It’s a week to go until the March 27 release of Lo-Fi Soul, her fourth album since making it to the finals of American Idol in 2012, and Haley Reinhart is still making decisions on the packaging for the vinyl edition of the LP. She kicks off a tour in less than two weeks and hasn’t quite started rehearsals yet. Her life is busier than ever, and she’s balancing the increased workload that comes with calling all the shots for the first time, free from the sway of any labels.
“I always think that life is crazy and super busy, but it keeps getting busier, and I can’t complain. I try staying levelheaded,” the 28-year-old says. “When I step back, I know I’m doing this for a reason. I want to be in control and have the ownership that I’ve never actually had before on my previous three other albums. So that makes me happy. I know that it’s already rewarding, and I know it’s only going to continue to be more rewarding.”
Following 2017’s What’s That Sound?, an album of covers for which Haley Reinhart has become so well-known, the throwback soul vocalist wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the new album. Some of them she’s held onto for as many as eight years, waiting for the right opportunity to come along.
Organ-led gospel-reverbed ballad “Lay It Down” has been waiting its turn since she still lived with her parents in Chicago. Both of them played in bands themselves and would take their daughter to perform with them as a child.
“There’s such an emotion and rawness … that I couldn’t change it,” Reinhart says.
Since Idol, she’s performed at Lollapalooza and also gotten into voice acting on Netflix animated comedy F is For Family, which is now going into its fourth season. She was also featured on Jeff Goldblum’s debut jazz album, The Capitol Studios Sessions, which reached the top spot on the Billboard Jazz Chart.
It was her former label’s decision to release an album of all but three covers in 2017. It was a sound business decision, as up until now it’s been Reinhart’s covers that have made the biggest noise. Her cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” with Postmodern Jukeboxspent 58 straight weeks on the Billboard Jazz Digital Charts after hitting the No. 1 spot. Her rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” also went viral, was eventually certified Gold by the RIAA and reached No. 16 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
“I really wanted to put out a full-on original album at that point, but I understood at the same rate [that] people love kind of hearing the covers from me. I also really dig the whole ’60s and ’70s aesthetic, obviously,” she says. “Now, with this record, I have taken on all of those different sounds that I’ve grown to love between rock and roll and soul and the little hints of jazz here and there.”
That style includes silky R&B, modern and Brill Building pop and the blues, which build up the foundation for her caramel-smooth vocals and piercing falsetto. She pulls equally from Nancy Sinatra and Adele.
That has allowed her to find fans in both the mainstream and niche spaces with collaborations with Postmodern Jukebox and singing clown Puddles Pity Party. Reinhart credits her upbringing in jazz, which she has performed since she was a child and studied in college, as well as taking control of her own image and creating an aesthetic that includes both modern and retro styles that speak to her.
With Lo-Fi Soul, that control extended to the sound—she even co-produced the record with eight different producers.
“I needed to make all these songs have a cohesive sound,” she says. “I have to go in there and say, ‘You know, I really want a harp sound right here, and it needs to sound like this.’ I got to play keys on some of the songs. I was more heavily involved in getting my sound and my point across to everyone involved. I’m proud of that.”
The songs on the album run the gamut, from heartfelt ballads like “Some Way Some How” to bluesy cuts like single “Don’t Know How to Love You” and cheeky kiss-off lounge tune “Honey, There’s The Door” (with a video featuring Julz Tocker of Dancing With The Stars.
Reinhart pulled from her love of writing poetry on the songs—with books of her poems that she wrote between the ages of 9 and 13. Many of the songs started with voice memos that she would bring to her various co-producers. One of them, Nashville producer Tony Esterly (Sia, BTS), took her raw recordings and used them in the final songs.
“So I’d have this original, totally lo-fi recording from my phone now an actual part of the song, which I thought was really, really neat,” she says. “I’ve kind of just established that I know where I want to take a melody and I know the stories that I want to be told. People just let me go off. I do 98 percent of all of that, melodically and lyrically speaking.”
Since she was a child, Haley Reinhart has been told by the people around her—even strangers who have heard her sing—that she has an old soul. She doesn’t disagree and says that for many years she has questioned whether she was in the “wrong time.”
But she hopes with this new record that she’s able to show her other sides and personalities with her original songs.
“I feel like these songs really show the different sides of who I am as a person,” she says. “You know? Not just the somber side or the jazzy side or whatever. I have a lot to me as an artist so I wanted to portray that as much as I could. … Now more than ever I feel like I’m here for that very purpose, to keep a lot of the old times and golden ages alive and also put my own original stamp on it.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.