Interview: Peter Robinson
Life is full of uncertainties but one unshakeable 2015 fact is that the Hailee Steinfeld single is amazing. More amazing than anybody could ever have expected. More amazing than 99% of everything released so far this year. So amazing, in fact, that it feels like we are witnessing the arrival of a new pop megastar.
Except Hailee Steinfeld isn't just a potential pop megastar, because she's already an Oscar-nominated actor as well, so that's nice. And then there's her brief time at the intersection between pop and acting, ie her appearance X3 in Taylor Swift's 'Bad Blood' video'. Which is all very interesting but it's the pop stuff that makes her one of the six most exciting 18-year-olds on Planet Earth.
Anyway, Popjustice got her on phone yesterday evening. Here's the chat, in which we really try very hard not to go down the route of asking about Taylor Swift but end up doing it anyway.
Hello Hailee. Your single is very good.
Although, I know that at the start of interviews it’s customary to flatter the talent, and you’ll have plenty of experience of this from film junkets and so on, and the idea is that you create an atmosphere where the interviewee is at ease. But in a way what’s happening here could be the opposite of putting you at ease, because the single is so good that there's now a question over whether the album will live up to the incredible expectations 'Love Myself' has created.
Well it’s interesting how this has all come together, and you’re right when you say that I’ve kind of done all this before with movies. And in relation to the single, obviously I’ve worked with an incredible team of people who’ve done nothing but help me to execute what I have in mind. But one thing I’m confident of is that we do have a body of work behind ‘Love Myself’. And it’s so exciting to know that there are quite a few songs we have that I can’t wait to put out there. And it is nerve-wracking because obviously people are entitled to their opinions and to see whether they like the other songs as much — or not — will be interesting, but I am so excited to be putting music out. It’s been exciting so far.
I saw an interview where you said you ‘fell into’ making music, and I wonder how easy it is just to fall into it. Did you management approach the label, or did the label come to you?
Well I went to an event in New York City and ended up sitting next to Charlie Walk from Republic Records. I was with my mum; there was no strategic seating, he didn’t know us, we didn’t know him. We got to talking and there was a Pitch Perfect connection because Republic had worked on the soundtrack of the first movie. I expressed to Charlie how much I wanted to make music and he had headphones with him, so I played him a couple of things I’d done on my own, that I had on my phone. That’s kind of how the conversation started; we’d meet with him when he came to LA. And about four months later I signed with Republic, and I’ve been in the studio ever since.
And it’s happened quickly, too.
It’s definitely been very fast.
You said you played him stuff you’d been working on yourself — so you’d been making music already?
Yes — music has always been something I’ve wanted to do. It’s always been part of my plan and I’ve been experimenting with it since, well, since I was like 12. In the last couple of years I’ve been working with a family friend, Chase Duddy. He’d produce the music and it was kind of an experiment to see if I liked it in the studio. And I loved it.
When you got further into discussions with Republic, what did you say to them about what you wanted to do? What kind of artist did you want to be? This single is a very big pop song — a lot of people in your position might have been all about making sensitive acoustic guitar music. This is very straightforward pop. What vision did you have?
Well, I get excited about… Well, just about everything. But someone will show me one song and I’ll fall in love with it, then someone will show me an entirely different song and I’ll fall in love with that too. So I had a very hard time verbally translating what I wanted my sound to be. I’d name different artists as examples but I just wasn't very clear because I don’t think I knew exactly what I wanted. So it was a combination of knowing partly what I wanted, and then putting my trust in the people around me. And out of that came ‘Love Myself’ and the rest of what we have. I was told that finding my sound would take a while and that it wouldn’t be easy — I wasn’t prepared for it to happen this quickly.
What’s the best song on your album?
The best song on the album‽ I can’t tell you that! They’re all amazing. I don’t know. I’m still living with ‘Love Myself’. I’m learning about the process of songs where they can be written and then they sit for years and then finally they’re released. With ‘Love Myself’ I’ve been living with it for months and it’s only been out for a matter of weeks. The fact that it’s out there means a whole new way of living with it.
Is there one song on your album that’s got you thinking, ‘people are going mental for ‘Love Myself, but wait until they hear this one’?
I have to honestly say — this may not be the answer you’re looking for — but there are more than a handful of songs that I can’t wait for people to hear. Just because I feel they’ll resonate with people for multiple reasons. The producers I’m working with, Mattman & Robin, they’re so creative and they’re some of the best guys I’ve ever met. The tracks they’ve created are so different and so unique. And Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, the writers I’ve been working with, are unique and different and love to go leftfield with things. There are a lot of songs on this album that will surprise people.
Mattman & Robin seem like they’re on the verge of having a huge few years.
I hope so, they’re amazing.
Who else has been working on the album?
Fortunately I’ve done the majority, really all of it, with Mattman & Robin and Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. We’ve been keeping notes. We’ve had Max Martin and Shellback come in and put their spin on things. It’s been amazing to collaborate with this group and to have it just work. I’m so happy with this team.
What does Max do? Is it like, there’s a song happening, he’ll come in, make some suggestions then go off again?
Pretty much. And Mattman & Robin are in pretty much constant contact with him.
Obviously this is one of them, but you’re asked about Taylor Swift so much in interviews that I’m wondering if your friendship with her, as well as helping your career, might run the risk of overshadowing it?
You know, it’s done nothing but help me. In my music career and in my acting career she’s such an incredible human being. And she’s such a professional. And just to watch her — I mean we’ve all seen how incredible she is on stage and in interviews but recently I had the honour of being in the ‘Bad Blood’ video and physically being on set with her in her work environment it was amazing to see just how she does her thing. It was fascinating. So I’d say it’s done nothing but help me as an artist and as a person.
When you went out on stage with Taylor during a performance of 'Bad Blood', you'd recorded 'Love Myself' but the world hadn't heard it yet. Did you walk out and imagine going out to the sound of ‘Love Myself’?
I MAY HAVE! (Giggles) The girls I was with, we were like, ‘right, we’ve got to take this in because it’s going to happen and it’s going to end quicker than it happens and we won’t know what hit us’. And we went out there and none of that came into play — it was the craziest. You can’t even see half the people in there but you can hear them and you can feel them. It’s the most insane feeling. We got off and we were like, ‘what the heck just happened?’.
I’ve seen you talking in interviews about 'Love Myself' being an empowerment anthem, is that right?
Is it also, in a sense, and this may say more about me than it does about the song, about having a wank?
(Laughs) Well. The lyrics are subject to the listener so it’s up to their interpretation. But for me it’s an empowerment record and it’s ultimately about taking care of yourself and indulging yourself, whether that be emotionally or physically or with material things. It just really shows how much power there is in being able to provide for yourself.
A perfectly stated answer to an awkward question.
Which other artists would you recommend at the moment?
Well I know everyone’s heard her at this point but I’m in love with Tove Lo, everything about her. Halsey is awesome, Bea Miller is really cool.
Will you have a clear line between your two careers over the next year or so?
What do you mean?
Are you going to be promoting films while you’re promoting your album, or have you set aside 18 months to launch your musical career?
I’m definitely going to continue acting. I haven’t done both at the same time yet but it will be interesting to see how it works and I know it can be done. I love both way too much not to continue in both. I’m gonna make it work, whether that means doing both at the same time or separating them. We’ll figure it out.