Five Questions With… Hadley McCall Thackston
This roots singer/songwriter from Georgia is now based in Canada, after being discovered by Wolfe Island label founder Hugh Christopher Brown. Here she talks about that transition, the making of her eponymous debut album, and her strong objection to the sexualization of women in the music industry.
By Jason Schneider
While it’s still the goal of most Canadian artists to establish a profile in America, occasionally the reverse is true. In a roundabout way, that’s been the case with 25-year-old Decatur, Georgia native Hadley McCall Thackston who recently released her self-titled debut album on homegrown indie label Wolfe Island Records.
It’s the result of Thackston being discovered by producer and Wolfe Island label founder Hugh Christopher Brown who, after being sent a clip of her playing on her porch at home, immediately invited her to record at his studio that was once Wolfe Island’s post office.
The appeal was Thackston’s pure and unpretentious approach to songwriting, and her overall “old-timey” style, which fans of the Be Good Tanyas and Jolie Holland can likely appreciate. Having embraced her musical abilities after a brief attempt at a career in theatre, Thackston has been in Canada on a work visa, learning about her new chosen field (and country) from Brown.
She’ll be joining him and the rest of the Wolfe Island Records roster for a European tour this month, but before that she spoke to us about the dramatic changes in her life over the past year. To find out more, go here
How would you describe the process of making your debut album?
This is a difficult question. There are so many descriptors whirling through my head—unreal, magical, a dream? I still pinch myself sometimes. When I arrived on Wolfe Island, I did not know what goes into making a record, or how my songs would be transformed. The studio as you know is in the old post office that was built in 1880, and I think that atmosphere of recording in an old cabin enhanced my whole experience. I have been described more than once as being old fashioned, and my music draws heavily from that part of my personality. Combining that with the aesthetic of the studio made the creative process comfortable and familiar when it could have easily been intimidating and stressful.
What songs on the new album are you particularly proud of?
There are three—"Butterfly," "Ellipsis," and "Change."“Butterfly” was the last song I wrote for the record, and it felt like the final puzzle piece. When writing it I aimed for a song that young women could be inspired by. "Ellipsis" is my favourite and the most personal song on the album. There was so much emotion that went into writing it. I took my vulnerabilities and sent them out into the world through this song. Now every time I hear it or perform it, I'm amazed that I feel more powerful than vulnerable.
"Change" is the song I want people to hear the most. I grew up in one of the most culturally diverse cities in America, Atlanta, and I have witnessed my white privilege in action countless times. It's so easy to become desensitized to what others go through when it doesn’t affect you personally. Upon listening, I hope that "Change" will encourage people to step back from themselves, reflect, and grasp the realities that millions of people face every day. And hopefully, in turn, take action in some way.
How are you finding living in Canada so far?
Considering the state of America at the moment, I am delighted to be here. However, even if America wasn’t burning to the ground, I would still be just as happy here. Wolfe Island is such a unique place, full of beauty and characters, and at the same time, it is very much like living in rural South Carolina where my family is from. There are only 1,500 full-time residents on the island, so everyone knows everyone. I've been welcomed with open arms and have made so many amazing friends. I’m working on the immigration process so, hopefully, in the near future, I will be able to make Canada my home officially.
You also have done some work in theatre. How has that affected your songwriting?
I don’t think it has affected my writing so much as my stage presence. Using my theatre training, I'm able to emote and channel the message of the song. It feels like each of my songs has a character or a different part of my personality, so the version of myself that comes through varies from song to song.
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
I love this question. The main issue I have with the music industry is the sexualization of women, be it by others or the female artists themselves, spanning every genre. There are so many things going on in the world that artists could be singing about, but instead you turn on Top 40 radio and hear men and women alike singing about sex, money, and getting fucked up. While I do believe that women should take ownership of their bodies and sexuality, there’s a fine line between that and making yourself a sex object, which defeats the purpose.
It drives me crazy that there are so many talented female artists at the forefront of the industry, yet they are using their voices and power to sing the same “Look at my ass, look at my tits, I’m so hot, love me for it” type of song. I wish they could realize little girls are listening to those words and becoming conditioned to believe their worth is a reflection of their appearance. By all means, sing about love, about heartbreak, about the human experience. But, please, please, can we stop singing about how hot we are on the dance floor?