Interview: Hayley Thompson-King

Photo by Simon Simard. Styled by Rachel Rule Walker.

From horse culture to high culture—Hayley Thompson-King is one of the most unique artists on the scene today. Raised in Florida and spending weekends watching her dually-driving father’s team roping competitions, the young, small-town girl began to develop an undeniable talent that pulled her in a classical direction.

“I think I’ve always had classical leanings, my voice has a ton of vibrato and I had a classical-sounding voice. My parents were like, ‘We guess we’ll get you voice lessons,’” she laughs. “I had this teacher whose husband was an opera singer, and she gave me Italian songs to learn. On the other side of things, I was at a horse show every weekend. I finally got to the point where I was like ‘Fuck it. I’m going to write what I want to write,’” she declares. “What I had was unusual, so I decided to use it.”

Thompson-King, who resides in Massachusetts and has a Master’s degree in Opera Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, is gearing up to release her gut-punching new album, Psychotic Melancholia, on September 1st via Hard To Kill Records. With a voice that’s barely contained within the record’s digital grooves, Thompson-King rocks hard, her goosebump-inducing, bone-rattling, fuzzed-out country bravado powers through the speakers like a sonic monsoon. “I love playing guitar and making a big sound with it,” she says. “I found a way to incorporate my voice into that. Then, the music that really gets my heart going is by artists like Waylon Jennings, classic country just speaks to me,” she continues. “Melancholy is the state where you’re waiting for creativity to strike, it’s our life, this painful period of waiting,” she says. “When I get too complicated in my writing, I listen to Waylon because his music is simple and it just works.”

Psychotic Melancholia also features some stories inspired by “bad girls” of the Bible viewed through the lens of gender politics. “My parents weren’t overly religious, but I became obsessed with burning in hell and learning how to avoid it,” she laughs. “There was a summer camp in my town that had ponies, and they’d let us ride them and we had all these fun activities. Then, they’d show us these end-times films—they’re terrifying—but every year, my mom would be like ‘Do you want to go back to camp?’ and I’d be like ‘Ponies!’ and go back. After a while, I didn’t buy it—I felt like the women, especially Lot’s wife, totally resonated with me, she was defiant character,” she adds. “A lot of the women in the Bible who are considered evil or wicked, in my interpretation, were deemed so because they questioned the men’s crazy ideas. I thought they were just really smart and got a bad rap. I wrote a couple of songs called ‘about Lot’s wife; her husband is a creep, and in my version of her story in my song, her freedom happened when she turned into a pillar of salt.”

The disparity in the way men and women are viewed and treated weighs heavily on Thompson-King, and those emotions come through in her songwriting. “It’s just in me, and in a lot of women, especially right now. My songs are about things that are unfair, because women were treated differently, and are treated differently,” she explains. “Women have to play a game just to be safe. I have a great dad, and a great partner who are both great men, and I had a really positive environment, but I feel like fear of men is a real thing, it’s pervasive for women all around the world,” she continues. “I’m still kind of working out words for where that comes from in me.”

From rockabilly-tinged bangers to tender ballads, and even a beautiful example of her operatic skills in album closer “Wehmut,” Psychotic Melancholia has a little something for every palate, and Thompson-King is thrusting her flag into the landscape with her fiery brand of rockicana. The world will be better for it.

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