Bailey Wiley : : Music Talks

“Out of the blue, for the last few weeks I’ve had people asking me, ‘Where are you from?’ And of course I’m like, ‘I’m from Taranaki.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, I thought you were from America or something.’ [laughs] I’m from a town that’s so small you could blink and you would miss it. The only thing we had for years was a KFC. This is real life shit, you know. I was just a kid with a big dream who got out, that’s the difference.”


The first time I met Bailey Wiley was June of last year. I was covering bFM’s Morning Glory for Esther, and had broken out into a cold sweat about the technical aspects of operating the show in the midst of a live performance. Fraught with this panic, I missed the beat when a casual angel hovered into the studio. This was the enigmatic Bailey Wiley, for whom I’d scrawled down about five talking points after listening, multiple times, to her debut EP 'IXL'.



Photography by Cam Downey for WG


The ads finished. I brought us live to air. We talked - she passionately and graciously, me a fumbling moron - about the fact that she was heading to Berlin, about collaboration with Raiza Biza, her genre, the future. Then came the live performance part of the segment. Bailey started singing, something which I hadn’t at the time yet managed to witness in Auckland’s rapidly growing music scene. If you haven’t seen Bailey perform, you haven’t experienced picking your jaw up off the floor.


It’s almost exactly a year after that point, and my only other encounters with Bailey to date have been from a distance, watching her light successive stages on fire. In the past few weeks, she’d dropped S.O.M.M, and, as serendipity would have it, was also about to jet back to Berlin.


We met at Karangahape Road’s Verona, Bailey requesting we sit on the street, “I just ate, and I really want a cigarette. I’m terrible Chlöe, I’m terrible.” Far from terrible, even on this (second) first impression alone, I’m about 110% sure Bailey’s exactly the kind of person everybody falls at least a little bit in love with. Not only a badass idyllic heroine of a songstress on stage, there’s something far from cliche in her infectious laugh, something gut-wrenchingly genuine in the way she delivers her opinion, something of an instant classic in all of her tangential comedic observations.



Born in Taranaki’s Hawera to a non-nuclear family with an art therapist for a mother, psychologist for stepfather, and bricklayer for a father, Bailey recalls, “I didn’t really get a choice with music, you know what I mean? I was born into a somewhat musical family. My grandfather was an amateur theatre director.” So, she was introduced to the game, “When I hit 6 or 5 years old, they were like, yo, we’re going to get you singing lessons. And of course I was like, yeah, I wanna be a pop star. Singing with my hairbrush and shit, thinking I was the business.”


At 7, she was moved to New Plymouth, then Christchurch at 9. Dropping out of high school at the end of sixth form, Bailey moved straight to tertiary, taking up a degree at the National Academy of Singing & Dramatic Art (NASDA). She then legged it to Dunedin for postgrad, but two years deep decided to pull out when, “My tutor began clapping me rhythms… I just felt like I was taking a step back.” Instead of gapping with just a student loan to her name, “I made a really conscious decision to get to know all my tutors. Then I started recording my first album, and my tutors started getting me shows.”



Photography by Cam Downey for WG


Only three years ago, she yet again decided to uproot her life, “When I came to Auckland, I was super fresh. I didn’t know a soul. But I was like, it can’t be that big. I was a small town girl, but I was like, fuck, it can’t be that big.” She’d been tossing up between Auckland and Wellington, but dismissing the capital for its windy reputation, she decided to take a swing at AK’s scene, hitting bullseye at exactly where she needed to be, “I went to Rakinos, Raks, on a Tuesday when they had Free Piece. I was sitting there having a drink with my friend. And I was like, there’s a reason that I’m here, you know what I mean, and that there’s these crazy dope musicians that are my age right here, and I was like, fuck it, they’re tight. I’m gonna ask them if I can grab the mic.”


At the time, she didn’t know Eden Jouavel (or as fans know him, Eno), who would become a close friend and S.O.M.M producer, but it was he who she requested the mic from, “The boys were like, ‘What the fuck, who the fuck are you?’ But it was cool you know, like I found Dunedin - don’t get me wrong, Dunedin’s tight - to be quite ‘tall poppy’ down there. And, you know, if you’re a creative, that’s not the buzz. And then I came here, and I got that response, I was like, yeah, I’m in the right place, and I moved here the week after.”



In just three years, Bailey Wiley has become an essential ingredient to Auckland’s (let alone New Zealand’s) musical come-up. Entrenched among a crew of the city’s brightest underground sparks, it’s the ebbs and flows, the swell and blow-out of creative energy that she believes continues to propel our musicians ever further. She spills recognition for our renowned local heroes, from the Tron’s Raiza Biza to the Naki’s Louie Knuxx, and champions the tectonic ballooning of young talent radiating from St Kevin’s Arcade (you know, pre their eviction), “I fuck with The Grow Room in a huge way. We haven’t seen something like that since YGB popped off. I respect what they’re doing. They’re really true; they’re not biting anybody’s taste. They’re dope. They’re prolific.”


Despite this rapid growth and success, finding her ilk among our hip hop stalwarts, don’t seek to put the babe in a genre corner, “The only box I would kind of put myself in would be neo-soul - but the thing is, with being a vocalist, if I wanted to, I could sing over trap music, I could sing over jungle, I could sing over hip hop. That’s why with the EP especially, they’re all electronic beats, but they’re all different.” Shunning labels, she continues to evolve, maturity enabling a unique respect for her less-honed, earlier version of self, “My first EP was called ‘Inevitable’, it’s really cute. It’s on Soundcloud. I went through a phase of being like, yo, that’s whack, I’ve got to pull that down. But now that I’m older, that project is the epitome of a brand new artist. I was never going to be this Lorde-factor, and whip out an EP, and have it go to number one.”


2016’s S.O.M.M dropped two years after IXL, “Because sometimes life just gets in the way.” It’s a project that takes its namesake from words extremely close to Bailey’s heart, “Still On My Mind was the song on that EP that took the longest to write. It was one of the first songs for that album, but it was so hard to finish because it was so close to me. That song is important to me because it’s about home. Home is Taranaki, and I never go there. Do you know what I mean? So, when I’m talking about it, it’s me coming to terms with the fact that I’m not there. There’s a lot of stuff that happens at home when you’re not there. Especially when I was in Berlin, when my grandmother died.” In Germany at the time she finished the album, Bailey reflects on how travelling serves not just as a catalyst for new ideas in creating her work, but a shot at a new headspace to curate, “I was able to connect the dots and be okay with the fact that I was gone, even though I was grieving.”



Photography by Cam Downey for WG


With an eclectic artist make-up, itchy feet and a propensity to create whatever she feels, Bailey doesn’t seek to be signed to a ‘shiny’ label, but simply to live off of her craft. Fame is frightening, “I think people knowing who you were would be really scary,” but she’s not a stranger to it, “Even in the last few weeks after S.O.M.M. released, just being in the club, and having people be like ‘Yo, you’re that Bailey Wiley chick.’ And I’m just like ‘Yooooo’… It can be quite hard to identify with people, almost like you have the same conversation every time.”


Having spent her life bouncing around our country, Bailey’s pining to shift her mind in the context of another country, and another country after that. Eyes currently set to go back to Berlin, she’s also set a punt on the UK overtaking the USA’s dominance in music: “America’s on that product tip,” currently neglecting individuality.


Therein lies Bailey’s wholesale originality: a tendency to take giant leaps of faith with just confidence, hard work, and talent seeing she lands on her feet. It’s the DNA of an artist without fear, one who rejects labels in a world prone to defining, to limiting. It’s a strategy of right place, right time, simultaneously taking control of her future and throwing luck to the wind. Perhaps Bailey puts it best when she speculates, “Imagine if I came to Auckland, and I ended up hanging out with the indie scene?”



Photography by Cam Downey for WG

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