May/June 2019

by Anzel Singh

Bailey Wiley: A Road Less Travelled

by Anzel Singh

Bailey Wiley: A Road Less Travelled

The blend of hip hop production with her natural richly emotive neo-soulful voice has led to Bailey Wiley being badged as both genre- and era-bridging. Strong explorative EP releases in 2013, ‘14 and 2016 are now being backed up with a self-titled EP that’s enjoyed input from the luminary likes of Josh Fountain, Tom Scott, High Hoops, Melodownz, Smokey, Eno and others. A showcase of diversity within the Kiwi hip hop talent pool that the artist describes as being the first time she’s felt like she has created a pure reflection of herself. Anzel Singh had the pleasure of talking with her for NZM.

Hawera native Bailey Wiley was born into a musical family, one grandfather being an amateur musical-theatre director. She tells of singing from a young age, but more pointedly says she’s always acknowledged change as something pivotal to the growth process of being an artist.

“I kept putting myself in these crazy musical situations where I would be scared and shaking. I had to do those things to become the bigger, greater version of myself that I could see in my mind, but I wasn’t quite there yet. It was freaking scary.”

Wiley cutely admits to days of singing Beyonce and Christina Aguilera songs in the mirror with her hairbrush, but it wasn’t until her teenage years that music felt like something of a definite profession possibility.

“I started writing music in high school, and that’s when I was like, ‘If I don’t sing I kind’a don’t know what I’m gonna do, because this is the one thing that makes me unique and the one thing I’m good at.’ And so I just gave it a go.”

She highlights a big break moment that could have potentially felt like dismissal, but ultimately ending up being one that made her stronger through perseverance.

“I was doing talent shows, one of which was for TV, but I didn’t make it through to the TV rounds. In the audition, the guy turned around and went, ‘I don’t get it.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to show you.’ You put everything into it and dreams are broken, but I needed to go through these things and keep crafting.”

Plans of studying at Christchurch’s National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts (NASDA), was one Wiley pursued, leaving high school early with her own agenda in mind.

“The degree that I did specialise in musical theatre and I mean I’m not a [here she sings "aaahhhh” in a jazz-hands, theatrical style] kind of person. To be honest, I was low key, a big outcast. But that was because I was trying to learn the techniques, get the tools and connections to use them the way that I needed them to work. Going to that school was the most valuable thing I’ve ever done, because of all of the techniques and tools that I’ve learnt to implement into my normal life. It was all the things I needed to learn to be the Bailey Wiley. I was low key crafting that they didn’t know about!”

Now Auckland-based and rolling with some familiar music icons in her circle, Wiley insists luck was on her side. Knowing barely a single soul she set foot in the city of sails, Wiley was invited by that one friend to Rakinos cafe for an open mic night. It led to her meeting future collaborators and people she describes now as her musical family.

“Eno, Melodownz, Yoko-Zuna, we were just kids trying to be heard. I kind’a met them all at the same time and I remember leaning over to Eden, aka Eno, and I just asked him for the mic. He kind’a looked at me like, ‘Aight’, and I was thinking to myself that I had absolutely nothing to lose right then, and everything to gain. I just sang and then we started hanging out. We’d go to that mic night like every week. We called it Free Piece.”

Real opportunity came knocking soon enough with Redbull calling Wiley to Chicago for the chance to play support for Syd Tha Kyd, getting the news in a phone call while making coffees at her cafe job. Thirty-six hours of flying, and a shower later, she was on stage living one of the most surreal moments of her life.

“I left my guts on the stage, everything that I had. We didn’t even feel like drinking after the show, so we just ordered fried chicken and stayed in bed,” she laughs. “That was it, there was no rock and roll party night, it was just thinking, ‘That was crazy!’”

It was singer and producer friend Noah Slee who convinced her out of heading to LA, suggesting Berlin instead. Three months of making music and some life learning allowed her to feel ready about releasing her first single there. S.O.M.M being one of the songs half-written in Berlin about forgetting where she was from and acting as an anchor to check herself.

Returning to New Zealand, she says that getting centred again was important for her to be able to speak her truth. Mentoring youth allowed her to reach other small town kids who felt like the world would blink and miss them. She says she felt a compulsion to communicate with them, because it would be on their level from someone who knows what it’s like.

That her forthcoming EP is self-titled reflects Wiley has gained plenty of confidence, both in who she and what her music is – she’s unapologetically adamant of it being crafted by her choices.

Songs such as Zaddy emphasise Wiley being very mana wahine and wanting to spread the message of women coming in different forms and being important. Sugar came out of a habit of writing lyrics on the back of receipts while serving café customers, putting the notes in the pocket of her apron.

It’s an epitome of honesty, an amalgamation of collaborators and a showcase of vulnerability with the hope that it touches others.

“I hope that the song feels like it’s been written about you, like, ‘I’m going through this, this is my song.’ I’m excited to grab the music by the horns and just go for it because the music is so different and I’m so different and I’ve evolved again from my little cocoon. I think the future looks good and every single song on this new project is unique and a banger in their own right!

“The beauty in all of it is that the vocal is still the same. The Bailey Wiley that you know, or have maybe heard of before, is the same but levelled up a bit. I think that’s the part people love the most.”