by Dwain Hebda
Country music prodigy Bailey Hefley got her start at the ripe old age of 11 on the stage of famed dive bar in Little Rock, White Water Tavern. It’s a surreal memory and one of Hefley’s favorite stories from her early days.
“My brother is four and a half years younger than me; I was big sister tagging along to cheer him on at his T-ball game,” she says. “Every time he’d have a T-ball game I would beg my dad to take me over to White Water because it was only like 10 minutes away from the field. We had a family friend who let me get up and sing ‘Me and Bobby McGee.’ I still have CD recordings of it.
“I love that part of my story because it’s so unexpected. I lived it and even I’m surprised by it. Looking back, I can’t believe I convinced my dad to take me there.”
The back end of the story is more poignant. Hefley suffered debilitating seizures when she was a kid, a condition regulated by medications that put her in a constant daze. But the stage had a countering effect on the meds, as the ruffian bar crowd at the White Water witnessed. Having conquered the medical condition in her teens, Hefley today finds herself still discovering what her voice is capable of.
“I’m always being told that I fit vocally into the country genre, but I do have some R&B in my voice,” she says. “I attribute that to my first vocal coach in Nashville who trained me on Southern gospel. At 13, that’s what I was doing.”
“I listen to so many different types of music. I definitely don’t limit myself to just country even though that’s my genre; a lot of times I will just randomly turn on a playlist on Spotify.”
Her new EP, “So.That.Girl.” is a testament to these influences. From the light, pop-tinged title track to the simmering breakup number “Dust on A Diamond,” Hefley shows several sides of her voice while displaying a compelling interpretive range. And that development continues on the new tracks she’s just laid down in California for a forthcoming project.
“I was out in LA recording this past week, and sometimes it takes me a couple passes; usually the first couple passes I’m just warming up,” she says. “And every single time, the pass that we keep, I feel it and I know internally that I was feeling the emotion. That’s really where [my singing] comes from.
“It’s not even thought, as much as it’s literally putting myself back in that memory of what I wrote the song about. Then I know that I got the right pass.”
Asked whether she’s a songwriter who sings or a singer who writes songs, she shrugs. It’s mercurial by the day, so she sees no point in putting one label ahead of the other.
“I guess I could be whatever you would like to call me,” she says. “When I was younger, I was absolutely a singer who wrote songs. But as I’ve gotten older the answer keeps evolving. Lately, I’ve been telling people that I like writing songs as much as I like singing. I don’t think that was the answer 10 years ago.”