photo: red bull
photo: red bull

PartnersJune 4, 2019

‘Wrap that shit up and move on’: Bailey Wiley on her creative process

photo: red bull
photo: red bull

She’s only 28, but Bailey Wiley already feels like an industry veteran. She’s been grinding away in Dunedin, Berlin, the US, and Auckland for years, and her latest EP is a smooth, personal reflection of these experiences. She sat down to discuss her new EP, the catharsis of Berlin, and the difference between her generation of musicians and Kora’s.

Hey Bailey! First off, I noticed you’re from Hāwera. I’m from New Plymouth! Taranaki hard.

Yes! When I was younger I used to be embarrassed about it. But now it’s cool! Everyone I kick it with here is from Auckland. It’s nice and unique to not be from Auckland. When you go home you get a real sense of mana.

Why did you move to Auckland?

I had already decided that music was something I was going to do, but then I was weighing it up: maybe I’m a Wellington girl, you know? So I didn’t know where to move, but I ended up coming here.

Do you regret it?

Nah. I like it. It’s where a lot of my friends are now, the people I met when I got here. My generation of music would be MELODOWNZ, SuperVillains, Yoko-Zuna. We all met each other all at the same time, and I wouldn’t have that family of musicians if I went to Wellington. It would look different.

That probably would have changed how you sound now.

Right? Wild, eh? I do like Wellington, I have some friends there.

Was Auckland a shock? I found it a little jarring.

Well, it’s just so big. I came to Auckland and I was like, it’s so big, I’m not gonna know anyone, or where to start, or how to make music, or how to be the Bailey Wiley I wanna be! But then six months into it I realised everybody knows everybody – and everybody’s been knowing everybody’s things, all the time.

That’s true. You’ve got no secrets in Auckland.

I know! Good news travels fast.

I should ask you about your EP!

I’m really happy with it. It’s nice to have that finished. Some of the songs I wrote, and re-wrote, and re-produced, and changed, and it’s nice to be in a space where I’m finally content. Obviously, there will always be little things where I think, oh, I wish I could change that. But I don’t think I would be an artist if I didn’t feel that way.

You didn’t want to do a longer album?

It was always going to be that I was going to do an EP, then I was like, oh, maybe I should do an album. So I had all of these songs and I was like, fuck it, quality over quantity. I feel like sometimes when I listen to albums they have filler tracks – you know? Sometimes that happens. I was so conscious with this album that I didn’t want filler songs.

It’s short but good.

Exactly. Get to the point. Every song has a reason and a purpose. Wrap it up. Wrap that shit up and move on to the next song. I think that approach took me a long time to refine, but it was the right way to do it.

And you’re going to keep doing it that way?

I reckon. Obviously, whatever kind of creative you are, it’s hard to not get hung up on certain things. I think it’s important to just do it and move on. In the past few years, when I took time off music, I was sitting on so many songs. There’s so much in the back catalogue that will never get seen because I’ve thought about it too much. I had to go through that process in order to get here.

In writing, sometimes people say you have to kill your babies – you have these things that you love, words or lines that you love, and you have to get rid of them. And it’s horrible.

Yeah! Because it’s you, right? You think that’s what makes you authentic, and then you have to go out and find other things that make you authentic, and it’s scary. I get it.

I couldn’t help noticing your song “Zaddy” love the name, it’s incredible. To be honest I was expecting the content to be a little more thirsty.

It’s funny because I saw a review where someone else said the same thing. They thought it would be more raunchy, I guess, something like that. I’m not naturally like that, so for me to even be like take me out/take me home/eat away/take it slow – for me, that’s some shit! I’m elegant, I have class. I think at the end of the day, me writing that song and calling it “Zaddy” is my interpretation of what that moment was.

It was a one-off moment.

Hard out. The thing is, if I’m meeting someone, I would never be up front like that. People already know so much about me because of my music.

It’s really personal.

It’s so personal! As soon as I released this, it was like – everybody knows everything about me. I think “Zaddy” was so unique for me because I got to tap into a different Bailey Wiley. It was cool.

Will you do it again?

Yeah, I reckon! As a creative, that’s when I get away with it – or even when I’m on stage, I’m quite animated and move quite a lot, but you wouldn’t see me doing it in real life. In real life I’m quite a chill version of myself.

I know you went to Berlin for a while, was that a life-altering time?

It’s the same thing we were talking about with Auckland and Wellington! I was with my friend Noah , and I told him I was thinking about going to LA. He was like, “Oh, sis … are you all LA like that?” He said, “I don’t think you’re LA. I think you’re Berlin. Come and stay with me. We’ll go make music, there’s some crazy vibes there.” So I booked the tickets, and stayed with Noah, and we had the time of our lives.

Did you write much in Berlin?

For S.O.M.M. I wrote half the project here, and half overseas. When I was writing songs at home it took so long, and it was so hard to write. Overseas, I wrote one of the biggest songs from S.O.M.M. in forty-five minutes. It was the first song I’d ever vocally engineered and recorded myself. I had this weird mini-setup I’d taken overseas, and I got it done. That’s where “Take It From Me” came from.

It sounds like you were overcome with some kind of muse.

Yeah, it was very cathartic. I think I’d come out of having quite a rough time in my life, and leaving was the ticket. We gotta switch it up. We gotta change the energy.

How did the song turn out, to you?

It’s interesting because that song sounds like such a happy song, but if you listen to the things I’m talking about it’s deep, man. If I’m singing that song live, people are singing along and I’m like, you have no idea.

Do you ever see them realise?

I’ve had people message me and say that song really resonated with them, or got them through hard times. It’s those moments that you really cherish, because they get it. They’re drawing something from that song and that’s why I created it. For me, making music is all about connection, and whether that be through the radio, a live performance or even having conversations with people like this – that’s the guts of it.

You’re going on tour soon, so you’ll have a big opportunity to connect with people.

I’m so excited! I feel most at home when I’m performing because people get to see songs the way I wrote them, instead of the way they hear them through the radio. It’s also cool to share what the song is actually about, not what they think it’s about. It’s nice to share that moment with someone; when go “oh, I get it”.

What can people expect from a Bailey Wiley show?

Well, this tour is the first time I’ve ever taken a band with me, which is the most exciting part. It’s a slick machine. We’ve been doing these live sessions for New Zealand Music Month, as a test for us working together – and everyone comes away beaming from them. That’s what you want. I’m glad we’re all holding that energy. I’m also working with Red Bull to make the show – we’re going to have lights, arrangements on stage, things I can’t tell you yet…

Oh, so mysterious! I can’t wait.

I’ve always been independent as an artist, so it’s really nice to have support from people like Sony and Red Bull. It’s never been like that before. This time around there are so many people in the creative discussions, and it used to just be me. I remember having a meeting at Red Bull a few months ago and there were ten people around a table for the Bailey Wiley show. That’s wild.

In studio. Photo: Red Bull

There’s a new buzz. I feel like there are live performances every night in Auckland now.

Yeah! And that’s what we need! It felt like it went dead for a minute. That could have been something to do with the venues or the musicians. I don’t know why these things fluctuate like that. It’s so nice that it’s humming again.

I guess there hasn’t been as much money in the industry in recent years, so everyone has to be really passionate.

Totally. I remember talking to Ladi6 about this, and she said when she was coming up they had the artist benefit. They were getting paid to be creative, so no wonder they dropped all those albums. Kora, Fat Freddy’s, Shapeshifter – that generation. No wonder they were so amazing. They were being looked after by the government. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that. But there are other things we get that they didn’t – label stuff and social media. We have our own platform to work from, which people have had amazing success from.

Do you think you’ll go back and play TSB Bowl of Brooklands?

That would be amazing. There’d be no-one in the crowd and I’d be like, “dreams come true!”

There’d be, like, three ducks.

Yes. I need to go back. I’ve still got family there. I do have a show in Whanganui, which my Taranaki family can come to.

You can catch Bailey Wiley on tour throughout July, with tickets available from Undertheradar.

This piece, as well as Bailey Wiley’s self-titled EP, was made with support from NZ on Air.

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