On Saturday, June 1, 21 year old singer-songwriter Piper Hays is scheduled to perform at The Black Sheep Pub in Ashland, Oregon. Hays is performing in support of her recently released debut album, titled Vagablonde. Recorded at the historic Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, Vagablonde is a chronicle of Hays’ journeys and musings on the the concept of travel.
The Siskiyou’s Connor Thompson spoke with Piper Hays about her debut album, artistic influences, and upcoming show in Ashland.
You’ve recently released your debut album, titled Vagablonde. Could you tell me a little bit about how this album came to be?
I wrote all the songs on Vagablonde when I was out on this big adventure; I was supposed to be in Europe three weeks visiting a friend and I ended up ditching my flight and staying for a year. I had like no money, a backpack with two outfits in it, and a guitar. Somehow I went to four different countries and made my way by performing on the streets, as well as doing community outreach through music and meeting different bands, couch surfing, and hopping around. Through this big, fun adventure I was able to write a bunch of songs.
When I came back [to the United States, I had about 20 songs finished, and I recorded some demos of them and sent them all around to different producers. It was kind of like, ‘I wonder if they ever check their emails?’ The top producer that I wanted to work with, Matt Ross-Spang, called me back the next day asking when I could come to Memphis. It was insane, and a dream come true.
I ended up meeting with him, and he had just won like two Grammys working with Margo Price. We vibed super well, and a month later I was back in the studio working with some session musicians that he picked out for me. And these guys are like legends, y’know, they’ve worked with artists like Cyndi Lauper, the Allman Brothers, Booker T., and Al Young.
I ended up calling the album “Vagablonde” because I got a phone call from my mom while I was out on the road, and she said, ‘you know what you are? You’re just a vagabond!’ She was so pissed, and my friends were cracking up. So I said, ‘no, mom, it’s okay! I’m not a vagabond, I’m a vagablonde.’ It started out as a joke and it just kind of stuck.
What was it like working with a successful produce like Matt? Was this your first experience in a recording session of this caliber?
I’ve had a taste for it before. I grew up in Los Angeles, so you’re around it sometimes. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with other producers, but just like for a day or so. But this was my first real experience in the studio for an extended period of time working on my music.
It was incredible. Matt really took good care of me and everyone made me really comfortable. I think it was the best first studio experience I could have ever gotten. All the guys were just so great, and we were all giggling and having so much fun. I literally had to be dragged out of the studio every night because I just wanted to set up camp under the piano!
You’ve described your music as “astro-soul-” what does that term mean to you?
It’s so hard to define your own music as a musician; everybody struggles with it. I didn’t want to be in one lane. I have so many influences from different types of music growing up, and just being a music lover. So, ‘astro-soul’ is kind of a combination of different things: inspiration from soul music, blues, jazz, classic rock, indie rock, and Americana. I also listen to classic country- not like the country that we have now, but like Johnny Cash and stuff like that. [laughs]
My music is like a melting pot of a bunch of different influences, and I think ‘astro-soul’ kind of gives me the flexibility to change things up a little bit. When I’m writing, what I’m writing depends on what kind of mood I’m in and what I’m going through. So it’s always something a little bit different each time.
What were some of the specific artistic influences you drew from to create Vagablonde?
I was reading a lot when I was on the road- mostly books about adventures, writings from different poets, and musicians. I had just made a huge decision in my life to leave what was comfortable and all that I knew to start over somewhere else.
I left everything I knew and basically hit reset on life. A lot of the songs on Vagablonde talk about trying to know if you’re in the right place, or not having control over a situation. A lot of it was this mental journey, asking myself, ‘is what I’m doing right now what I should be doing? Is this the right path for me?’ Some of the songs [on Vagablonde] are about trying to make that right decision, and trying to find the right path.
This Saturday, June 1, you’re performing at The Black Sheep in Ashland. What’s your history with the city, and why did you choose to perform here?
Since I’ve gotten back from Europe, at the end of 2017, I have not had a permanent residence for more than three weeks at a time. So, I travel a lot. My family is based in California, and upon coming back to the U.S. I wanted to find some place that was ‘me-’ somewhere that I could have my own little cozy spot to come back to.
Even though I don’t have a place in Ashland, two of my best friends moved there and live right by Southern Oregon University. I went up there to visit them one time, and I ended up staying for a week when I originally planned to stay for only a few days! It was so great, because I knew a lot of local musicians like the guys in Slow Corpse and the people from Juniper Berries.
I haven’t been to Ashland in a while, and Clarenda from Black Sheep sent me an email asking me if I wanted to play, and I was like, ‘heck yeah- of course I do!’ My mom and I are going to road trip up for a few days, and it’s gonna be super fun.
It sound like a homecoming, in a way. Is it the first show you have ever played in Ashland?
Yeah, the first real show I guess! I’m going to be playing acoustic- my band is not with me unfortunately, but it’s going to be a fun, intimate experience. My friend Joey is probably going to hop up on cajón, and I might have a friend come play bass. But, yeah, I guess it’s kind of like a homecoming. I’ve been visiting Ashland like once a month since January, and I haven’t been yet this month! I’m so excited; I love Ashland.