Blues-y, astro-soul songbird Piper Hays joins us for some coffee and flowers at Flowerboy Project in Venice, CA to discuss her debut album Vagablonde, her experience with busking while traveling, and her unique goals for promoting her music on social media.
You’re riding the highs of your recently released debut Vagablonde. For those who have yet to discover its awesomeness, care to share a bit about how the lyrical themes and instrumental elements came to be?
Piper Hays: Yeah! So Vagablonde is my debut album, and the inspiration for the songs came from my experiences while traveling. Traveling all over the world allowed me to gather stories, and since I consider myself a storyteller, Vagablonde was born from a lot of these are encounters that I’ve had on the road, interesting or difficult experiences that I’ve faced, or just fun times that I’ll get to cherish forever. I also taught myself to play guitar while I was on the road
Piper: Yeah! *laughs* A lot of the songs are kind of funky sounding just because I was making it all up as I went along, but it seems like it all worked out really well and I’m so glad it happened that way!
Yeah! And music is just a constant learning experience because of all the new cool techniques to incorporate.
Piper: Exactly! That’s what I love about it, it’s a constant form of practice. Even the people that you see on stages that have been doing this for over fifty years are still learning new things. That’s what keeps it so exciting and worth it and fun and amazing!
Yeah! So which song would you say was your favorite to write and record?
Piper: Well, all of the songs are my babies. *laughs* One that’s really special to me is called “For You,” which I wrote last summer. It’s just this very tender song that everyone can relate to, and I wrote it not only for myself when I was going through a really difficult time, but also for my friends to find comfort in with whatever they might be going through. I recorded it in Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis, Tennessee with an amazing group of session players. Literally, it was a room full of A-listers and I still pinch myself about that. *laughs* We did everything live, and after we were finished we all kind of stayed silent, looked around, and were just like, ‘Yup, that’s the one! That take is it!’ The energy in the room was just so compassionate and open and loving that we all ended up going into the main part of the studio and just hugged each other. The producer even came out from the sound booth! Even with performing it, it’s so crazy how everybody goes so silent that you could hear a pin drop. It’s just one of those songs where it’s special and you know it’s special.
So a fun question for you, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Piper: Ooh! I think Hozier would be one of them because he’s just so incredible and also seems like a really mellow, cool dude. I’d also bring this band called The Dip along, I love them so much and they have a lot of cool horn sections. And then St. Paul and The Broken Bones would be the last one. I have some friends in that band and I just love their music! I think it would want to ‘The NFA’ Tour – the ‘Not Fuckin’ Around’ Tour! *both laugh* A friend of mine came up with that at dinner a little while ago and it just kind of stuck in my head.
And it’s a term that people hear all the time so it’s easy for people to remember! *laughs* So speaking of getting to travel around the world, you’ve gotten the chance to backpack around Europe doing some professional street performing, AKA busking. *Piper laughs* When did you decide to take such a huge step into the street performing route as an artist who was just starting out?
Piper: Honestly, I feel like kind of had to. I was in Europe, I was broke, maybe had five dollars to my name, was living on the streets because I just didn’t know anybody, but I met these really awesome buskers who brought me with them to play music and I made a bunch of money that way. It was just such a high being able to go out there and perform to a bunch of strangers pretty much. I was like, ‘Hell yeah! I’ve gotta keep doing this!’ It took me all over Europe, Africa, and I’ve gotten to do it here in the U.S. too, and it’s really helped me survive out on the road to be able to continue my journey and adventure.
Yeah! And even with traveling in general, being able to do it for the music is even more of an amazing experience.
Piper: Yeah! The not knowing where I’m going to be sleeping that night I can definitely live without, *laughs* but getting to wake up every morning to play music and meeting new people is totally worth it in the end. Everywhere I go I try to do a little street performing to stay in touch with my roots.
Yeah! So you tweaked a few lyrics of your cover of Ten Years After’s single, “I’d Love To Change The World” due to the experiences that you had out on the road traveling. What are some music related differences that you saw in your travels that are different than here in L.A. or in the U.S. in general?
Piper: Well first off, they pay you in Euros instead of dollars. *both laugh* I think a big difference was in Europe I was more of a novelty because I was this blonde, Southern California girl singing blues songs with my fingers bleeding on my guitar. *laughs* In places like Madrid and Berlin and London, it was something they weren’t used to. They thought that people from L.A. or from the U.S. pretty much only do pop music, so I think that I had a little bit more respect and excitement to hear my stuff. People are still excited to hear my stuff here, but I think I stood out a little bit more there. It is a bit harder to do music out of the States because it’s not as big of a scene, but the people that go out to see music genuinely love it so that’s a fun aspect of it. Being in a hub like London, where I spent most of my time, was great because I was able to build a really strong fan base that would continually come out and support. Here, it’s really difficult because there’s just so many people doing music and so many different venues to go to, especially in L.A. Other than that, it’s pretty much similar, but it’s a little more rock and blues based out there as opposed to here.
Yeah. I feel that’s the reason why we have so many rock stars that are from the UK or from Europe in general.
Piper: Yeah! And I think they come here to be exotic and different so I went there to be exotic and different! *both laugh* My definition of ‘exotic’ is going to London. *laughs*
Hey! Weather-wise it’s a pretty massive difference! *laughs*
Piper: Oh yeah complete opposite! *laughs*
What are some major differences that you’ve seen with people who support musicians on the street and how they support them in a venue setting?
Piper: Playing on the streets is a great way to see how your songs work and to get people’s reactions right away. If you’ve been playing for an hour, and then you play a new song or a cover song, you’ll notice that when people stop to listen it means that you’re doing the right thing. Seeing people’s reactions immediately is very special in the moment, but it’s definitely harder to get people’s attention when you’re on the street. People don’t really want anything to do with you unless you’re doing something pretty magical, so it’s even more rewarding if you get just one person to stop and listen to you. At a venue, it’s actually kind of similar because you’ll have people chattering during your set. Molly Malone’s is a great venue example because people are more engaged due to it being a smaller contained space. You’re almost able to dedicate more of your attention to the performer in that kind of setting, which is just a whole different experience and a new way to connect with people for the artist. They’re both amazing, but sometimes it really does depend on the day, the people walking by, or the people in the audience. I’ve met some amazing people that I’m still friends with from busking around, and I’ve met a lot of great friends playing in clubs. There’s so many differences and so many similarities at the same time. It really comes down to one place you have a spotlight and the other one you don’t. *laughs*
The outside spotlight is the sun! *laughs*
Piper: Exactly! Or I guess not in London. *laughs*
So what are your thoughts in regards to the music industry’s obvious preference towards singles and EP style releases as opposed to full-length albums?
Piper: I totally get it, because I know everyone has a really short attention span these days. I grew up listening to records and listening to a whole CD all the way through, so it was really important for me to release an album over an EP or a single. Even though the times are changing, you just never really know how people are going to react until you put yourself out there. Unfortunately with the attention span thing, it’s harder for people to actually focus and sit down to listen to a whole album or commit to doing something lengthy like that. I like the album format better because, like I said earlier, it’s my way of telling a story.
Yeah! And I mean, an EP is still a good thing to utilize or showcase one part of the story.
Piper: Yeah. I think it might be hard for artists to collect artistic revenue, but right now people just want tons of content. Constantly putting out singles is a good way to do that, but what I’m trying to do is put out an album and then take the time to focus on each song by telling its story in multiple ways. It’s kind of a different approach that we came up with, and it’s been really fun promoting the album and focusing on the singles at the same time.
It’s the best of both worlds!
So with social media being the forefront of what marketing is nowadays, do you think that it’s made it easier or harder for artists to make a name for themselves?
Piper: I think there’s so many more artists now than there’s ever been, so it’s hard to break through the clutter. Maybe social media helps, maybe it doesn’t, it definitely helps to get your name out there, but it also helps two-million other people who are trying to get their name out there. I feel like it both helps and hurts. It helps because you can connect to your audience in a more personal level. They can see what you’re doing everyday, see where you’re at, you can send messages to people on the other side of the world. But again, it’s also hard to break through the masses and shine through.
And do you feel that social media kind of adds on a pressure to show certain parts of yourself or constantly have something to share with your followers?
Piper: Sometimes, but I feel like that also goes back to being genuine and not trying to put on a show for people. Just put out what comes to you and try to make it as organic as possible. It’s fun to see the people that are highly crafting their Instagram and Facebook profiles, but with the people that I like and follow on social media, it’s the silly behind-the-scenes stuff that I love. Even these big famous people posting photos in their pajamas watching Naruto helps you connect more. *laughs*
And it shows that you’re a real person!
Piper: Exactly! Instead of all the glam on the surface.
Exactly! Now as a young woman pursuing a career in music, do you feel that women need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to have a successful career?
Piper: I think it’s definitely harder, especially being a young woman. I’m only twenty-two, and I feel like at first people don’t want to give me the time of day or respect me if not showing a little skin or acting super cute-sy. *does stereotypical Valley Girl impression* But I found that the more genuine you are with yourself and the more confident you are with your genuinity, it’s easier to move along in your life. I embrace my femininity, but I also don’t feel the need to sexualize myself. It’s hard, but being true to yourself I think is the most important thing.
Absolutely! And how do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Piper: I allow myself a little time in the day to separate from everything else, but music is my life through and through. Most of my friends are musicians. Even if I’m not doing it professionally with my friends, we’re still jamming out and writing together or going to shows. I think when I’m working on my own projects that I put on more of a serious face. I guess that’s not completely true, because I’m still having a lot of fun with it. *laughs*
You’re more productive. *laughs*
Piper: Yeah! I’m more productive, exactly! *laughs* I have more direction when I’m doing business than when I’m on my down time with my friends, which is more free flowing and silly.
It’s like a mullet! *laughs*
Piper: *laughs* Oh my God, you’re right! Business in the front, party in the back! *laughs*
Business in the daytime, party in the nighttime! *laughs*
Piper: Exactly! *laughs*
So if you could give your younger self advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far with music or with life, what advice would you give her?
Piper: That’s a really good question. I’d probably tell her to trust herself more, and to go through everything with honesty and with light. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to work out, and at the end of the day, the best thing to do is to stay honest with yourself and with others.
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Piper: I would like my audience to feel a sense of connection. I call my style of music ‘astro-soul,’ which means that it comes from a deep place within me that’s a melting pot of a bunch of different genres. I feel like music, if it comes from the soul, it can easily be a spiritual experience. Especially when I’m writing or I’m playing, I tell everyone I get lost in the music.
But it’s so true though, because even when you’re just listening sometimes you can just feel it to your very core.
Piper: Yeah! I just want to take you on a journey and I want to help you feel connected. Even now, like, we’re all connected by our phones, yet people are more disconnected than ever. When I have my audience come and see me sing, even if it’s just one on one, I want them to leave with a sense of belonging and just know that we’re all walking the same road together. It’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling and know that you’re not the only one experiencing those feelings. A term that I really love from an artist named Nahko Bear is ‘musical medicine,’ and I think that right there is just so real. Making this type of music that heals and allows you to feel these types of feelings and go through these emotions and have these experiences in a positive and healthy way is something that I want people to walk away with.
And that comes across very clear in your music!
Piper: Thank you!
And apart from continuing to promote the release of Vagablonde, what other exciting things should we be expecting from you in the near future?
Piper: Well, I’ve got some new music coming out soon that I’m really excited about, and a lot more shows all over California and maybe some other places. If you guys stay tuned on the social medias and my website, you’ll be able to stay up to date on what I’m doing. Also, CDs and vinyls are now available online so you can have my sultry voice serenading you in the comfort of your own home. *laughs*
About Flowerboy Project:
I had heard of the illustrious Flowerboy Project from not only friends in the Venice Beach area, but also from digital word-of-mouth as well as praise from the Los Angeles Coffee Guide. Since starting this endeavor, floral type coffees (i.e. rose, lavender, etc.) had become my jam, and I was genuinely intrigued with how the shop functions as both a florist and a coffeeshop, so why not follow through on my curiosity? Well, I definitely was not disappointed in my adventure and am already excited to make my way back!
The nice thing about Flowerboy Project is that it’s located in a relatively quieter part of Venice. It’s close enough to the beach and the popular Abbot Kinney area without the heavy crowds, yet still gets enough foot traffic for locals to discover it and stay afloat as a business. It’s a smaller shop that can fill up quickly at the peek ‘I need coffee, stat!’ hours, but if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat inside you will never want to leave! The lush, garden/botanical-like atmosphere is highlighted with Insta-worthy gold and pastel accents to add a slight trendy feel with a playlist dedicated to classic surf rock reminiscent of its location. Now, all you need is one of their signature coffees and a yummy pastry and you’ll want to make Flowerboy your new favorite shop!