Singer/Songwriter Elise Hayes pairs her sweet and soulful vocals with strikingly witty lyrics to create a refreshing and dynamic sound filled with honest storytelling. Hailing from a small town in New Hampshire, educated at Berklee College of Music in Boston and based in Nashville, Tennessee, Hayes’ background is far too versatile to settle her into any specific style.
“I know it sounds so cliche, but I really don’t remember a time where I didn’t want to do music,” Hayes shares. She reflects on her upbringing, remembering her dad playing guitar and singing in her family’s living room. She grew up listening to music from the 1960s and 1970s, specifically recalling listening extensively to Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
The first song she truly remembers connecting with is Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. Through that song, she began to really wonder if music was something she could do, too. “In high school, I quit every sport I was playing and dove into musical theater and started going to summer programs. I really loved that and really felt so much more ‘myself’ in those places,” Hayes adds, noting that in college she began writing songs.
After graduating from college in Boston, Elise settled on moving to Nashville. She took a leap of faith and has now been in Nashville for eight years, working as an artist and songwriter. “Nashville really has an incredible sense of community. There is no other city like this. Everyone here is so creative and so excited to meet each other,” she fondly shares.
Reflecting on the talent she was surrounded by when she first stepped into the Nashville music scene, she shares that she began playing shows at a hotel bar. Amongst her- Brothers Osborne, Kacey Musgraves, and Lucie Silvas. “I thought, wow, these people are really good. I wonder if anyone will make it big!” she laughs, sharing that being around them also raised the bar for the level of talent and the kind of people she chose to surround herself with. Hayes gained traction writing music for film and TV shows, including ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”, BET’s “Being Mary Jane”, the CW’s “Beauty and the Beast” and more and has written for prominent artists like Lucie Silvas and Jill Andrews.
After years of writing and playing shows in Nashville, Hayes felt as though she began to hit a wall. The humdrum and routine began to wear on her creatively, before she was given the opportunity to sub for her friend Carly Pearce for two weeks on her radio tour, playing keys for her. “We had a lot of fun and I think she really enjoyed having a friend there and the whole experience opened my world up,” she reflects. Hayes signed on for a year and headed out on the road with Pearce for what she describes as a ‘magical experience’.
About six months into being on the road, Hayes began to feel the pull of reconnecting to her own music. “I think I was feeling like I was really losing my voice. At some point, as magical as it was, and it really was magical, I started to ask myself ‘how does this apply to my music?’” she details, noting that the decision to leave the road and return to Nashville was incredibly difficult.
Releasing her new single “Float” in 2018, the whimsical and heartfelt song captured that exact path of taking a leap of faith and following your dreams. “Hearts change in a heartbeat I’m following a ghost that lives inside of me” is a prominent line in the song -written with fellow Nashville songwriter, Johnny Mo, after both experienced the whirlwind of touring with other artists. “The song came out really quickly and I just knew, immediately after we wrote it, that this was going to be the first song I put out because it tells the whole story of the last two years,” she says.
Hayes later released “Giving Up” in April of 2019, and has been hard at work in her home studio working on her new music. She is not only involved in the writing, but is also producing her own music. She shares that when she got off the road and started meeting with producers about her music, she didn’t feel that she met anyone who shared her vision and passion for her music.
Hayes had previous experience tracking vocals and gleaned other producing knowledge from previous gigs, and decided to produce her own music. “My wheels started turning and I knew I had a lot of amazing instrumentalist friends here, so why am I trying to hire a dude that doesn’t really relate to my music anyway?” she shares, the empowerment and confidence present in her voice today.
It’s easy to see why Hayes’ music resonates with fans of all genres. Her smooth vocals with her thoughtful lyrics (and a little bit of sass thrown in) cover a range of emotions and experiences that can be considered universal.
*Photos by Rachel Deeb