Sometimes you just need to sit with your feelings, and allow things to happen. It’s easier said than done, but that’s exactly what Haywood did while approaching her long-awaited record ‘Pressure On My Heart’. After scrapping a record seven years ago because it didn’t feel authentic, she allowed life to happen with its rollercoaster of feelings, and to sit in the pain when it came. And from doing so, she began to hear new melodies, lyrics, and ideas that started to form this exciting body of work.
Haywood (the Moniker of singer, songwriter and producer Leah Haywood) isn’t a stranger to the music industry. In-fact, you probably have no idea that she’s produced and penned some of your pop favourites from the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Blackpink, Fifth Harmony, The Veronicas, Nicki Minaj, Aly & AJ and more. Their discography is impressive to say the least, and this record captures the strength in production and songwriting that she’s crafted over the past 20 years. She’s at a point where she’s found her unique voice and direction, and she’s ready to share it with the world.
I chatted with Haywood about the intentional voice of reflection that her new record ‘Pressure On My Heart’ holds, explored the creative process behind songs like the title track, ‘Made You That Way’, ‘Thinking Of God’ and ‘Human To Fall Apart’, and discussed working with Aly & AJ and Selena Gomez for Dreamlab. Check out the full chat BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: From start to finish, your record ‘Pressure On My Heart’ feels like a bold, anthemic, and intimate embodiment of the singer, songwriter and producer you are now. If you could play this record to yourself 10 years ago, how do you think you would have taken it in?
HAYWOOD: I think I would have been surprised by the sound of the record. I attempted to start a record seven years ago, but it wasn’t flowing. The song ‘Pressure On My Heart’ was actually on the tracklisting for the first attempt of this record, but the lyrics for the rest of the album weren’t flowing. I don’t think I had enough life narrative at that point to write what I needed. But I have been through so much since then, and I think if I could have flash forward to now I would be like; “oh you have a lot to sing about now”. But I also think I’ve landed in a place where there is so much hope and light within everything I’ve gone through.
I also wanted to write and produce an album on my own, but I questioned myself whether I could do it. So I think I would have just been proud that I actually did it.
TB: Title track ‘Pressure On My Heart’ closes the record with a bit of a tender lyrical moment that hears you admitting “it’s not you. It’s just the pressure on my heart”. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?
H: It’s about being in a situation that you want to be in but you can’t be in because of the stress it is putting on your body. It’s genuinely painful.
That song actually has my favourite lyric on the whole album with the second verse “Maybe it’s restlessness and desperate for a change. Maybe it’s deeper than something I can explain. Feel so together, disconnected from myself. Disclaimer, that’s my automatic shut off valve. There’s too much pressure on my heart”. I think when I wrote that lyric, it was just like “oh, that just perfectly came together”. It was a very special one for me and for this album.
TB: Was it a song where those lyrics felt like a stream of consciousness when you wrote them?
H: It really was! When I write pop music for other people I’m usually doing that collaboratively, because of that you have so many other things going on. But with my own stuff I can just have a continuous conversation without breaking the stream of consciousness. If it feels right, and I’m saying what I want to say then I don’t go back to the drawing board and I just let it be.
TB: The album also features an intro titled ’Made You That Way’, and what’s interesting is that it comes to us before eight songs that have already been released. What was it about the intro that you think captured something you needed the listener to hear and take in before listening to some of these songs again under a new perspective?
H: Just from a musical standout point; I love Khalid’s ‘Intro’ on ‘Free Spirit’, and I wanted to do an intro for my record that didn’t have a chorus as such, or a full structure, and instead put a bunch of musical ideas and thoughts on the table. I wanted the music to also flow with that, and I wanted it to be a musical experience as you were coming into the record.
TB: Where would be the ideal place or situation you’d like people to take this body of work in with the new given perspective the two new songs and intro deliver?
H: Some people make music that really suits a background setting, but I feel like my music is made to be listened to in-depth, and for people to really know what the lyrics are. I also feel like I take a lot of time to pronounce my lyrics well as I want people to understand the narrative. Ideally, I would love people to set aside a moment, which I know is a lot to ask people of in this day and age. But I do think any artist who does a body of work wants people to be in a calm space where they can appreciate the record in its entirety and understand what the artist has delivered.
TB: ‘Thinking Of God’ is a song that immediately stands out with its very honest lyricism that has a slight hint of cynicism. It’s also a song that is very self-aware with lyrics like “I’ve been a real bad friend. Only callin’ you when I need someone to bail me out”. Was this a song you wrote in the middle of these thoughts, or did you write upon reflection?
H: It was actually a reflective record. Most of the songs on the record came as one thought in its entirety. The chorus, lyric, melody and chord structure was all kind of there in one hit. So I didn’t set aside time in the studio to figure out what I was going to do next, as everything came to me really inspired. That song came as a 3am wake-up vibe. I just woke up and I had the whole chorus in my head. I made a quiet voice note while trying to not wake up the house, wrote all the lyrics down, and then started working on it the next day. I really wanted it to be a lonely isolated vocal when the song starts with just the 808 and the vocal as I wanted to be a shock coming out of this glorious intro piece, and then all of a sudden it’s just a bass and vocals. It’s a bit of a shock to the system.
TB: That first verse actually gave me a bit of a Lorde vibe, with the first verse especially.
H: Oooo I like that. I will take that *laughs*. I love that.
TB: When I heard the lyric “There’s beauty in the brain when it’s breakin’ down” in ‘Human To Fall Apart’, I knew I needed to find out more about you and interview you. So can you tell me about this particular lyric?
H: We go through ebbs and flows of being good and a little fragile, and sometimes it can get worse than fragile, but I think it’s just all a part of the human experience. None of us get to escape pain. We all have to eventually face that reality of grief and pain. I’ve come to the point in my life where I allow myself to sit in the moment. I used to just rush past it, and stay busy, but I’ve realised the value of sitting in a moment and allowing sadness or whatever you’re feeling to be present and to not get panicky and try to get out of it. Because if you just try to sit in it, it’s actually quite a soothing experience. And this song is about allowing those moments to happen, and finding the beauty in the breakdown.
TB: Did you nearly shop any of these songs to other artists? Or did you always know they were explicitly for the Haywood project?
H: I never shopped them. I actually ummed and ahhed about keeping ‘Cheers To Us’ initially because I felt like it was a little bit different to the other stuff i was writing, and I knew I could’ve got that cut quickly. But ultimately I knew that this could’ve been the launching song and I told myself I need to think seriously about it.
TB: Looking back at your songwriting and production discography with Dreamlab, is there a particular song or session you worked on for someone else that stands out to you as one that personally changed the way you thought or approached something personally as an artist?
H: Not anything that I’ve collaborated on. I mean, I obviously have my favourites that I’ve worked on, and definitely in the last few years it would be ‘Never Really Over’ with Katy Perry and ‘Off My Face’ with Justin Bieber, just because they were such milestones. But honestly, my songwriting style changed with my own project. I didn’t mean for that to happen, it just happened. With the album I tried to make seven years ago, I felt like I was trying to be too cool and cryptic with the lyrics, and it didn’t feel authentic, and that’s why I stopped making it. Whereas now through time, I’ve figured out how to tell my story.
TB: One of the early records you worked on with Dreamlab was Aly & AJ’s – ‘Into The Rush’. When you reflect back on those sessions now, what is a memory that is triggered, now that you’ve worked with them again quite recently?
H: That was a really special time because up until then we had just been doing $200 Craiglist demo’s. This big TV composer ended up hearing one of the demo’s and invited us to choose 1 artist out of three to develop, and Aly & AJ were in that mix. They were unsigned at the time, and we were like “we will take those little 12 and 13 year old blonde girls thank you. That’s where the money is” *laughs*. So we went from doing Craigslist demo’s in the bedroom to working in this beautiful 4 million dollar studio. I sat at a grand piano and started doing the chords for ‘No One’, the girls started singing, and we wrote it within the hour. That song was basically the catalyst for everything. It was the first single on the album, went top 40 in the U.S, and from there we got management. So when I think of that, I think of the beginning and think of how special that time we spent with them was.
TB: You also worked on a few songs on Selena Gomez’s album ‘Revival’, and I feel like that album was a huge turning point and reset for her as an artist. As a pop listener it felt like an important record. So as someone who had worked on stuff with her throughout different stages of her career, did working on the songs from ‘Revival’ feel different, and especially empowering?
H: It absolutely did! It was her breaking out of her Disney days. She had just signed to Interscope, and I would say it was her coming of age moment. We worked with her a lot on the Hollywood Records she put out, and there was a clear distinction between those projects. It was like “I’m making a world record now. This record can go everywhere”. Whereas I feel like the Hollywood Record stuff was great, but it was very tame, fitting in the Disney mould, and not ruffling anty feathers. And I just think she was ready to do that once she got on Interscope. It was definitely a coming of age, a declaration of independence, and a declaration of womanhood. It was so awesome being a part of that.
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about the record. Are you ready?
H: Yes, let’s do it!
TB: The emoji that best describes my new album ‘Pressure On My Heart’ is the…
H: The smile with the tear.
TB: The last song I finished for the album was…
H: The ‘You And Me’ cover.
TB: The song that went through the most versions to get it to where it is now on the album was…
H: ‘New York’! I was establishing the sound of the record at that time, so it really became the template for the rest of the record.
TB: The song I’m most looking forward to playing live would be…
H: ‘Closer’ and ‘You And Me’.
TB: The first song I’d want you to show your friends from my album would be…
H: ‘Closer’ or ‘Pressure Of My Heart’.
‘Pressure On My Heart’ is out now!