Hayley Thompson King wants you to get it so badly
The fifth sentence that Hayley Thompson King says to me, with cherubic fringed blonde hair and a wide smile, is: “I don’t drink milk because I don’t trust the government.” Coming from her, it doesn’t sound conspiratorial or crazy; it’s slightly kooky and interesting and yet, we move on.
She’s hard to pin down in several regards (her sense of humor and predisposition to dairy-related conspiracies, to start) but mainly, her creative output is hardest to describe. One way to define her: Operatic singer/producer/composer influenced by German art (Brecht and Weill, for example). Or: Artist who mixes a distinct sound of cerebral psychedelic country, but also is writing a play, but also sings opera.
I first saw Hayley at Atwood’s, opening (solo) for GA-20. She’s a mesmerizing performer because everything vocally, lyrically, performatively has depth and richness to it. When she sings, she can sound delicate and sweet before launching into a guttural, musical scream. Because of this -- her clever, experimental approach to music -- she admits that finding a place to fit in can be hard, “I don’t feel right in a honky tonk in Nashville, I don’t always feel right on stage even here.”
Hayley’s uniqueness ties closely with her bullheadedness, which has followed her since childhood. “I willed myself to be able to sing. One day I decided I could sing and essentially said, ‘Mom, Dad, here I am!’...It made me feel really special that I could sing.”
And Hayley really could sing -- enough that she was accepted to NYU’s opera program. She liked the students in the program. She liked playing music theory drinking games. She liked that they had a “cool intelligence to them.” And while she loved being in New York and the independence it allowed her, it also meant she struggled with drinking, drugs, depression, and witnessing 9/11, watching the towers collapse from a rooftop in the city.
The chaos requested an equal yet opposite force, one of organization and structure. Thus came graduate school.
On her first day at the New England Conservatory, standing in front of faculty, Hayley couldn’t even speak. Physically. She took a leave to get surgery on her nodes, requiring that she stay speechless for several weeks in the care of her parents in Florida. It was a test of her patience and will, but also, maybe a much-needed respite from the mayhem of her life.
Hayley recovered, graduated, and sang professionally for five years, jumping from production to production. However, most of her productions didn’t spark creativity or pride in the way she was hoping, so as she transitioned out of productions led by others, she gradually picked up writing her own material.
Now, several years later, Hayley is working on a piece that mixes all of her interests and talents. Her album Sororicide is inspired by Kurt Weill and Burtolt Brecht’s play about two sisters who are actually one person. Hayley has a whole team doing visual work, animations, and writing a script. The album admittedly will “rip off a lot of classical music,” but Hayley beams when she talks about her vision for it.
“It’s about how there’s always two sides to any woman or artist,” she said. “There’s the pragmatic side, and there’s the creative side.”
Beyond working through the tension of being a female artist, Hayley spends her time teaching students whom she’s “constantly inspired by,” leading courses like rock ‘n’ roll history. “You know,” she said, “rock is really whatever the white men had to say.” Hayley also looks ahead to a PhD where she can continue to think about women in music.
But mostly, whether she’s on stage or looking to Kurt Weill for her next song inspiration, Hayley wants to keep connecting to people through music, whether they’ve read up on Weill’s discography or simply feel Hayley’s point that she’s trying to make. “It’s painful for me when people don’t get it, when they don’t get me,” she said. “I’m constantly longing to connect with an audience because I want them to get me, to get it so, so badly.”
She said all of this with a smile, like she doesn’t believe that at any given venue, at any given show, the applause is truly for her and no one else.