshed and ready to put out some new work.
One of the most rewarding projects she has been thankful for being a part of is her time creating with Redbull Studios. She has been able to record her two biggest projects there with their support, (S.O.M.M and her upcoming release).
“I feel lucky that they saw something in me and want to be a part of and share my journey.” Joining this journey, is her new label, Success, a sub-label that is part of the Sony family. This next release will be her first working under a music label following her last two albums (IXL and S.O.M.M), both of which have been independently released. A change that she says has brought some much-needed support and other people to creatively bounce off.
“I’m finishing up the next release at the moment, I’ve just put out the first single, Sugar, I’m hoping to have the full project out in March 2019,” she says “I’ve been working with Soraya La Pread, Smokey, Tom Scott, ENO X Dirty, SFT and Josh Fountain on this next project.” This latest offering, her first since 2016, is a separation from the usual, she describes truly having to push herself and is looking forward to getting out there on tour and sharing something fresh.
For Bailey, it’s usually all about collaboration and she prefers to work with other artists where she can, although some tracks remain precious and close to her heart.
The title track Still On My Mind from S.O.M.M is one of those that still causes her to choke up a little, it’s so raw and close to her it can be hard to sing at times. Still, not all songs she remains as in love with, “Run With It, sounds so dumb” she laughs “it’s the only trap-style track on that whole album and it’s so not my sound.”
Take it From Me is one of my personal favourites “I had the best time writing that track!” She exudes, and it clearly shows in what was produced. “It was one of the fastest songs I’ve written.” Written in just 45 minutes and recorded in two, two-hour sessions while she was in Berlin, Germany with producer, Ben Esser. “It was so real, often I’ll labour over tracks for so long but this just felt so good, you know you’re intuitively on the right path. That was one of the only songs that has been shaped that way for me.”
As I finish writing this piece, I’m listening to the recording of our interview and she’s describing to me getting a message from one of her fans. “She was riding the train through Melbourne and listening to the track, she told me how it felt as though the song went full circle with what she had been experiencing, I’d truly spoken to her with my music. That’s why I do what I do, for those moments.” It’s this authenticity, candidness and realness that shines from Bailey and we’re very much looking forward to seeing what 2019 brings for her.