Hartley On Getting Candid, Dreaming Big And How Music Can Empower Us
"I feel like it’s okay for me to be more vulnerable in my lyrics and allow them to expose how I really feel."
After bursting onto the scene back in August with debut single ‘Used To’, and shortly thereafter by ‘Mind’, Brisbane based singer/songwriter/producer Hartley today unveils a very personal and empowering third single in ‘Own’ – Listen Now!
Like many turning points in life, Hartley‘s powerful new single, ‘Own’, started with “an emotional shower moment”.
Determined to capture her journey to self-acceptance in a song, the Brisbane-based producer and singer seized on that emotion and started writing. Soon she was pouring herself into the verses and tinkering with production ideas. Two years later, Hartley’s in-shower inspiration has bloomed into her “self-empowerment anthem”.
‘Own’ is the kind of song Hartley always imagined herself making, pairing a strong message with highly-polished production. Hartley’s own mental health struggles guided her to the theme of loving yourself above all else. As she sings with passion in the first verse, “Did you think I need another body/ To make me feel like I’m somebody?”
With her hard-won affirmation of self-worth, Hartley joins an accomplished field of women currently redefining pop music. With ‘OWN’, she’s following in the example of empowerment advocates like Lizzo, Charli XCX, Lorde and BANKS. It’s BANKS in particular who inspired Hartley to be fearless: “She makes it look so effortless to talk deeply about herself.”
Hartley’s evolution to this moment began with a period of stubborn doubt. After self-producing an original song called ‘Used To’ in her Brisbane bedroom, she very nearly didn’t upload it to triple j Unearthed. Finally, after a whole lot of painful second-guessing, Hartley took the plunge. That drum & bass-inflected indie-pop tune caught the ear of Warner Music’s A&R, and before long the neon-haired newcomer had a record label behind her.
After working in the studio with in-demand producer and mixer Cassian, Hartley re-released ‘Used To’ on Warner Music. She followed it quickly with the fizzing, heartfelt ‘Mind’, before stepping into a new phase with ‘Own’.
Junkee catches up with Hartley from the label’s Sydney office. It’s “release day” for ‘Own’, and the usual nerves are this time outweighed by excitement. “I haven’t really celebrated yet,” she admits. “This morning I’ve been in a hotel room by myself, and it’s been surreal.”
Speaking with infectious enthusiasm about her newly-widened horizons, Hartley has a lot to share about finding self-love through music.
How did ‘Own’ first start out?
I started writing ‘Own’ a couple of years ago, actually. I started discovering my self-worth and the ways I deserved to be treated. So it was a really significant change for me and my mental health.
I was also finding my place in the music industry and its social circles, so writing those lyrics was all about forcing myself to have my own back and believe that I didn’t need anyone else’s approval.
Now that it’s two years later, I truly believe those lyrics. There has been a huge change in me since that time, so it’s a cool time to release it.
Did the lyrics change at all in those two years, or once you had them down they were set?
I wrote the chorus two years ago. And then probably a year later, I revisited the song to write the verses. And the verses are more detailed and more specific, so I really believed what I was singing then.
What’s your process with songwriting? Do you start with a very raw and personal version, then make it more universal?
The chorus definitely felt more general. I was like, “Yes, people will relate to this! It’s a self-empowerment anthem!” But then I realised that for me personally it was important to make the verses really detailed.
I knew it would be nerve-wracking but I had to get personal on it. My past two songs [‘Used To’ and ‘Mind’] are a bit more lighthearted, so I haven’t had to get so deep.
Even on your first two songs, there’s a fun vibe but the lyrics have depth. Has that always been important to you in songwriting?
Being able to relate to the song personally is definitely important. I’d feel like a sham if I couldn’t relate to it. With those songs, I made it a universal message that other people could relate to as well. They didn’t dive as deep though, so I felt ‘Own’ was the right time to do that.
‘Used To’ and ‘Mind’ both have quite similar subject matter – they’re both about the same person. I went through the love thing, and ‘Own’ is when the self-discovery came.
How did you want the production on ‘Own’ to match the message?
The production idea came with the chorus in my shower clarity moment. I wanted those three driving kicks that come in each bar. I just felt that was a powerful rhythm. Then I just laid synth and bass over the top of those kicks, and between the kicks there’s this kind of eerie silence. I filled that space with the lyrics. That was the vision right from the start.
Were there particular artists whose music you really connected to over that period?
At the time I was definitely listening to a lot of BANKS. I listened to a lot of alternative pop, which was more lighthearted. And then BANKS was this dark, honest influence.
I really like what Wafia is doing at the moment. She’s so luxurious and exclusive, and her songwriting is beautiful. I’m also really inspired by King Princess, just because of her entire attitude. She inspires me to care less about what people think and just have a good time.
Did you struggle a lot with confidence before sharing ‘Used To?’
It took a lot of convincing myself just to release that song. Because no one else was forcing me to do it either — it was just me, myself and I. I had to hold myself accountable for what happened when it was out in the world.
“It took a lot of convincing myself just to release that song. Because no one else was forcing me to do it either — it was just me, myself and I”
Now on a release day, there’s a huge difference in how I feel. I feel so much more supported, which I think is so important in the music industry. I really hope that all artists have a support system, because I can’t believe how much it helps.
How else has being with a label changed things for you?
Well, it’s changed basically everything. I go through life without many expectations and then I get really excited about everything.
I released ‘Used To’ independently before I was signed, and I think it got to about 20,000 streams on Spotify. And I really hoped my re-release with Warner would get to that many streams. That’s all I wanted. But at the moment I think it’s sitting around 250,000 streams.
Everything else that comes after that is just, like, a present. It’s Christmas Day every day, because I don’t expect anything.
It must feel great to hear that a song has helped someone through a tough time or given them new perspective. Can you recall a time when someone’s music did that for you?
When I was going through a really tough time, when I was down and didn’t know what I was doing, I discovered The 1975’s music.
It was before they released their first album and it was just so happy. Even if it wasn’t necessarily the most meaningful music to me, it opened up this world of indie/pop/rock, which to me is just one of the happiest genres. That was a really significant discovery.
They’re inspiring lyrically as well — if you dig deeper into the lyrics, it’s like, woah. It’s crazy what Matty Healy writes. His life is so wacky and interesting, I think I’d have to have some weirder experiences to be writing like him. I’ve got to get onto that!
What’s next for you then? I imagine there’s a lot of music waiting on your hard drive.
I have a lot more songs I want to share. I’m getting my live show ready too — I feel like it’s the right time. I can’t wait to get in front of audiences who know the songs.
Since writing ‘Own’, songwriting has become easier for me. I feel like it’s okay for me to be more vulnerable in my lyrics and allow them to expose how I really feel.
Hartley’s single ‘Own’ is out now on Warner Music Australia.