Hayley Sales is a singer-songwriter, actress and advocate who has made it her mission to promote a healthier world through her art and activism. In this candid interview, Hayley opens up about her personal experiences with marginalization and how she uses her platform to raise awareness and inspire change. From her early days in the music industry to her current work as a performer, Hayley shares her insights and perspectives on breaking down barriers and building a more equitable and inclusive world. Get ready to be inspired and motivated by Hayley’s passion and commitment to creating a better future for all.
You’re a very diverse person, being involved in the music and acting. What made you decide to go into show business when starting to think about a career?
Before I could talk, I’d apparently raise a finger and if my older brothers and parents didn’t simultaneously break into song. I would throw a tantrum tempestuous enough to scare a tempest. I was a very emotional, very dramatic, very stubborn, and yet very vulnerable child, with an imagination that ceaselessly took me on adventures, both good and bad. If I was performing, singing, or partaking in any form of art, the shadows inside me didn’t become nightmares, they became dreams. I’d spend my days sitting on the mixing board in my dad’s recording studio, running around the yard escaping witches and swooning over princes, re-enacting I Love Lucy episodes, serenading the chickens with Gershwin or reciting Shakespearean sonnets to the trees, swept away by my own romantic imagination. Once I realized I could perform and get people to watch, my mind was blown. I’d make my family sit in the living room for hours while I belted out whatever my little heart wanted.
My first official performance was a talent show when I was five years old. I remember it so clearly…the smell of the old curtains hanging in the theatre, the creaking chairs. I was clinging to the back of my mom’s shirt, hiding behind her. Then they called my name. It was my turn. I walked on stage, the heat of the lights hit my cheeks, and began to sing Dreams to Dream (Linda Ronstadt). I was home. The stage was home. I fell head over heels in love with performing…like I’d always been meant to be there. It’s funny to say, but I feel more comfortable on a stage than anywhere else in the world. Not because I’m escaping myself or my world, but more because singing, performing, acting is the language that’s easiest for my heart to speak. And it became my one focus in life, for better or worse. I like to think for better. I never had a plan B. I guess the closest you could say was writing. Or being a Shakespearean actor. But I was so driven so early on, I never considered another path. By first grade, I was going through the newspapers looking for theatre auditions. I just loved performing on such a deep level. I guess that’s the beauty of finding out what you want to do as a kid. You haven’t been jaded by the possibility that your dream isn’t possible. Having said that, being driven from such a young age has its drawbacks…I was so focused, that a lot of being a kid fell to the sidelines. And I thought I was over the hill at thirteen and missed my chance. So ironic now as I look back on my little baby face thinking she was old.
But that fire has kept me going when everything else fell apart. And everything else did fall apart. But somehow, I couldn’t give up. I just love this whole thing called show biz too much. That moment when you look out into the audience and see the stage lights reflecting off the eyes of the people there with me, that’s kept me going. I close my eyes and remember that feeling when everything else is falling apart. I’ll never give that up that love, no matter how hard things get.
You have a great list of acting jobs behind you, including starring opposite Bruce Willis in Corrective Measures. How did you prepare for your role? Did you audition for this role?
My wonderful manager called me up as I was heading to get my Covid-19 vaccine. She had landed a wonderful opportunity for me to self-tape. The only catch? Due that evening. I hurried to the clinic, studying my lines on the way, and Zooming with my acting coach. When I got back home, I quickly threw on some makeup and pulled my hair back, propped up the backdrop and began the self-tape, having less than an hour to film and edit and upload. I tend to overthink things and generally worry about being terrible (don’t we all), so having so little time to overthink and mess things up probably worked in my favor on this opportunity.
As for preparing for the role, it was so much fun! I worked with my acting coach, Joe Anthony, for hours on end leading up to the shooting date. What I love about Joe Anthony’s approach, is that it isn’t technical. It’s story first. Empathy. Imagination. Daydreaming. It requires you to make the space to sit and daydreaming about every tiny aspect of your character’s story and not simply rely on tricks. It asks you to get out of your own way so that the story comes to life. “Hope motivates action. We tend to think of hope as a feeling but really hope is a vision of a future we’d like to manifest. So an important part of preparing for action is daydreaming about that future.” (Joe Anthony) Those are words I live by. I’ve trained primarily in The Meisner Technique (I’m a simply terrible actor if you ask me to do the line the same way twice), so my
approach has always been finding a way to not simply walk in someone else’s shoes, but wear them around long enough, they mold to your soul.
All in all, Corrective Measures will always be one of those projects I think about that instantly make my heart swell with gratitude. Everything I love about theatre, manifested on this film set. The entire project had so much collaboration built into its bones, thanks to our incredible director, that us actors were really given the freedom to dig into our character’s backstory, and bring it to life, even if that meant changing a scene. It was such an inspiration.
You grew up in your musician dad’s studio, which included being on an organic blueberry farm, but it was when you heard Judy Garland’s album that your life was changed. Tell us about this experience.
As I’m guessing you’ve picked up, I’ve been stubbornly in love with performing from the get-go but hearing Judy Garland’s voice anchored me to the type of artist I wanted to become. There is something about her…something you can’t put your finger on. It isn’t training. It isn’t perfection. In fact it’s the opposite. She’s all heart. There’s no facade. There’s no pretense. You can feel her enduring resilience, but also her brokenness and vulnerability. And so much romance. You could feel the longing and the passion in every note. She had such a humor and sadness mixed together. It’s hard to explain but when she sings you can feel everything that’s burning inside of her. I felt drawn to her heart. It beat like mine. And that was the type of performer I wanted to be. It’s still the type of performer I want to be…a big messy heart holding nothing back, singing because there’s something inside you that has to get out. We’re all flawed. No one wants to hear perfect.
Give us a rundown of your family history. What type of name is Sales? Are you named after anyone?
My last name has a bit of a history. Until my Great-Grandfather, the name was Sale. My great grandfather was born into a poor family in Virginia. Grew up in a Native community. His mother was a slave. She’d been given her freedom upon her landowner’s death, a man who’d fallen in love with her. When my Great-Grandfather came of age, he fell in love with a white woman. They married and created a life together. In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, making their marriage illegal. They had to leave. It was no longer safe. They snuck across the border into Maryland, children in tow, my grandfather the oldest. They changed their name from Sale to Sales and hid their past. None of this story was talked about. My grandfather never told my grandmother. He went on to become the VP of Coca-Cola bottling on the East Coast. He refused to speak of his ancestry and went to his grave with the secret. It breaks my heart to think of the weight he must have carried. Of all my family, I actually look the most like my grandad. I remember him always asking me to sing in front of his friends and making me feel like a star. Another part of my Great-Grandfather was a Scottish operatic singer who spent his life doing Vaudeville and performing on Broadway. My dad still has a vinyl of him singing and it brings tears to my eyes to know that I am, in many ways, carrying on that legacy.
As for my name, they named me Julia after John Lennon’s song. The night my mom was going into labor, they walked around the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the immaculate conception in D.C, my dad singing that song over and over again. My middle name is Hayley, which they chose after the Halley’s comet and because my mom had heard it meant the sea.
Speaking of my mom! I owe everything to my mom. She and my dad met in high school. He was the musician drop out type and she was the homecoming queen. She’s an award-winning writer / journalist and fierce activist with a degree in modern dance. Back in the 60s, she choreographed a dance to one of John and Yoko’s tunes and when they were unable to attend the NYC premiere, they sent her a gorgeous vase and a hand-written note.
My mom is the reason I’m a pianist. When I was little, I didn’t want to put in the hard work at the piano. I just wanted to sing. I remember her sitting me down one night and saying, “That’s fine, but it means you’ll only be able to perform when you have someone to accompany you and that means less time on stage.” My little five-year-old brain jolted into action. I sat at that piano day and night from then onwards.
Tell us about your creative process when writing a song.
I often joke I can’t write a song. It writes itself. I just get out of the way. If I try to write a song, it inevitably sucks. And the muse doesn’t tend to strike when I expect it. But when it does, it’s almost like stepping out of time. It usually happens at night when I’m alone. I’ll be sitting at the upright piano in my bedroom. A melody will pop into my head. I follow the notes to see where they go. I find the chords that feel the way the melody feels. And then I dive into the soundscape, trying to translate what the whole thing is trying to say into words. Other times, I’ll be on the highway driving, feeling, and suddenly a lyric appears in my mind. I’ll pull over and write it down as quickly as possible before it runs off into the land of lost sonnets and unsent love letters.
How has your music evolved over the course of your career?
While I definitely played a chameleon for a while there as a teenager, I’d actually say the music I am about to release is very much the same music I was writing at a very young age. In fact, some of the songs on this record I wrote all the way back at thirteen…I just never considered releasing them, thinking that they weren’t relevant, too out of place for modern times. It took me longer than maybe it should have, thanks to some massive insecurities, but I’m finally at a place where I’m ready. Having said all that, I always see the ways I can be better. There is so much to learn as an artist. I think that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. And every time I learn something new, my style molds around that new nugget of inspiration, so I’m sure my music will continue to surprise me over the years.
How did your collaboration with Sharon Stone come about?
An incredible friend, one of the angels of my life, must have brought my music to Sharon. The next thing I knew, I was walking in front of Canters Deli in LA when the phone rings. I answer, mid bite into my sandwich, “Hi…It’s Sharon Stone.” I almost tripped into the middle of the road.
At the time Sharon invited me to write with her, I was rattled by the insecurity of having just lost my record label that year, a label I had been with since I was a teenager. I was hoovering on the edge of being swallowed up in a swath of fake eyelashes, hair extensions and Hollywood’s blinding lights. When I showed up at her house, I was a handful of nerves and excitement…I’d never done a co-write before and had no idea what to expect or how to even go about it. The second she walked into the room, all that went away. She was so warm and gracious, so absolutely unpretentious, and open.
We talked for quite a while, about absolutely anything and everything. She asked me, if I had one last performance to sing one last song and the world would know me by that song, what would it be and who would I be? I remember thinking on it for a second. I knew she was right. I’d done two albums with Universal, lost another one to a different label, toured all over the world…but I hadn’t done the music I needed to do yet. I’d been scared to. Perhaps subconsciously. I was an outsider, a misfit for the era. And for a while, as a kid, I hadn’t minded. But then I started to care. I tore down all the classic film posters off my walls and hid the entire library of musical films I’d collected…I tried to be what I considered ‘normal,’ quickly developing a tendency to only feel loved through my talents. Not that that was true, but I was so insecure…I dug into my career very intently at a very young age. At some point around the age of sixteen, I moved to LA. A record company exec told me my style of music was irrelevant. That I was too dark, to emotive, too different. That I needed to find an angle if I wanted to be successful. I was shattered and impressionable and incredibly ambitious. I put that entire side of myself, all those heart infused tunes, into the closet and conjured up an entirely different version of myself. I found a good deal of success with the lighter, less dramatic tunes I released with Universal Music and wouldn’t change a thing. I remember my mom laughing and saying “I can’t believe people think you’re easygoing. You’re the least easy-going person I know.” And it’s true. I’m deeply dramatic, dramatically goofy, and emphatically romantic… So, literally the opposite of the personae I had been promenading as a teenage pop artist. And Sharon, being incredibly perceptive, must have somehow divined that from my presence.
We both resonated with the idea of unabashed romance…There’s such a courage required in letting yourself be vulnerable, letting yourself be truly in love. Romance has always been an extremely important and inspirational part of who I am and how I express myself. And not just that fall in love type of romance, but romance as a way of life. Music has always been a space where I can access that feeling, whether romance was actually happening in my life…or not. When Sharon and I began writing Never Before, we wanted to capture just that…that very special moment in life when you’re so in love, time stops and every breath feels like velvet.
Sharon sat down on the couch, notebook in hand, and I slipped off my flip flops and settled in front of the gorgeous grand piano in her living room. Never Before just began to unfold between us. It was really magical. I began playing some chords and a melody that had been haunting me that morning, while she played with the words. We wanted it to be simple. To be straightforward. But to have that charming coyness of the American songbook. Very quickly, I could sense we were onto something special. I was blown away by Sharon’s ability to weave words around a melody. The lyrics and music somehow seemed to hum at the same frequency. I can’t quite describe it, and it definitely doesn’t always happen with co-writes, but it did with us.
How do you envision the future of our planet if we continue down our current path of inaction regarding global warming? What message do you hope your music sends to listeners about this issue?
I truly believe the most dangerous thing for our planet is apathy. And while my whole being aches watching our society disregard all the signs of climate change with blatant arrogance, I think the most important thing for all of us to do right now, is reclaim our own sense of hope. A hope that we can turn back the clock on climate change. A hope that we can create a society that isn’t based on anger and separation. A hope that we can, as people, truly work together to create a world that seeks to inspire, one another not destroy one another. I know it’s hard. The world feels like a battleground right now. And the last several years have been stolen from all of us. But I truly believe, if we let apathy win, our world will be destroyed. Because if we can’t hope, then what’s the point? I’ve worked closely with Climate Reality for several years now, and scientifically, if we take action, we can turn back the clock. I think we’re all just at this point of feeling tired of trying with no signs of change. But every little action we take does make a difference even if we can’t see it. That’s where hope comes in.
In many ways, I hope that we see a shift in entertainment as well. Music and films. We’re so caught up in technology right now, the beautiful mess of being human is, in many ways, been ironed out of art. And I’m ready for the imperfections to make a comeback. I hope that my music inspires listeners and other artists to become fiercely and radically human. Fiercely and beautifully imperfect. Fiercely and vulnerably hopeful. Fall madly in love with life. All of life. Fall madly in love with love. All types of love.
What upcoming projects do you have in the works?
I’m incredibly excited to play a recurring role on AMC’s Lucky Hank, which premieres this month! And on the music front, I’ve just gotten back the master to my third album, Till the End. I’ve been working day and night on the record ever since losing the last one to the label. My blood, sweat and tears are in the production, the performance, the editing, the songs, everything. I took Sharon’s advice. I made the album that I needed to make because the songs were burning inside me and the whole process was incredibly challenging. I was still so traumatized by hitting rock bottom, losing my last record, that my insecurities swarmed like a cloud of ghosts and at times, I wanted to give up. But the people around me kept me going. The people who stuck it out with me truly bring tears to my eyes. Michael Brauer mixed the album, Joe LaPorta mastered it, my dear friend Andrew Joselyn arranged and recorded strings on nearly every song, my dad donated all his time in the studio to help me produce all twenty songs…The album took on a life of its own. It’s no longer just my creation. It’s a stained-glass window of so many people I love. I’m so grateful to be able to say, we did it and that it will be released this year.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I have an on and off again relationship with happiness. I’m one of the happiest people you’ll ever meet. I’m also one of the saddest. I’m a roller coaster. But as strange as it sounds, I love every facet of feeling. There’s a romance to the highs and also to the lows. Having said that, this early on during COVID, the sadness won. I was so broken hearted, depleted, hopeless and disillusioned, there wasn’t a single spark left. I’d lost a record to a label. I’d finished a record but couldn’t release it. There’d just been so many obstacles, I couldn’t push them aside to gain perspective anymore. I was so full of tears I could barely breath. For an entire day, I couldn’t pick my head up off the kitchen table. Perhaps it was the massive pause button COVID placed on my dreams or perhaps it was my stolen album haunting me and squeezing all the joy out of my truest love, Art…but the world just felt like a room I didn’t fit in. And I couldn’t seem to rally the romantic optimism into the trenches with me. I’d just reached rock bottom. I realized there were two options…staying stuck in that story or choosing a new one. And I forced myself to choose a new one. I began to meditate, something I’m terrible at being an incredibly A type, hyper-anxious person with an incredible tendency towards a 48-hour workday. I began to daydream and visualize the person I wanted to be. I spent hours in my mind sitting a grand piano on a stage, looking out into the gorgeous sea of eyes in the audience…and would burst into tears of absolute joy and gratitude. I felt such a sense of inner happiness, the state of dreaming became enough. At first, I thought the elation was simply a result of the daydreaming, that I was imagining my dreams finally becoming realities. And then I realized, it was deeper than that. The happiness was coming from within. That state of joy wasn’t outside of myself, it was inside me. And the more grateful I felt about the smallest of things, the more elated and inspired I would feel in my core. I’m not entirely sure happiness is the right word…our society has such a strange concept about what happiness is…but a grace, a levity, a deep sense of gratitude, started to bubble inside my heart. I’m a true believer, happiness is simply the way you look at things. And the more you can tell yourself the story you want to live in, and believe it before its reality, the quicker it will manifest.
It’s not going to be easy. There are going to be many reasons to give up. There are going to be hundreds of doors that slam in your face. And sometimes the rejection is going to get so thick, all that you can see plastered on your horizon is a big clump of failure and heartbreak. At times, the doors will slam so loudly you can’t hear the voice inside anymore and you might even question why. I know I did. I know some days I still do. But I genuinely hope you hear me when I say this: If you truly need to write, if you truly need to sing, if you TRULY need art to survive, let me be that person yelling out over all that rejection telling you to keep going. Don’t turn around. It might not happen overnight and that’s okay. In some ways, now that I’m starting to climb my way out of the dark, murky little dwelling I’ve been wading in for years, I’m more grateful for the loss and rejection than the successes. It forced me to develop grit.
When I lost everything in 2016, I crumbled up in a shell of myself. The betrayal, the unfairness, the loss, was so shattering, I almost couldn’t believe the pain. It was one, maybe two voices that got me back on my feet, that convinced me to not give up. And if there is any way I can be one of those voices for you, telling you to be resilient, to dig in and keep going, then I feel as though my entire experience was worth it. So, dig deep. Find whatever it is inside you that’s just aching to get out. There is no way you will fail. The art is worth it. People might not get it at once, and that’s okay. If you’re creating the music you need to hear, there will be many others who need to hear it too.
Just focus on the art. Keep your head down and keep going. If you work hard enough and are in it for the right reasons, your time is coming. And lastly, stay grateful. Stay grateful for everyone and every little thing that comes your way. Support is precious. Friendship is irreplaceable. And most important, stay in love with your art.