Marblehead’s Hayley Reardon, 16, Finds Her Voice

BOSTON — Between school work and friends, a 16-year-old girl from Marblehead is taking the folk scene by storm.

Hayley Reardon says she first picked up a guitar during the summer before sixth grade because she was bored. Her dad showed her some chords, and pretty soon after she started writing songs.

Reardon’s debut album, “Where the Artists Go,” will be released on Oct. 23, with a release party and performance at Club Passim on Oct. 21.

She recently spoke with WBUR Morning Edition host Bob Oakes about her music.

Bob Oakes: So where did this voice come from?

Hayley Reardon: Kind of like, bottled up. It came from silence, sort of. I was so quiet and so shy leading up to when I started writing songs. That first summer when I picked up a guitar, I kind of spent the whole summer writing as many songs as I could, and making up for all the things that I was always too scared to say. And so my songs are kind of the things I don’t say out loud and things that I hold back.

Do you still think of yourself as shy, do you still get nervous?

I definitely still get nervous. In all other aspects of life, I’m still kind of scared and shy, but when I’m on stage and when I’m performing and when I’m writing my songs is when I kind of feel like I can say whatever I need to say.

So I’ll write songs on the walls that hold me back. No, I can’t break em down, but some words fit through the cracks.

A lot of your songs are about your experiences or the experiences that your friends go through. Do your teenage friends come up to you and tell you, “Geez girl, you nailed that”?

Sometimes, yeah, definitely. That’s really cool for someone to come up to you and be like, “I’ve been through that, too.” And with me as a music fan, when you find a song that you’re like, “Oh my God, they wrote this about me.” It’s a weird thing because no one had the same experience, but you feel like it’s for you and it’s cool.

Along those lines, I want to ask you a couple of questions about another song on the CD titled “Tribe,” but first let’s hear a little bit of that:

Hayley, I’m the dad of three daughters who were teenagers not that long ago. And when I heard that song, I heard echoes of my house past — a little loneliness sometimes by those girls as they tried to find themselves and tried to find where they fit. Is that what you’re trying to say in here?

Yeah. I feel most connected to this song on the record. I feel like it’s just kind of a teenage girl anthem in general. It’s about looking for the group of people, your tribe, who accept you for who you are, and that really want you to be who you are. There’s a little loneliness in it, definitely, and feeling like you don’t belong and feeling like nobody gets it and you’re different. But there’s also hope in it that there are people out there who get it.

You’re not alone, never alone little girl. You see our blue blood it sparkles with this art and words written up and down our arms. And we are young. Yes, you belong little girl.

When you were 13, you wrote a song called “She’s Falling.” It’s about bullying and it’s dedicated to Phoebe Prince, the girl from South Hadley who took her own life a few years ago after being essentially tormented by bullies at school:

‘Cause she’s trying to ignore the pain. It’s no wonder she only wants to leave this place. And their words and lies and memories are spinning ’round and she can’t breathe. She’s falling.

Hayley, what made you want to speak out against this?

This song is actually really personal. It was kind of one of those songs that I wrote just to work through an issue, not really to share with anyone.

And that’s when I stumbled across Teens Against Bullying, which is a branch of PACER Center, which is the organization that I work with on this kind of stuff. And I found a lot of comfort in their website and loved what they were doing and so I sent them the song and just a thank you saying that you guys really helped me out in a situation.

And they loved the song and they were like, “Can we send this out as part of a classroom toolkit to schools across the country?” And the response to that was really overwhelming. All of seventh grade I spent coming home from school and getting emails from kids telling me their stories or about how they’ve been bullied or their friends have been bullied or they’ve bullied kids themselves. And that’s kind of what made me realize that it can’t be a personal song that I keep in my bedroom drawer anymore and that it kind of needs to be shared.

What do you say when people say about you or write, as they have, that your maturity — your lyrical maturity, your musical maturity, your intellectual maturity — leaves them in awe?

I don’t know what I say. I just like to think about stuff a lot. I spend a lot of time thinking about everything and analyzing the world around me and that’s it. So I don’t know whether it’s maturity, it’s just kind of over-thinking all the time.

You’re still in high school, a sophomore right now? What comes after high school: college or full-time music, following that muse?

I don’t know, it depends where I’m at senior year and how things are and whether I want to go do this for a little bit or do college for a little bit or do both. I’ve been through eighth grade and high school doing this music stuff pretty seriously and been able to balance both. So take it as it comes. We’ll see.

Hear “Seattle,” by Hayley Reardon:

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  • Sick of Fluff

    As someone who has given money to WBUR this story is so lame. 

    A (most likely wealthy) 16 year old girl who (most likely) was sent to guitar lessons since she was 6 is celebrated for making a mediocre pop album that doesn’t sound very good at all. Kudos to her for trying to achieve depth in her writing but to me, this is just another example of the Tiger Woods syndrome in America. We celebrate families who push their kids to do one thing from a very early age. We celebrate families that push their kids to be prodigies when true excellence and mastery of anything comes from years of work. 

    I shouldn’t be shocked though. I won’t hear a story on WBUR about a kid from the north shore of MA who is learning to be a master carpenter or how we need to help kids that are not wealthy and not interested in college find careers with dignity. Instead we are going to celebrate a privileged white girl from a wealthy town for writing a few pop songs.

    It’s why I won’t donate to WBUR this year. 

    • Chill out

      First of all, this isn’t pop music. It’s folk, a style that strays from pop culture sometimes more than any other genre out there (though maybe not as much as jazz ;). Secondly, you’re making lots of assumptions about this girl who you don’t know at all and ripping her apart. It’s fine if you don’t like the story WBUR chose to tell, but don’t put that on this girl. How do you know she’s rich? Maybe she knows someone in her town who owns a recording studio, and through her own self-motivation, had this album made. So what if she’s from a white family? Doesn’t mean she’s rich. That’s just a pathetic accusation. It’s also one that isn’t based on the facts. She says herself in the interview that she picked up guitar when she was going into sixth grade and started writing on her own. So why in the world do you insist that she was forced into music at a young age by her parents?

      And finally, even if your assumptions about her ARE true, that doesn’t mean she didn’t earn this interview and story on WBUR. If she worked at her talent through her own passion and motivation, then kudos to her. 

      • Sick of Fluff

        I know the difference between pop and folk. But thanks for your incredible description. We could have a longer discussion about American music history in which I’m sure we could discuss more worthy folk, jazz and spiritual music to highlight than this.

        Fine. She can sing and play the guitar. I’m not that into it. I listened today and was unimpressed. I don’t remember anyone celebrating James “Sugar Boy” Crawford’s passing in September. Then again, he’s black and from New Orleans. Nobody on WBUR is going to talk about a music scene in Boston that can be very diverse and has a ton of musicians (very talented ones) who have been playing for years in clubs and writing great songs. 

        But you know what? They’re not 16!!! So, nice novelty story. I’m glad Susan’s getting goosebumps. I’m not impressed and I think that in this image conscious society we don’t reward the best. We reward what sells. So, suck it up people. You asked for it!

        • Kool Groove

           Sick of fluff sounds like a miserable and unhappy man.

          • Sick of Fluff

            Talkin’ bout
            Hey now!
            Hey now!
            Iko iko an nay
            Jockomo feen ah na nay
            Jockomo feena nay!

    • Manriggs

      Your cynicism, Sick of Fluff, is so sad.  You have NO idea what this girl’s economic bracket is, nor does it matter.  It’s people like you, filled with preconceived prejudices and judgements, are who her words are graciously trying to combat.  Seems to me you are way too dense to be listening to NPR in the first place.
      By the way, not everyone in Marblehead is “wealthy” or “privileged”!

      • Sick of Fluff

        Ohhhhh! I’m so hurt!! You’ve figured me out manrigg! Hehehe.

        Seriously, you don’t get it dude. She can write whatever she wants. And kudos to her for getting out there and making an album. It’s good she has a voice. I’m saying that WBUR is picking crappy stories and this kind of contrived, Justin Beiber BS is just not my cup of tea. It’s garbage and it’s a total joke. 

        And you might be right. I might have generalized about Marblehead but I really don’t care. Hahaha. I’m glad I said that. 

        So, I’m sure you feel like quite a hero defending this girl. She’ll be fine. Sounds like she’s liked by a lot of people. I’m just pointing out that our media consistently seeks out the safe stuff to make us feel warm and fuzzy. This story didn’t impress me and neither does she. You can’t change that.

        And by the way, I’m actually a person who loves music and sees the bright side in just about everything. I choose to live in reality though. . .and that’s a hard place for most people to dwell! =)

  • Susan Glickman

    I disagree with you.  Haley’s voice gave me goosebumps upon first listening and her message of hope and healing to girls who are bullied or feel they are on the fringe goes beyond socio-economics and town lines. 

    I applaud you WBUR for showcasing this talented teen.  

  • pfhmhd

    Sick of Fluff, I have been good friends with the Reardon’s and there is no “wealthy” there other than a strong loving and supporting family. Hayley taught herself how to play the guitar. She’s achieved all of this with her own hard work, an extremely supportive family and frankly a ton of guts!!!

    • Sick of Fluff

      Talkin’ bout
      Hey now!
      Hey now!
      Iko iko an nay
      Jockomo feen ah na nay
      Jockomo feena nay!

  • Taylor Swift Maniac

    I bet Fluff boy doesn’t believe in Santa! What kind of jerk would write something like this?

    I also imagine this punk never calls his mom on holidays. If he has a mom!! People like this are spawned and not born! How dare he speak such vile opinions when clearly WBUR is always right.

    I also bet Fluff boy is a republican and he will vote for Mitt Romney and all the Obama haters!

    Does anyone know when the next Easter Bunny sighting will be? And how about the Post Office? Have they raised their rates lately?

    Who out there loves string cheese?? Click like on my post if you hate Mr. Fluff and love string cheese! I’m going to buy 100 copies of Haley’s next album now.

    • Adila_crimi

      Oh my god! I love string cheese!!!!

  • lpedrum

    Does our culture sometimes focus on bad art or fluff in order to sell product?  Of course it does–no news there.  When Hayley first asked me to talk about producing a CD for her I had reservations.  Having worked with serious-singer songwriters (as well as blues musicians from Louisiana) I had no desire to make a “teen record” or produce someone who was “pretty good for their age.”  But all it took was to meet and hear Hayley once to realize that this is not some sort of over-achieving, fame seeking kid. (In fact she has turned down offers that could have put on her a fast track to that life.)  Hayley is as genuine an artist as I’ve had the privilege to work with.  Her best lyrics have the lift of a poet and her voice is naturally evocative.  I love the fact that she thinks outside of herself when writing about bullying and the real issues her school friends face. She’s also fearless.  A couple of summers ago she fell in love with Reggae music and introduced herself to Jamaican singer Pzed while he was touring the States.  Next thing you know she’s written a song with him and we put it on the record–it’s one of my favorite tracks.  
    I don’t need to defend Hayley’s credibility or her gravitas that’s so unique for a person that age–I think her songs do that.  All I know is that I feel incredibly privileged to be able to work with her.

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