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 174,000 streams on Spotify. Marsten has even found time to be come a mentee in Brisbane City Council’s program The QUBE Effect.
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.
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When you draw as much influence from your life to put into your lyrics as Hayley Marsten, you can bet your last dollar we want to know where you came from and just how much of a part your hometown plays in your music.
Where does Hayley Marsten consider her ‘hometown’ to be?
Gladstone, in Central Queensland is my hometown and where I was born but I feel like Brisbane, where I live now is my adopted hometown
Tell us a bit about Gladstone, what are the people like?
So supportive and fun, they have totally backed me and my music from the get go, I’m very lucky to be from such a beautiful place.
What would you say is the most iconic thing about it?
Gladstone is known for it’s huge industry booms and busts but I think its best feature is it’s beautiful harbour.
How’s the live music scene?
When I was growing up there wasn’t a huge music scene in Gladstone, but in recent years some amazing live music projects and mini festivals have popped up. I love seeing local artists getting showcased in them.
Are there any other well-known artists that have come out of your hometown?
I think I might be one of the only ones…
We’ll look into it and let you know! So if not following in someone’s footsteps, what major influences have inspired you or contributed to you forging your own path?
I think early in my career I was very much encouraged by the teachers I had and people I went to high school with. I was just lucky to be surrounded by a lot of people who really supported me and my musical aspirations when I was a teenager. Especially my drama teacher, Peta Pitt who also appears in my music video for ‘Coming Home’ which was shot in my grandparents house in Gladstone. I’m also very lucky to have had the support of the Gladstone Regional Council on many occasions, pledging in my Pozible campaign for one but also their Regional Arts Development Fund which has helped me to record my EPs (Even & Lonestar) and shoot two music videos in Gladstone and feature local actors.
That’s incredible. Having so much hometown support must mean the people there shaped your music style?
I think Gladstone and the way I was brought up made me a hard worker and it’s always very inspiring and relaxing to go home. I think my adopted hometown of Brisbane has also really inspired me. I used to come to Brisbane when I was little, on holidays and I still feel like there is a lot of magic here, so much left to explore, that’s why I love it.
Does Brissy get a mention in any of your music?
Actually yes, my new single, ‘Red Wine, White Dress’ mentions Bowen Hills!
Okay so aside from the wonderful people of Gladstone, who else do you draw inspiration from?
Strong women with a lot to say. Those kind of artists have always been the songwriters and musicians I’ve been drawn to and is what I aspire to be like.
What drew you to being a part of the Hometown Fest this year?
I love the celebration of a Hometown because both of mine are so special to me. Being a part of something from the beginning has always been very exciting to me so I flipped for the chance!
What can Hometown Fest audiences expect from your set at this year’s festival?
My set is actually the last show on my ‘Spectacular Heartbreak Tour’ so I’m SO excited to be starting this tour and finishing it in Brisbane. Audiences can expect a lot of sass, glitter and jokes between songs.
We LOVE glitter! Other than the side of sparkle, what do you think sets Hometown Fest apart from other festivals in Australia?
I think combining country music and mainstream is an awesome idea, I think it’s about time the country genre was put in the limelight with the rest of the amazing music Australia produces.
What would you like to see at Hometown Fest in the future?
The Veronicas so I can fan girl my little heart out please!