Christy Hays’ two recent EPs, O’ Montana and Caliche, reflect both the singer/songwriter’s complicated, dual nature and the sounds of the many places she’s called home. O’ Montana is a gorgeous folk and country-flavored solo collection and a natural progression from Hays’ 2012 album Drought. Caliche, on the other hand, is a band effort that indulges Hays’ occasional desire to plug-in and rock out. The result is an Americana rock and roll record with an occasional psychedelic flourish. Hays’ band, also called Caliche, came together after she met and formed a years-long partnership with the talented Lauren Gurgiolo of the Octopus Project (and a former guitarist with Okkervil River). Bassist Geena Spigarelli and drummer Andrew Gerfers bolster Caliche’s sound. Despite the difference in approach and musical styles, both EPs capture Hays’ distinctive artistic voice. Her songs resonate with a vulnerable rawness that exposes her emotional baggage and scar tissue, but never veer into self-pity. There is a sense of underlying optimism in her music and resiliency in her voice. Hays’ greatest source of inspiration is nature and wide-open spaces, themes often developed in her songs. The nomadic Hays, who arrived in Austin after an extended stint in Nashville, often tours her former stomping grounds of Alaska, where she lived for nearly five years doing a variety of odd jobs, including a couple summers working as a river guide and living in a cabin with no electricity or running water. A native of the small central Illinois town of Tuscola, Hays can also escape the faster pace of Austin and find a quiet space to write in Butte, Montana. She recently purchased a house that wasn’t actually for sale when she stumbled across it and bonded with its owner, a nationally-acclaimed writer. He negotiated a generous deal with Hays when she shared her vision of the house as an artists’ retreat. Hays has graced stages throughout the U.S. and toured internationally. She’s been an official performer at SXSW, and she’s worked with the likes of Bruce Robison and Hayes Carll. Hays has also collaborated with some of the top talent in Austin, including The Carper Family, Jonathan Terrell, Ali Holder, Brennen Leigh, and members of Wood and Wire. Hays grew up listening to ‘60s and ‘70s rock and country and ‘90s alternative, before being turned onto singer-songwriters like Patty Griffin, Kasey Chambers, and Kathleen Edwards. But from the beginning, she was inspired by her musician father Steve Hays, whose first guitar (“a lovely, vintage Gibson”) she still plays today. Fans of artists like Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Joe Pug, the Old 97’s and Neil Young will find much to love in the music of Christy Hays. (The above written courtesy of Travis Truitt for ChristyHays.com.) The talented singer/songwriter has quickly made Southwest Montana her home away from home, performing at countless venues in her relatively short tenure under the Big Sky. In anticipation of a handful of more upcoming local shows, The Rolling Zone was able to get Christy on the phone during her trek north from her Texas base. Despite a quick loss of cell service, the itinerant musician shared some stories of life always on the road and how fully committing herself to the craft has shaped her future.
RZ: Hey Christy. How are you doing today?
CH: I’m well. I’m actually driving from Austin to Denver. RZ: Cool. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. C
H: Yeah, of course! RZ: To kick things off, you’ve got a country folksy side and an Americana rock side. What leads to that variance in your sound?
CH: I think originally it started with my old guitar player, Lauren Gurgiolo. She brought that kind of rock and Americana vibe out of the music that was very country derivative to begin with. I really enjoyed it. I try to hang on to that. I try not to be “categorizeable,” I guess, in the country genre. I think that my writing lends to other things. And it’s also utilitarian. I play a lot of solo shows and I play band shows as well. We can fit a lot of different molds doing different sounds. RZ: That variety of sound is displayed throughout your catalog, the most recent release being 2015’s EP Caliche. Is there anything in particular that inspires you to make a record in a certain vein?
CH: I don’t know if it’s an external influence, I think it’s probably more where I’m at with what I’m feeling like creating artistically. When I made O’ Montana, that was more of the solo and really introspective work that I did without my band, then following that up with the Caliche EP. I wanted to make two different things and I didn’t want to mesh them together in a full-length album. I just kind of preferred to put out two different things. RZ: You’ve drawn inspiration from places all over the map. How much of an affect do your surroundings have on the music you create?
CH: They used to have a really large effect on the music that I was creating. As I’ve gotten further along in my career, I’m more nomadic for a couple of reasons. I’m on the road a lot now and I have two residences I’ve kind of figured out how to make work. I’ve come to realize that wherever I go, people are the same. I think I really just get a lot of inspiration from humanism and understanding that people really are quite the same no matter where you are geographically. RZ: You’ve been exposed to as many music scenes as you have locales. Is there a comparison between Bozeman, or Southwest Montana’s to say, Austin or Denver? CH: There always is. There’s good music anywhere. The saturation of course is different, but I’ve seen great music in Southwest Montana. I saw this band recently out of Bozeman [named] Yurt. I think they’re moving to Seattle, but I was so impressed with them. I thought they were so unique, and man, I was totally impressed with their musicianship and the unique vibe of their sound. RZ: Yes. We’ve seen a few of their shows.
CH: That’s one of my favorite things—to be surprised wherever I’m at, where you don’t expect to be blown away by music, or something you may not expect to find in Southwest Montana, a vibe or an unidentifiable genre. But I think there’s emphasis on certain things. In the scene that I’m in in Texas, there’s a lot of emphasis on the songwriting. There’s a lot of friendly competition in that way—being the best songwriter that you can be and being very careful about what it is you’re singing about or that you’re releasing. Then there are areas more focused on the musicianship and the accessibility of the music. People play off of that audience that kind of latches on, instead of being very true to the art. I think that’s a survival thing. When it’s your job, you want to please your audience and you want to do what you can to keep your job. Austin has two million people and you have a lot more freedom to explore within your genre. Like I said, there’s good music everywhere, but it’s all packaged kind of differently.
RZ: For those who haven’t had a chance to catch one of your performances, what can people expect from your sets at these upcoming shows?
CH: Around the Bozeman area, I’ve actually just started to build a little band. It’s been a couple of years in the process, but I think Montana can expect pretty song-centric sets—mostly all original music, very folk/Americana/country derivative, harmonies, and solid musicianship. Crafted songs, really.
RZ: Well you’ve certainly impressed already. We’ve seen your name pop up quite a bit lately.
CH: Thank you. I really love the audience in Montana. It’s definitely one of my favorite places to work. People are so gracious there.
RZ: Are you working on any new material? Writing and/or recording? CH: Funny you ask. I have a house in Butte, [and during] the couple of months I’m spending in Montana, I’m coming up to finish writing my full-length album I hope to release in 2017. So a lot of the time I’m coming to spend this November and December up there is focused all on writing the material for my next full length. It’s a departure for me because most all of the music I’ve released, I haven’t been very pointed in the way I crafted it. I haven’t really taken time out of the business end of working in music to write. I’m really excited about it. It’s the huge treat I feel like I’m giving to myself, and I’m really excited about the result.
RZ: Looking forward to that. In terms of music, what might we be surprised to hear you listen to or are inspired by?
CH: I love soul music, old jazz, and R&B. I really love Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers. I mostly enjoy all music. I’m not a huge fan of heavy metal. But I really do enjoy the gamut of music. I listen to a lot of songwriters because I want to keep up with the craft, but if I’m on long drives in my car, I listen to jazz and I listen to soul kind of more often that I listen to country music or singer/songwriters. It’s a nice break I guess.
RZ: Can you describe a favorite memory from your career thus far?
CH: I opened some dates for Hayes Carll in Texas a while back. Playing to seated crowds as a songwriter without a band was a huge lesson in performance for me that I hadn’t, at that point, been able to reach. I don’t have seated audiences of 500 to 1000 people. That will also be a really memorable experience for me. Really, the mundane of being a touring artist [and] the memories I get of meeting people on the road and the interactions I get to have with random people make my day on a daily basis. I love traveling around and meeting people and realizing how small the world is.
RZ: Where do you go from here? Are you in it for the long haul? Do you have any greater aspirations you haven’t met?
CH: It’s something that’s been really centric to my brain that I can’t seem to shut off in the last couple of years. I think I’ve reached a point in my life. I’m thirty-five years old now and I’ve dedicated the better part of the last nine years to being a professional musician, something when I was a child and even in my mid-twenties I never thought I would do. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, to try to be and artist and to try to be successful at it. At this point, I don’t see myself doing anything else. I have settled into the idea of dedicating my life to it in a lot of ways. A lot of the self-doubt and the self-loathing, all that shit you go through when you’re in your twenties, have kind of fallen away in a lot of senses. I feel pretty comfortable where I’m at. I don’t have great monetary success or international success, but I’m playing the long game with music. If you look at one of my favorite artists, Lucinda Williams’ career, she didn’t make it until she was forty years old. I put “make it” in quotation marks because that’s really when she started making money. So yeah. I think it’s what I’m called to do in this lifetime. I feel pretty comfortable just continuing on in whatever way that looks like. We don’t really get to choose those things, so I’ll just go with it.
RZ: Well we wish you great success and we’re really looking forward to your shows here. Safe travels.
CH: Thank you. Catch Christy Hays at a number of upcoming Southwest Montana performances. Bring the family or escape the in-laws after Thanks- giving when Christy puts her talents on display at The Murray in Livingston, Friday and Saturday, November 25th and 26th beginning at 9pm both evenings. Catch her at Blackfoot River Brewing in Helena on Sunday, November 27th at 5pm. Christy comes to the Bozeman next, with shows at Bozeman Spirits on Tuesday, November 29th at 5:30pm, and Bridger Brewing on Wednesday, November 30th at 5:30pm. For more information on these and other upcoming shows, or to sample some of her music, visit www.christyhays.com/. •