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Spectacular Heartbreak

 
 
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Hayley on Tour

 

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Spectacular Heartbreak

by Hayley Marsten

So, who is this Hayley gal?

 

Magic. Moving. Tragic. Confusing.

Those four words are not just the hook in its title track, but also the feelings that inspired Hayley Marsten’s debut record Spectacular Heartbreak. And anyone that’s listened to the Gladstone-raised songwriter’s first two impressive EPs knows Marsten’s well-versed in matters of the heart.

Those two releases, Even and Lonestar were the mark of an artist evolving emotionally and creatively, searching her soul and finding the truth. In doing so, Marsten also found an audience. Lonestar debuted at #8 on the ARIA country charts and #1 on the Australian Independent Labels Chart, and the very personal single 'Coming Home' reached #1 on the KIX Country Charts. Marsten soon warmed crowds for many esteemed artists, such as Clare Bowditch, Deborah Conway, Imogen Clark, Fanny Lumsden and Brad Butcher. 

 

And the shows didn’t stop there. Marsten embarked on an East Coast tour, co-headling with Arna Georgia, that covered four states and sold out three shows. Momentum built further when ‘Wendy’, the first single from her debut record, made a splash on country radio and received national airplay and a big endorsement from Myf Warhust. Since peaking at #18 on the Music Network Charts and #25 on CMC Countdown, ‘Wendy’ has clocked over 185,000 streams on Spotify. 

But now the songwriter’s attention turns to her debut record, a collection of songs spectacular in both name and nature, sure to please the 250 crowd-funding pledgers that purchased a copy before hearing a note. 

With its grand – and apt – title, Spectacular Heartbreak is a cohesive and assured document of loss, acceptance and self-reflection. It’s the work of an artist embracing herself, finding strength and a new perspective. You can sense the expanding distance between the songwriter and the pain, standing on the outside looking in.

“The album name is super dramatic but I think the songs either fall into being about ‘spectacular’ or ‘heartbreaking’,” Marsten says. 

For Spectacular Heartbreak, Marsten continued her working relationship with producer Matt Fell, recording at his (also aptly titled) Love Hz studio in Sydney.

“When we went into the studio I told Matt my main vision for the album was that it be reflective of who I am as a person – a little bit dramatic, with a lot of personality and fun. He really flipped for it and totally ran with my ideas of getting strings and letting my friend and country musician Arna Georgia whistle on one of the tracks.”

Marsten again co-wrote with an impressive away of modern country luminaries, such as sisters-in-arms Lyn Bowtell, Imogen Clark and Melody Moko. Given the personal nature of the subject matter, Marsten could have made the record a solitary project. But her intention was quite the opposite.

“I think at first glance you could probably write this album off as a break-up album,” Marsten explains. “But I don't listen to it and think of it as something born from heartbreak, even though it technically was. I think it's more a story of strength in the face of that, even in the more vulnerable songs. And because I knew it was going to be very honest and raw I made a decision that I wanted to write with my friends, which made it even more special. It really feels to me like I had friends coming together in all aspects to help me make this record.”

With matured consistency and directness, Marsten has woven a songbook that does not simply dwell on lost love and severing a relationship. ‘Wendy’ is a tribute to the guidance and strength of the songwriter’s mother (“my mumma taught me what my heart was for, and I wasn’t brought up to cry on the bathroom floor”).

And it wouldn’t be a Marsten release without a good dose of sass. ‘Hitch Your Wagon’ takes aim at those slackers that would rather ride coattails than be genuine and put in the work. ‘Cry in Your Beer’ lays down the law to those not worthy of being a part of her life.

Pretty’ is a succinct middle finger to the expectations of aesthetic beauty placed on women, giving voice to pressures both internal and external (“your face needs make-up and your tits need tape, no one will love you if you stay that way”).

The smouldering ‘Watch Me Dancing’ is the record’s sultry slow dance, so seductive that it took Marsten a few years to put it into the world. “I wrote this song before I'd even recorded Lonestar but at the time I felt so insecure and completely not confident I thought I'd never be able to record it or even sing it. Now I'm proud to sing it as a young woman owning her own destiny and sexuality, even if sometimes I have to pretend I'm Blake Lively when I sing it live,” laughs Marsten.

On ‘Grocery Line’ the songwriter considers a future romance where even the mundane is blissful. And Brisbane is stained – spoiled, for a time - following a relationship breakdown in ‘Red Wine, White Dress’. One of the albums deeper and direct ruminations is ‘Green & Blue’, where Marsten sifts through the different stages of grief following a break-up - anger, confusion, and sadness.

Marsten co-writes with Kieran Stevenson on the buoyant ballad ‘Call it a Day’, the songwriting imbued with fatalistic acceptance that a boy was just no damn good for her. “I wanted out and I didn't care about setting the record straight about who broke up with whom or any of the petty stuff I had cared about in the past,” Marsten explains. “As time went by and I looked back on it and realised why I would've wanted to leave so quickly, because it was so toxic.”

But Marsten saves the biggest gut punch for last. The album’s emotionally wrought closer, ‘Time I Have’, finds the songwriter addressing her priorities in the wake of a friend’s unexpected death (“played at his wake, it woke me up, and I wondered why I was wasting what little that I had, ‘cause I don’t know how much time that I have”).

It’s a stirring and lingering final moment, both heartbreaking and spectacular.