- Wed, 2007-03-14 14:41
At 19, Hayley Westenra has achieved more than most people would hope to in their entire lives. She has sung for presidents, queens and prime ministers, she has become a committed ambassador for UNICEF, and has sold over 3 million records worldwide.
And although a New Zealander Hayley has settled in England, the inspiration for her third album comes from nearer home. Her family has always been musical, and her grandmother was a singer in her earlier years. Hayley learnt many of the songs on this record by having them passed down to her through the generations. She felt it was time to recognise that debt by presenting her own gorgeous versions of them on here new album, Treasure, release in February 2007.
I Like Music caught up with the hugely talented Hayley Westenra to talk about her new album, singing for presidents and Queens, and getting girls to school.
“I Like Music because… it feeds the soul, it balances you and there’s always a song for every mood that you’re in.” Hayley Westenra
ILM: Your new album, Treasure is out now, released this week, just incredibly lovely. Many of the songs have been passed down to you through the generations. Was it a bit like going through an old photo album, sifting through these old songs from your family album?
Hayley: Yeah it was actually. It’s very much like that when I’m performing the songs. When I perform Danny Boy I just can’t help thinking of my nanna and her singing it. I’m also including songs that I’ve picked up on my travels, and a few self-penned ones as well, because I think it’s really important to add new music into the mix. To keep on creating new music as well as keeping old tunes alive.
ILM: So like a scrapbook of old and new stuff?
Hayley: It really is; it’s basically a scrapbook of my musical history.
ILM: It must be a real buzz to hear the final product?
Totally, it’s always exciting when you complete an album. But this one, it’s a very personal album, so it’s very special, and it has a real theme to it, a real thread. I think it’s been very well put together, so I’m very proud of it.
ILM: Your debut international album PURE went straight in at No.8 in the UK pop album charts and No.1 in the Classical Charts, making you the fastest-selling debut classical artist of all time. Wow. How does that feel? And how did you feel when you got that news?
Hayley: I didn’t know what people’s expectations were, so when I was told I was number eight, I was like, ‘wow…is that good? Are people pleased with that?’ Looking back now I know what a huge achievement it is. Especially because I was a new artist and I wasn’t doing mainstream pop music and I wasn’t getting heavy radio play like a lot of the pop artists get, and I wasn’t doing TV or on the music video stations, so, looking back now I’m really thrilled with it. But, at the time I was 16 and new to the whole music business and new to the UK and I was quite overwhelmed by it all.
ILM: Pure went on to be the best selling album of all time in New Zealand, becoming 12 times Platinum and spending 18 weeks in the charts and you’ve sold a massive three million albums around the world. What ambitions do you have left to achieve?
Hayley: Well, I intend to make a lot more albums and, every time I make an album, I’m always keen to push myself. One of my goals, for example, was to record music that I’d written, to start writing tracks for my album. That I’ve achieved, I did do more writing, but there are three and half songs on Treasure, and those are some of the favourite tracks, so that’s so exciting. Turning on the radio and hearing one of the songs you’ve written played on air is the most amazing feeling. Also hearing your melodies played by the orchestra in the recording studio, so that’s something I’ve achieved and want to continue doing. I’m always going to want to continue to develop as a vocalist, and I’m hoping my voice will keep on strengthening and developing. Just like any musician, I want to develop in that area.
ILM: You’re an Ambassador for UNICEF and have a Bikes for Ghana’ provided 6,000 bikes to help young Ghanaian girls attend school. It must be great to make such a difference to people’s lives?
Hayley: Yeah totally, I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction out of giving pleasure to people through my singing, that’s fantastic, but it’s only entertainment. But with this work it’s saving people’s lives. When I went to Ghana and saw all these poor children who had nothing and had been through so much, I couldn’t have just left and forgotten about it. I was just really driven and motivated to start up a project and getting girls to school is really important, so these bicycles will help them. We’ve got over our target of 6000 bicycles, which is really fantastic and we’re going to continue with that project as well as starting up a new one which relates back to the lack of clean water. So I’m hoping to go out to Ghana again this year or next year.
It’s really exciting work. And also I’m a Matron for the Women’s Environmental Network. That’s very really relevant and important at this time. Especially with, we’re at a really critical stage in terms of Global Warming and we’re at a real turning point and helping raise awareness of what people can do to help, to do their bit, is fantastic. So it’s really exciting.
But there’s always a lot of work to do on that front, there’s always more you can do.
ILM: You’ve performed for Her Majesty the Queen, President Bush and Tony Blair, Prince Charles. Is that nerve-wracking?
Hayley: Well, it’s quite funny because I actually find I’m not nervous because the Queen or someone of that ilk is in the crowd, but if it’s a muso, a musician, like Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber who was also in the audience, if someone like him is in the audience, then I’m shaking in my shoes. But it’s really kind of bizarre how nerves work. At an All Blacks rugby match in front of thousands of people on the stands and millions watching at home, you’d think I’d be really nervous for that, but I’m enjoying every minute of it.
ILM: They always win when you open for them. Do you feel pressure though now to open for them to make sure they win?
Hayley: They are such a fantastic team I can’t take any credit whatsoever. I’m singing for them for the Rugby World Cup this year, and I’m really crossing my fingers that they pull through because they’re in such great form at the moment. And it’s such a great team to sing for really. You do your bit, you go to the stands and watch the game and then winning the match, it’s a really great day out.
ILM: When performing for the likes of HRH The Queen and President Bush, do you get to meet them and have a bit of a chat with them?
Hayley: Every time that I’ve performed for Prime Ministers and Queens, I get to meet them afterwards and at least shake their hand. I’m heading out to America tomorrow with a talented group called Celtic Woman, they’re huge in the states and their second album is at number four in the Billboard charts, so I’m going to be kicking off St Patrick’s day. So I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to speak to Bush, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to squeeze in a little discussion about the environment, because it’s something I’m very passionate about. It’d be such a waste if I didn’t.
ILM: OK, so of all the top venues you’ve played at: Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, Wembley Arena and the Royal Albert Hall – which one stands out in your mind as the absolute best for you?
Hayley: Performing at the Royal Albert Hall was a huge buzz. I’ve performed there a number of times now. But I remember first arriving in London and driving past the place and saying, ‘wow, wouldn’t it be amazing to play there,’ and a week later I was, at the Classical Brits. About a year and a half ago I was performing at churches and cathedrals tour and goodness, the places I performed in, they were just stunning. Some of these cathedrals are so beautifully designed as well as having the most amazing atmosphere, the vibe throughout the whole concerts were so special, and those are the concerts that have really stuck in my mind and had the most impact, they don’t have to be the big venues. Particularly Shrewsbury Abbey, it was beautiful. I had my mum with me and she was taking pictures of the place, and the acoustics there of course are gorgeous as well, so that always helps.
ILM: Your voice makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Do you do a lot of vocal training to keep it in shape?
Hayley: Yeah. I think for a start it’s really important to keep your whole body healthy, because your body’s health is reflected in your voice. So, I just try to get enough sleep, drink enough water and eat the right food, as it makes a huge difference to my singing. And also vocal exercises as well, you have to do those every once in a while. But I think it’s really important not to push your voice and let it develop naturally.
ILM: You’ve worked on a lot of film and TV themes too. What’s your advice to musicians in getting into writing for film and TV?
Hayley: I haven’t done any writing, I’ve just been lending my vocals to soundtracks. There’s a drama series called Jekyll for the BBC. And I’ve recorded the vocals for the soundtrack as well as the theme song. There’s a British film coming out called Flood, which I’ve sung the theme song for. What else? The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino, I sang the end titles song for that. It’s really exciting because you get to see the visuals and you get to see the previews too. I’m doing some more recording for Jekyll tomorrow.
Once you get involved in one song, people start inviting you to get involved in other films. So if anyone wants to get into it, I guess, start small and work your way up really. Do a score for a small film and hopefully people will start taking notice and use you for a bigger film.
ILM: What songs do you enjoy playing live the most?
Hayley: Well in my shows, I include classical, folk and a bit of easy listening pop, so I take the audience on a real journey, and each style adds a lot to the concert, so it’s really hard to choose. At the moment though, I’m a big fan of folk. I think the album is definitely folk influenced. But, I enjoy singing classical and pop as well. I like fusing styles together.
Hayley Westenra’s new album, Treasure, is out now, released February 26, 2007.