January 2004

News Menu Button Hayley Westenra interview

Classically minded...

16 year-old Hayley Westenra broke into the record books with Pure - the fastest-selling debut album ever to enter the classical music charts. Discovered whilst busking, she quickly rose to fame in her native New Zealand and is now a worldwide success with her pitch-perfect hybrid of pop and classical singing...

VN: Hi Hayley, welcome to Virgin.net!

HW: "Hi!"

VN: Listening to Pure, your voice sounds far more mature than that of a 16 year-old. Is this the result of classical training or does it come naturally?

HW: "It's probably something I've always had really. I've had a few lessons but mainly just in the last couple of years to help support my voice, and for my breathing. But yes, it's probably natural really."

VN: So for other young people who want to reach the standard you have, do you think training is necessary or is this something that can be self-taught?

HW: "I think you can pretty much learn it yourself. I think it helps to have a few lessons, just to make sure you're not straining or damaging your voice in any way, and to get the basics in place like the breathing. It's certainly helped me feel a lot more confident about what I'm doing, but I guess you have to rely on your own instinct and whatever feels comfortable, you shouldn't really try to mould your voice into someone else's style. You just have to trust yourself."

VN: Was the recording process boring at all, all those re-edits and second takes?

HW: "No I really enjoyed it actually, it was quite nice because it was so relaxed and I guess near the end we had a bit of strain on us, a bit of pressure, but I just really enjoyed it. The people I was working with were great and it was a good time, just laughing and making jokes."

VN: What input did you have from Sir George Martin (legendary Beatles producer)?

HW: "He wrote one of the tracks for the album - Beat Of Your Heart - which was pretty amazing, and he also arranged Amazing Grace, and conducted as well. On top of that we were actually recording at his own studios, so he would quite frequently pop in to see how things were going and to give advice. It was just amazing working with him and having him involved, it was a great honour."

VN: There's a cover of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights on your album - was that a personal choice?

HW: "I just really like the song. My mum played it to me a couple of years ago and apparently I wasn't too keen on it, I thought it was a bit weird! But we were going through records recently and she brought out the song again, and I fell in love with it and thought it's got to be on the album. It's so uplifting and lively."

VN: Are there any other songs you'd like to cover?

HW: "Well I've just discovered all of Kate Bush's songs, I think she's amazing, I'd like to do a few more of hers."

VN: Did you get a chance to play your violin or piano on the album?

HW: "Unfortunately I don't play on the album, but hopefully in my future albums I will be able to, especially piano. Eventually I'd like to start writing my own music, and incorporate my instruments as well."

VN: You've performed in the Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall. That must have been very daunting - how does a 16 year-old deal with pre-performance nerves?

HW: "I guess it helps the more experience you have. You just have to take a couple of deep breaths and get ready to enjoy it rather than get worked up about it. I think that's the key really, but I still get a little bit nervous."

VN: What was it like busking as a young child, did it prepare you for life in the limelight, or for dealing with criticism?

HW: "I think it did actually, I guess it's confidence boosting, it helped me a lot and I got a lot of encouragement and support from people."

VN: A lot of young singers who start out with a squeaky clean image go on to hit the headlines for raunching things up a bit - are you going to stay on the straight and narrow?

HW: "Ha ha, I think I'm going to stay on the straight and narrow! I don't feel I need to go out partying all the time, I'm allowed to have a bit of fun but I don't see myself doing anything too bad!"

VN: Do you ever feel like singing something a bit more raucous, maybe have a bit of a hoedown or join a punk band?

HW: "I wouldn't mind, I'm always open to new styles, but I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing at the moment! Songs like Wuthering Heights - where you can let loose a bit more and get into the style - I wouldn't mind doing a few more of those, they're kind of fun."

VN: Obviously your album is classical in nature, but it's also straying into pop music. Any plans to go in either direction?

HW: "Well I'm pretty happy where I am, having both styles, it's nice to be dabbling a bit. I appreciate classical music as well as pop. I may decide to go in one route in the future, but at the moment I'm pretty happy where I am."

VN: What are you more concerned about - critical acclaim or album popularity?

HW: "As long as people are enjoying my record I'm happy. There are quite a few different styles on the album and I think there's something for everyone. It's nice to get kids who wouldn't usually listen to classical music buying the album, and it's a good way to introduce classical music to kids who gravitate towards pop music, it's quite a nice introduction. It's not too heavy, it's really light stuff."

VN: If you could sing for any film soundtrack, what would it be?

HW: "Gosh, erm...let me think! Well, I like the Lord Of The Rings."

VN: Finally Hayley, what input have you had on your own website?

HW: "Quite a bit actually, I try to update it as often as possible, and I do want to personalise it more in the future, get some more photos on it - personal photos of my family and stuff."

VN: Thanks for talking to us Hayley!

HW: "Thank you, bye!"

By Alex Robertson


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