She’s on a journey of vulnerability and growth that she hopes will lead to creative independence—the path is in no way linear, but Haley Griffin plans to follow wherever it leads. A 2020 Berklee graduate who knows what it’s like to put too much pressure on yourself, she wants to remind other musicians that sometimes sentimentality can take precedence over perfection. However, her dreamy debut single “Ferris Wheels”—which comes straight from her high-school songwriting days—proves that the two can co-exist. It invokes just the state of mind that she set out to capture: those moments that allow you to be free of your feelings and your restless mind, and simply be. In our interview, Haley tells me what the process of getting the song ready for its release taught her about perfectionism and artistic growth.
Tell me about your musical journey—how did you know music would be your career?
Initially I was going to go into English, so I attended Loyola University of Chicago for a semester. It immediately felt weird not to be doing music because it had been such a huge part of my life from elementary to high school. So I actually transferred to Berklee at semester; I absolutely adored it and knew it was the right decision.
I’m sure it was scary to realize all of a sudden that the path you had chosen wasn’t for you and you had to change everything!
Oh yeah. Definitely. It was a cross-country move, and I never knew I was going to be that far from home. But I had to—it’s what I wanted to do.
Your single “Ferris Wheels” just debuted—what inspired it? What was the process of creating it?
It’s the only song that has survived from my songbook in high school. I definitely had to scrap a lot of songs, but “Ferris Wheels” I wrote when I was 16 on a child-size nylon string guitar. That was such an important part of the recording for me that it had to be the nylon, because I was so used to hearing it. So our guitarist would record on steel, but eventually we realized we needed nylon. I initially had started the lyrics as a poem and converted them to a song, and I initially thought I just wanted guitar and vocals, but as the piece grew we kind of took some inspiration from Iron & Wine, Kings of Convenience, and Kacey Musgraves to get a little more lush and full sound to emphasize the meaning.
Who are your musical inspirations?
It’s pretty diverse — I typically name eight artists when people ask me this. The women are Kacey Musgraves, Sabrina Claudio, Billie Eilish, and Beyonce, and the men are Harry Styles, Billy Joel, Kings of Convenience, and Panic! at the Disco. Those are my favorites—they’re all over the place, so my music can be all over the place, but I’m trying to keep the Haley Griffin sound in the middle of it. All the influences come together to shape something new.
What have your best experiences at Berklee been?
That’s tough, because a lot of the knowledge I’ve taken in is just amazing. I absolutely adore Pat Pattison, the poetry and lyric writing teacher. He’s really helped me with shaping my language, lyrics, poetry, and fiction writing. I’ve learned such a great deal from a lot of really top-notch professors. As far as wonderful memories, I would say all the people that I’ve met. I remember being from a small town in Wisconsin, where there’s a lot of similarities among everyone, and then going across the country to this international school where my best friends are from all over the world; learning about all these different people from all these completely different places has really helped me expand my worldview, as well as empathize with and understand people who are different from me.
If you could go back to your first semester at Berklee and give yourself advice, what would you say?
That’s a heavy one...I would say not to put so much pressure on yourself. I’ve often been a perfectionist throughout my life, and that’s why it’s my eighth semester and I’m just releasing my first song—because I would go back and think “this needs to change, this needs to change, and this needs to change.” I was so hard on myself vocally, songwriting-wise, and production-wise. But as I’ve grown throughout my Berklee career, I’ve gained the knowledge that I will only grow the more that I release music, versus trying to polish the same song over and over again. “Ferris Wheels” might not be the best song that I’ve ever written, but it’s special to me. You really grow as an artist when you allow yourself to enjoy the imperfections and move on so you can feel a sense of growth.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
In a perfect world I would love to be completely independent based off of my own creative pursuits. So I love making music, and I love writing as well. I’ve been working on a novel since I was 16—hence the English—and I’m doing a creative writing concentration within Professional Music. So if I could work on books and music alone, that would be perfect. But I also adore music publicity because I get to write about music, so that’s kind of where I’m aiming for a professional career right now, with all my creative pursuits being kind of on the side until they can be all I need if I get the chance.
How do you #getinthegroove?
It definitely varies, but I’d say one of the things that always matters to me is that I like to be by myself. I’m not the most collaborative person; I’m trying to improve on that because I know you can create beautiful art with other people. But I need to get in a safe space where there’s no technology distractions and everything’s turned off; I probably have a journal and a pencil, I’m by a piano or a guitar, or I might use my Logic ProX to create. I also love having candles, Christmas lights, or some other mood lighting, so I can be completely comfortable to express whatever it is I need to get off my chest into music.