“Sweetheart, I ain’t playing second fiddle.”
It’s the opening declaration on Hayley Marsten’s brassy second release, and a statement you’d be a fool to doubt. The Gladstone songwriter and purveyor of bold country music is older and wiser on Lonestar, which is at once playful and deeply personal.
Marsten has moved past the heartache that permeated her debut release, Even, and through collaboration with acclaimed artists, such as Lyn Bowtell and Aleyce Simmonds, has brought a more mature songwriter and performer to the surface. The marriage of feisty tracks like opener ‘Second Fiddle’ and the stark reflection of ‘Coming Home’, proves a potent combination.
Life experience has ultimately imbued this collection of songs with a more intimate yet worldly view, with the support of fellow songwriters giving Marsten the confidence to be direct with her audience. The title track exemplifies her determination, the desire to forge a career in the face of a doubter. “You said I’d never make it to the top, girls like me they always stop, and I just listen to your big talk… I’m in a Lone Star State.”
Playful defiance, strength, fun and resilience flow throughout each song. This emotional diversity was a key aim for the burgeoning music star. “I actually knew what the new record would be like after I wrote ‘Lonestar’,” Marsten explains. “It was a turn in the right direction. I knew the other songs would fit around that song and I knew it would be the title track too. Even was filled with a lot of break-up songs and didn’t really have a lot of different emotions or stories, and that’s one thing I wanted to be different on this record.”
Marsten recorded Lonestar at Love Hz Studios in Sydney with sought-after producer Matt Fell. His guidance added layers of production and ideas that took “these songs to the next level”. The six songs on the release are buoyed by tasteful, minimal arrangements, allowing the strength of Marsten’s voice and lyrical wordplay to sit front and centre. The order of the songs tells the story of a woman regaining her sense of self.
“This is the first release that I have worked with co-writers on and I think especially when I wrote with Lyn Bowtell on ‘Coming Home’ she called me out on what I was really trying to say and made me more honest,” Marsten says. “So when it came time to pick the songs, I chose ones that were a bit more personal. When I was writing Even I was still mostly a teenager. When writing Lonestar I was in my early ‘20s, living out of home, in a different city to my family, going to uni and just generally growing up a bit. I think being a bit older gave me more confidence in my own abilities and the fact that I could share a more vulnerable side without being afraid.”
There’s no missing the emotional gut punch of ‘Coming Home’, a steely depiction of Marsten’s childhood in a broken home. “‘Coming Home’ is the bravest song I have – and might ever write,” says Marsten. “It is so personal and autobiographical for me and it was very scary to write, I couldn’t have finished it without Lyn, and I know we are both really proud of it.”
At the other end of the spectrum is ‘Cash’, a romantic pop song that features Marsten’s finest wordplay. Centred around the love affair between Johnny Cash and June Carter, the irresistible tune uses that near mythological partnership to draw a sentimental parallel. “We got time, but we ain’t got plans, we just sing our songs and you hold my hand. Nobody loves me like you do, just like Johnny and June… we got no money, but we got Cash.”
“I think there’s a huge jump lyrically from Even to this release,” Marsten says. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of different, amazing songwriters, even poetry that I studied for a semester at Uni and the people I met during my course. I think I’m generally a lot more honest and unafraid about most things now in life and that translates naturally into my songs because they are all so close to my personality.”
Born for the stage, Marsten has been writing and performing since age seven. If young Hayley perceived a family get-together to be lacking entertainment, she was happy to step in. Though her parents were accountants, they loved and collected music, ultimately exposing their daughter to an inspiring library of classics. “I’m an only child and I spent a lot of time listening my parents’ records, making up dances to them, forcing my parents’ dinner party guests to watch me put on little shows. I’m a show pony from way back. With writing songs it just became something I did on a regular basis. Even then I knew it was something I was supposed to do.”
Lonestar suggests a bright future for this songwriter, both emotionally and professionally. ‘Money Can’t Buy Class’ exhibits a confident young woman who isn’t going to take crap from anyone. It’s a stunning takedown of someone who dared question her lifestyle. Whereas closer ‘Until You’ is a stirring love song done Marsten’s way. “Because until you I was the kind to kiss boys in bars on a Saturday night, make fun of the loved up, get down with the beat up – that was until you.”
“I think this is a more accurate representation of love at my age,” Marsten says. “I could never imagine writing a beautiful loving, doting love song – it still has to have my personality in it and that’s just not me.”