Charleston-born and Nashville-based country singer Haley Mae Campbell and her band played live shows over 42 of the weekends in 2019. It looked like 2020 would offer the same level of touring until COVID-19 silenced the live music world. “From the middle of March through April, I had, quite literally, hundreds of shows canceled,” Campbell said.
She’s a songwriter through and through, and she’s done her best to be productive despite the past year. In fact, she just released an EP titled Growing Up on February 12, made up of singles from the past year and half.
But, she’s a singer-songwriter hungry to perform in front of people. To call live shows the spark of her career would be an understatement. The numerous songs, stories, hooks, tours, social media posts — all of it stems from a pure adoration for performance.
Campbell’s background in musical theater evolved into busking on King Street, which turned into a gig as the singer of a cover band. Once her original songs began to enter the frame, there was no looking back. Charleston helped inform her originals.
“Being in the South, the country music scene is so big here, and it kind of crept up on me,” she said. “It took me a few years to realize that that’s where I was comfortable.”
Charleston radio station WEZL-FM began to include her as a local mainstay of its annual Party in the Park event in Mount Pleasant, which gave Campbell ample opportunity to soak in contemporary country. “I was so intrigued by the songwriting and storytelling that’s so specific to the genre, and I began to realize that there are so many pockets within it and so much potential for it. It relates to people and tugs on heartstrings in such a unique way.”
Country music radio gave her a bear hug in return after she embraced it. Campbell’s song “Anything but Yellow,” originally released in the summer of 2019, found its way to Spotify’s “Hot Country” playlist. “I thought you had to be signed and be established to show up there, but there I was, seeing my song next to Thomas Rhett and Carrie Underwood,” she said.
The result of the “Hot Country” appearance has been a cool 2 million Spotify streams for “Anything but Yellow.”
Campbell wrote the song with another young country songwriter named Angel Edwards. The influence for the song came partially from Taylor Swift’s Red and the concept of music that’s “too pop to be country and too country to be pop.” It runs on the same country love song analogy that fueled classics like George Jones’ “The Race is On” or Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally.”
On “Anything but Yellow,” we’re taken inside the early stages of a relationship that’s likened to driving through traffic lights. The same style of wordplay lives in Campbell’s songs like, “Ghost Stories,” another one of the “heartstring pullers” that appears on Growing Up.
Campbell’s songwriting shows its full potential on tracks like that. Her storytelling doesn’t come in the form of a narrative structure or the parabolic snapshots of songwriters like Dolly Parton or Willie Nelson. It comes out of relatability, with the lyrics open enough that you can see yourself in them.
“Country is still a very traditional genre,” she said. “It’s still reliant on radio and promotion whereas everywhere else things kind of run on how viral something is.
“I do think that there are boundaries being pushed,” Campbell said. “I think we’re past the point where people just see it as being ‘hick music’ or something like that. But, I’m hoping to eventually fill a hole that hasn’t been filled yet.”