Gemma Hayes has been flying under the radar for a little while. The delicate guitarist’s soulful approach to music has taken her on a journey, one that explores the deeply personal, but also one, you get the sense, that she’s not quite building her life around.
In fact, some time away from music, and living abroad, was put a halt to by covid and saw her come back to writing. She’s now at the stage where a new album is almost ready to go.
“Covid brought me back to music, I was forced into a situation where my world was very small, so I went back into my head, and started writing music again,” she says. “I had no distractions or excuses. My kids are getting older, too, so I could leave a room and know they wouldn’t… well, die,” she laughs.
“Being able to pick up a guitar and play, having the mental, physical and emotional time to do it again was big. The next album is around the corner, but being an independent artist, there is no deadline as such. The first song will be out in November, though, and I’m playing the songs live already. You can tell how songs resonate once you play them to a room full of people, you hear it differently, which is an extraordinary thing.”
“Sometimes I change a song as soon as I play it live,” she continues. “With one song, we were playing it as a little two-piece, and we started to dig harder, to really pick it up at the end. It was very mellow on the album, but in a live setting it just grew bigger, so we went back and picked it up in the studio. It became something far more exciting because of playing it live.”
Hayes also had a surreal experience during lockdown. The normally mellow singer got involved with Above and Beyond, a huge dance act, something that fell completely outside of her comfort zone.
“They’re a trance three piece that I knew nothing about, but apparently they’re massive in that world,” she says. “They asked if I’d work on a song with them, and I agreed. I did it from home. That was brilliant, it kind of took off in that world, which was exciting to watch. They were playing Madison Square Garden, and I watched it on TV. I couldn’t go as I was nine months pregnant. They kept the musical thing ‘oiled’ for me.”
As for Hayes’ more everyday work, there’s a divide in her mind. “There have been songs I’ve written as an exorcism for myself, which I don’t sing live,” she says. “They’re meant to be for people to experience but I can’t sing them night after night.”
“In other songs, I’m less vulnerable and I enjoy singing those ones. I couldn’t live in that place of vulnerability all the time as I’d be a total mess. When you see people who do that, they tend to be incredibly run down by it. They don’t look after themselves.”
“I did play this solo night when my multi-instrumentalist got covid and she couldn’t do it, so I just played by myself. I played so many songs I’ve never played before in my life, those vulnerable ones, because I knew the audience were going to be there and completely engaged with me and the music I make. So I massively just let them in.”
“A part of it is entertainment, but I’m not naturally an entertainer. I try to bring that element into my music, so there’s always an arc. I start slow, build in the middle, and then either bring things right back down, or go really high again at the end. There has to be an arc.”