Haley Jane and the Primates have become a staple of the festival scene here in New England. Standing powerfully front and center of this group is the dynamic Haley Jane, who leads this stylish blend of Americana, Rock and Soul. They’re on tour now promoting their fresh full-length release “We’re Here Now”. I had the pleasure of speaking with Haley Jane on a variety of topics that she’s passionate about.
Tom Matthew: Your new album “We’re Here Now” is very diverse. What did you have in mind when you put it together?
Haley Jane: We didn’t write all of those songs at the same time. Some of those songs were written years apart. I think that definitely lends itself to the diversity of the tunes. We chose to use different methods of writing. Some of those songs were written by me and me alone, like “To the Moon” I wrote by myself. A few of these were written by me and my guitarist, Justin. We would write them on an acoustic guitar, like our song “Creatures” or “Madeline”. We’d write them on an acoustic guitar and then bring them to the group once it was done, and then add everything else. A handful of tunes were written by all of us together in a room.
On “I Can Do it”, we lovingly call it Poo Jam, it was something that grew organically in the studio just from a bassline. I think a lot of the different feels have to do with who started writing the song and where it came from, because we all come from extremely different musical backgrounds.
TM: Some of the new songs even get a little trance feel to them with some interesting electronic stuff going on.
HJ: It’s definitely outside the box for us. Our producer, Craig Brodhead from the band Turkuaz had a huge hand in a lot of the electronic stuff and the expansion into the electronic sound. He did all of the synth that you hear playing. It was pretty neat to have all these songs written and done and then have that added to it once we went through it in the studio.
I think it adds a lot in songs like “Cosmic Katrina” where we always imagined it having that outer spacey electronic sound, but you can only do so much with guitars, and we don’t have a keyboard player. So it’s really cool to get to add that stuff in the studio. And eventually we will have a keys player. My dream is to be able to play these songs the way you hear them on the album.
TM: I know you play a lot of festivals. Some of the new stuff almost has a late-night festival kind of feel, which is pretty cool.
HJ: Oh my gosh, I hope you’re right! That makes me really happy because I’ve never viewed us in that way. Because I come from singer/songwriter and musical theater I always wanted, in the back of my mind, to be able to hold our own as a late night entity, to be able to keep people dancing. But sometimes I like the ups and downs. I like slow songs and I like to take people on kind of a roller-coaster. My concern there is that late night people don’t really want that, but so far I’ve found that people don’t mind it so much.
That makes me so happy that you think that, because songs like “Too Tired” or “Make It Alright” are definitely more jam-based and we can take them for a ride. I’m not just singing the whole time, I let the boys spread their wings. Not let them…
HJ: I’m in charge! (laughs). The other thing is to balance out the confidence of being a band leader with the fear of being bossy.
TM: It’s a hard line to walk.
HJ: It really is! I’m teetering, gracefully.
TM: You’ve got a real lively stage show with all the dancers and everything.
HJ: Yeah, It’s been such a great addition. I’ve always wanted that. I’ve always wanted to bridge – I don’t know that there’s much of a gap anymore because there’s rock musicals and there’s very theatrical rock concerts, but I suppose in my own mind they were very separate things. For me, I come from musical theatre and showmanship, where it’s about not just the audible, it’s about the visual, and I love lights. You can do so much with a good lighting guy.
But I wanted to use human bodies as well. I wanted to take everything that I’ve learned from dance, like modern dance, lyrical dance, everything I learned from musical theater, telling a story, and then take it and smash it into everything I’ve learned in the folk scene, the rock scene, the jam scene, the reggae scene – all these different scenes I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in. I just want to take it and roll it all together into this big mess of an explosion.
That’s who I am, and I’m starting to realize it’s not so much trying to fit and conform to one genre, which I think I tried to do a few times. I realize that nobody wants to do that, not even the listeners. I don’t think there are a lot of listeners that just grab onto one genre anymore. Everybody’s proud to say, “I listen to all sorts of stuff.” So I just want to say, “I play all sorts of stuff” and put on an amazing visual show as well as a pretty-sounding show.
TM: When you look at some of the greatest acts in music, they usually have a great stage show as part of their whole mystique.
HJ: I wish I had more time to go see them. A friend of mine sent me a video from a Lady Gaga show, and I was like “I want to do that!” I remember seeing Diana Ross play the halftime show for whatever Superbowl was going on, back when I was really little. I remember her changing her outfit five times, and I loved that. It made so much sense to me because it went with what she was doing.
I think there’s so much cohesiveness between the movement on stage, the lighting, what you’re wearing – all these things. There’s a reason a woman and even some men will change five times before they go out. I haven’t put a lot of emphasis on fashion, and I really am beginning to understand that it’s a huge part of the visual aspect.
We used to all play in our t-shirts and jeans, and that’s fine. But once I started to bring my theater experience, where I came from, I said “I miss getting dressed up, I miss adding that aspect to the performance”. Now there are all these different elements that you can bring into a stage show, and it’s so much fun adding dancers.
I can’t wait to get a lighting guy. Once we have a lighting guy that really knows our music and can put a spot on certain things, go gold when I’m singing about the color gold, or go red when I’m singing about passion, or fire or love. There’s so many different ways that you can pull on people’s emotional strings through visual and audio.
I would love to get into like smell-a-vision and pumping cool smells into a theater, and have a fully immersive experience, feed them cool food while we’re performing to go along with it. You know what I mean? There’s a level where you can start tapping into every sense receptor in the brain. I’m so curious.
Seeing a bunch of women move together in unison is so powerful for other women to see. Especially right now. And that’s something I’m really dedicated to. It’s like a pride of lionesses, they all go hunting together and they work together. I think it’s a really big message for me right now in what I’m doing. It’s important to me that little girls and women see women not in competition, but working together as a group to create.
Not just art, but in politics, in every aspect of our community. Women working together, people working together. I am unashamed to admit that I am focused mainly on women. I think females need one more big push. We still need one more big push into equality, and I think that would be good.
TM: That ties in nicely with your new video, “More Interesting”. You’ve got a tribe of women in costumes and face paint – what’s the story behind the content here?
HJ: It’s so interesting to me, the collective consciousness, the one brain of humanity, because I find it so fascinating that after I put out this video – you’ve heard of hash-tag #metoo?
TM: Yes, it has become very visible.
HJ: I’ve posted it. I’ve been subject to abuse and harassment as have most of my female friends. In this music video, you’ll notice that my band is tied up to trees.
TM: Yeah, I noticed that.
HJ: I never want to come out as man-hating. My band, they’re all wonderful, respectful, loving beautiful men, but I used them and they were happy to be symbols in this music video. And it was my way of tying up the males and the male persona so they will not be able to harm or hurt or be aggressive, and it’s symbolism. It’s just asking them to put their hands down for a moment and see the harm that has happened.
It’s about rebirth. You’ll notice that a woman, my very good friend comes and gets me out of the bed, and I’m in white – it’s about this innocence. It’s taken away from you sometimes. It naturally can evolve into womanhood and maturity, and that’s what’s supposed to happen. You’re not supposed to have it stolen from you. You’re supposed to grow into womanhood and have it evolve into this bravery and confidence.
So that’s really what that is. It’s about an older woman taking a younger woman, and helping her, supporting her and showing her. At the end of the video I come in and I help my very good friend’s little daughter Luna out of the bed. It symbolizes the trinity or the three goddesses. There’s a lot in there, there’s a lot to unpack.
I’m so happy, it makes me feel so connected to what’s going on. That music video came out at the same time as this movement, because it just feels like everybody’s on the same page here. We don’t hate men, we are just tired of even the little things like telling a girl to smile. When a man says “Hey, you should smile”, and I don’t think they realize that even with the best intentions, they don’t realize the discomfort or the damage that they’re doing. There’s little things like that all around.
I’ve heard discussions, and people are so frustrated with it, men will say that everything you do now is sexual harassment. And I said “No, we just want respect.” I really don’t think a lot of men understand the extent. I always say, “Would you say that to your male friend?” “Well of course not, he’s a guy.”
I get it that we’re different, and we want to be different. We want to be treated with equality, but I don’t want to go as far as like – I used to think dresses were bad, that I needed to wear pants, because I needed to show men that I was strong. This whole idea that anything feminine became bad in my mind because I didn’t want men to think I was weak. Now that’s awful. And I love wearing dresses. They’re the most comfortable things in the world. Men should wear dresses, they’re the best.
I hit this huge extreme, and then I realized “You know what? I love getting dressed up in a pretty dress, and dancing around.” And that doesn’t make me look weak, and shouldn’t make me look weak either. Now I’m dedicated to embracing my feminine energy, embracing my femininity and who I am as a woman, and translating it and showing that it equates to strength. That’s my mission. And I feel like that’s been my calling.
I also like to work with girls with body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, because I think that’s a really big thing society has pushed on women – to be very thin. When I was back working in Los Angeles, I definitely had eating problems and things like that. There’s just so much, and I feel like I have this great opportunity and responsibility to just be a beacon of health. I’m trying really hard to stay healthy and be a representative of what I hope. I want to be a woman that inspires people. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
But I have to live it. That’s the thing, I can’t just go out and pretend, I have to really live it. Be healthy, be strong, be confident, be brave. And I’m just like everyone else, I have struggles, I have insecurities, I have all those things. It’s kind of nice because I feel like I’m right there, and if I can succeed then anyone can succeed. And so I’d like to show women that it’s very possible, to work in an industry where it is male dominated and to be successful, and to not have to do anything that sacrifices your morals or beliefs to get there.
TM: Yeah, you couldn’t have picked a better time to be vocal with this message, with so many women emboldened to come out and speak about how they’ve suffered from abuse.
HJ: It’s very real. I think the big ones like rape of course, those are the biggest things to be addressed. But I’m also very passionate about the little things, because I do feel that it’s the little things that lead to the big things. And I don’t think people realize how tiny – I’ve done it. I’m guilty of it.
I’m guilty, as a female, of walking up to a girl that’s loading in gear and being like, “Which one’s your boyfriend?” just assuming that she’s not in the band. I’ve done it. And she’s like “I play bass.” That was years ago, but still you realize that it’s in all of us. Little tiny misconceptions and assumptions can do extreme damage.
So I guess all I’m asking is that people try and be aware. Look alive. Be aware. Really think about what you’re saying before you say it and also don’t be afraid to call somebody out. I think especially with men, they’re so afraid to look uncool or whatever if they call out one of their friends or something. But I think if we all just say it – if you see somebody doing something, and they probably don’t even know they’re doing it – some of my favorite people, including myself, say and do things that are perpetuating sexism and stereotypes and all this ugly shit that just needs to be stopped.
That’s all. Most people have the best intentions and they don’t realize certain things are negative and are affecting society negatively. I worked for Disney, and I love Disney, and they’re doing great things now like Moana, and empowering female protagonists, you know? Because back when I was working there I was like, “Man, every single story is about this woman needing to be saved by a man.” We’re making strides, it’s happening. I’d like it to happen faster I suppose.
TM: Well, you’re just talking about evolution, that’s all. Evolution of music, evolution of our social structures. It’s like a slow moving ship.
HJ: That’s why we’re Haley Jane and the Primates. I’m all about evolution.
TM: So what do you have coming up, you guys are on tour supporting the new album?
HJ: Yeah, we just extended it too. We just added our first Colorado dates, going to New Mexico for the first time, shooting down to Virginia – it’s great. There are a couple things that are so exciting. We’re opening up for Umphrey’s McGee, which is one of our favorite bands as a group. We couldn’t be more excited for that happening. We’re doing a Phish pre-party. We’re doing this great thing for New Year’s, we’re doing “A Party of Five, a Tribute to the Nineties”. We’re going to be doing all sorts of alternative rock like Nirvana and Alanis, and we’re going to dig deep into that for our New Year’s run, so that’s going to be fun.
I’m also going to be doing some recording out in the Northampton area at Spirit House working with Danny Bernini. I have a project called “Yes Darling” with Ryan Montbleau. It’s a newer thing. We’re recording our first album. We’re hoping to release it on Valentine’s Day. It’s a kind of June Carter and Johnny Cash meets Tenacious D thing.
It’s comedic, but it’s like we’re a couple and we dress all forties / fifties and we go on stage and sing about trying to be in an open relationship and arguing. It’s a little more realistic of what it’s like to be in a long-term relationship. But then there are love songs too, and it’s really fun.
We opened up for Everyone Orchestra for a few shows, and we’re going to be doing a bunch of shows next year, so once we drop the album on Valentine’s Day we’re going to be touring with a bunch of shows to back that album as well.
TM: It sounds like you have a lot to look forward to. Thanks for spending the time with me today.
HJ: Thank you so much. Have a great day.