More often than not, finding one’s place in Nashville can be an arduous process. It is not without its pitfalls, and it’s likely nary a person would say it’s “easy.” But, every once and awhile, there are those lucky few who seem to find their Nashville community, family, crew, etc. with borderline alarming (or in reality, enviable) ease. Bearing in mind that no one’s experience in Nashville is as “easy” as I’ve just laid it out, Hadley Kennary’s experience falls into that latter, highly enviable category. After rolling into Nashville from Boston in 2014, Kennary blazed a trail that allowed her to surround herself with some familiar faces who all invigorate and lift up each other at every juncture. While her initial foray into music in Nashville was during that self-described “sweet spot” of americana music, Kennary spent some time performing alongside those many friends in town. But now, Kennary (with some help from those she’s spent so much time alongside) has managed to change course and find a more fitting, self-actualized version of her music. While it’s been a longer time coming than anticipated, Hadley Kennary is ready to share her story.
Now/It’s met with Hadley Kennary at Stay Golden in the 100 Oaks neighborhood of Nashville.
Hadley - Hey! How’s it going? So nice to finally meet you!
N/I - Yes! Great to meet in person.
Hadley - How’s it going?
N/I - It’s going well. How are you?
Hadley - Good! Thank you for being so patient with me and figuring out the timing for everything that I’m doing, musically [laughs].
N/I - I understand. Sometimes things pop up to where it’s almost entirely out of your control.
Hadley - That they do.
N/I - So have you set a release date and everything?
Hadley - Yes! I’ve got “Potential” coming out June 21st.
N/I - Nice. You put out an EP in 2016, correct?
Hadley - Yes. It’s been a minute.
N/I - Were you in Nashville at that time?
Hadley - I moved here in 2014, so that was kind of my first recording project here in town. I did it with some friends from school - it was more in that americana, folk range, which definitely served me at the time….
N/I - It definitely served a lot of people at the time.
Hadley - Most certainly. I feel like that sweet spot of 2014 to 2016. But this new stuff is a little bit of a departure from all of that.
N/I - How so?
Hadley - It’s a little more in the pop realm. I’m calling it pop on the singer-songwriter end of the spectrum….
N/I - So more like Lilith Fair type pop or….
Hadley - A little bit. Kind of Lilith Fair, Sara Bareilles, Maggie Rogers type of sound. Still girl with guitar, but enter synthesizers….
N/I - A little more outwardly produced. That’s great. On the subject, I think Maggie Rogers’ record that came out this year is one of the best to come out thus far. So that’s a great reference point.
Hadley - I hope so. She’s rad. I’ve seen her a couple of times in the last year….
N/I - I still haven’t seen her.
Hadley - She’s so rad. She’s got this energy on stage that’s infectious. She’s playing two nights at The Ryman I think, in the Fall.
N/I - That’s right! I got tickets to both nights, because Jacob Banks is opening both nights. I love Jacob Banks.
Hadley - He’s so cool, too.
N/I - He definitely is. So where did you go to school? You said you made that first record with some friends from school….
Hadley - I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
N/I - Okay. You’re friends with Emma [Hern], Kelly [Eberle], so is that like Andrew Brown and those guys?
Hadley - Yeah! That’s my whole crew. Those guys. Emma and Kelly and I went to school together - same with Lydia Luce, we overlapped there for a little while.
N/I - Cool. So I’m kind of curious, that pipeline of people coming to Nashville from Berklee, what’s the appeal? Because none of you guys really do the “typical” Nashville thing.
Hadley - For me, and probably for a lot of Berklee students, music lives and breathes in a lot of different cities. I feel like the natural path for not only musicians, but Berklee students and what the school tells us to do is New York, LA, or Nashville. Of the three…. I love New York, I don’t when I’m going to live there, but the time for me isn’t now, or at least hasn’t come yet or any time soon. LA I don’t know enough about yet to really immerse myself in it. I think it’s rad and really want to go spend more time there, but it hasn’t caught me the way it’s caught a lot of other people. But Nashville, I had been to a couple of times before and from my minimal experience here and what people told me, it’s a very songwriter centric environment. That was good for me, because I wanted to get more into the co-writing world, especially not knowing what musical direction I wanted to go in prior to getting here, so it seemed like the natural choice.
N/I - So Nashville provided a little more space to operate and figure things out, then?
Hadley - Exactly. I always tell people who don’t live in Nashville all the time that we’re spoiled by anything longer than half an hour as being “far.” I feel like we’re still a very small community, or at least a tight knit community, despite more and more people moving here every day.
N/I - That’s an interesting idea. To the point of having a little more time to figure things out, I know New York is kind of fight or flight all the time, people aren’t really meant to be around other people all the time. There’s this sort of natural versus unnatural awareness of the fact that there’s so much cement built up around you that it could fall at any moment, not literally, but you’re always on edge to survive. But then in LA, it’s so spread out, and there’s so much time spent by yourself that it’s not necessarily the right type of introspection, I would imagine.
Hadley - It’s almost like introspection by wanting to avoid traffic [laughs].
N/I - Sure. So I’m glad Nashville was the setting that seemed most apt to allow you to get a feel for who you are and the co-writing and all of that. Was co-writing something you were accustomed to by the time you came to town?
Hadley - Minimally. We had done it in songwriting classes and things like that. It would be like we get through three quarters of a songwriting class and then the last week was “co-writing” week. I was really precious with a lot of my work for a long time, because all I knew was writing by myself, because that’s what I grew up doing. I definitely did a few writes when I first moved here, not really having any idea of how to do it.
N/I - Yeah. Speak to those. How were those early, early co-writes?
Hadley - They were fine. It was the kind of thing where I didn’t know what to do. I would walk in and either not contribute at all, or just try to navigate it in a way where it felt like I wasn’t serving what was best for the song. It took my friend Bre Kennedy just sitting down with me on a couch and saying “If we bring out a guitar, open a bottle of wine, and see what happens….” and we already had broken down that wall of being friends, so we can already get really vulnerable, and that transitioned to the songwriting world for me. It was very natural. It was the first time I thought, “Oh, this is the way it should be.” Since then, I’ve been co-writing a lot.
N/I - How regularly are you going to co-writes?
Hadley - Usually a couple a week at this point. Last year I pounded the pavement a little bit more and did three or four writes a week.
N/I - Wow.
Hadley - I had set a goal that I wanted to write a certain number of songs a year, and write with as many people as I could, and I feel like I did that. But now that I’m more in the release season as an artist, I’ve scaled that back a little bit, and now I’m also writing with people I feel like are a little more interesting to write with.
N/I - I don’t mean to project anything with this question, but not being a songwriter, I like to ask about the co-writing process, because it’s so foreign to me and to a lot of people….
Hadley - It’s goofy [laughs]....
N/I - In that time that you were doing three or four a week, and even now if you’re doing two or so a week, do you feel like that might impede your solo work in any way? Not necessarily impede, but how does it affect Hadley’s solo music versus walking into a co-write knowing you’re going to be writing for someone else to use what comes of the meeting?
Hadley - In a lot of ways, I find it really liberating to go into a write and not necessarily approach it as “This is something I’m going to use for myself as an artist.” Sometimes I’ll come in with an idea with a particular person because I feel like they might have something to offer up to the song. But it’s really relaxing for me to go into a write either with an artist and say “This is absolutely going to be for you,” or “We’re just going to get together and make something cool.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be something for somebody, sometimes we do, and we have prompts and that’s cool, because it gives us direction, that’s great motivation. But a lot of times it’s great to get in a room with someone, catch up, and work on something we feel like we need to explore. And it’s nice not being the artist in that situation.
N/I - Great. So with your songs, are you doing mostly co-writes for those? Or are those mostly just yourself?
Hadley - It’s about half and half. Half were songs I just wrote by myself in my room, which is kind of how I’ve always been doing it, and the others are songs that I found from this co-writing season. They’re all people I love writing with and exploring different parts of my experience that I felt were best articulated with somebody else. My friend Olivia Rudeen, we wrote a song called “Casual” that’s going to be on this EP that’s going to be out in November, and have a few other co-writers that I’m really happy about exploring songs to their fullest potential.
N/I - So what about “Casual” sticks out to you?
Hadley - It’s one of the more rock-ish tunes. It’s a little more indie rock. On this collection of songs, it’s the angsty, shoe-gazey rock child of the project, and it’s really just something I couldn’t have done on my own. That’s the beauty of co-writing. Just going into a room and saying “I can’t do this by myself, and we both have something to offer here.”
N/I - That’s something that I’ve always admired about the circle of people that you keep - in my mind it’s one of the most collaborative groups of people in town….
Hadley - Thanks! It’s a fun group. We all sing with each other either on-stage, and share a lot of the same band members. It’s the same crew that rotates in and out. I’m really lucky to call them my best friends.
N/I -That’s great. So with the release coming up in November, and it having been roughly three years since you last released something, do you have any weird trepidations about that? Or is it same old same old?
Hadley - I’m curious to see how it goes this time around, because our music industry’s climate is always changing. I feel like every season, there’s a new buzzword that must be a part of your team, whether it’s some type of PR, or playlisting, or whatever. That’s all valid and worth exploring, but I’m at a point where I haven’t done that in three years, and I’m trying my hand at it by myself. I’ve had some success in reaching out to people and seeing if they’re interested in premiering something, or getting involved in any way. Just trying my hand in that, it’s been interesting, I feel like with every new tactic for self promotion and releasing, there’s the capital RW, right way to do it, but I sometimes feel like it’s worth seeing if I can be a little bit scrappier about it.
N/I - That’s interesting. Three years, in the grand scheme of things, is not a long time, but in the world of music and digital, it’s a considerable amount of time. The way things change…. I’ve seen people shift from sending just videos of live performances and music videos to podcast links to live streams and everything in between. Honestly, I just prefer something straight forward, but seeing how dramatically people lay things out in terms of this is how, when, and where it’s going to happen, it seems to suck the fun out of the rest of it.
Hadley - Especially the whole, “Here’s everything, and here’s how you fit into everything,” part of it. I get it, though, because people have teams and they make big old plans about everything, that’s fine, but I want to enjoy it too.
N/I - That’s the most important part. Outside of your core group, have you seen Nashville respond to you and your music, yet? Or is it too soon to tell?
Hadley - I’ve seen it in small, tangible ways. I’ve been playing with my band a lot around town the past few years, and kind of like we were saying, I’ve solidified what I want my live sound to sound like, and I’m lucky those guys are my pals, but we’ve been playing as a band for about two years, and it’s been really rewarding to watch two years ago, maybe twenty people show up, but now at every show, there’s more and more people who come to watch. I’ll start playing the same songs, and people will come up and say “Hey, I’ve seen you play a few times, where can I get this music?” I kind of have to say “Hey! It’s coming soon,” and dance around the fact that it’s not out yet. I like that people are starting to engage with it, not just because someone told them to, but because they wanted to. In small ways. I’m excited for this to come out so I can see how people respond to the recorded tracks.
N/I - So in that process of starting out two years ago and playing around town, what were some of the obstacles that you ran into? Trying to convince people you were worth booking?
Hadley - Booking is always a funny game, and I totally get it, people who book venues are running a business and a lot of times taking a gamble on who they haven’t statistically proven they can sell tickets or drinks. I’m really grateful for the venues who have taken a chance on me and let me work my way up, from playing smaller open mic style stuff, and now playing weekend nights and headlining shows. That’s definitely been an obstacle, but that’s part of the process of coming up here in town. That’s what I tell people when they want to start playing. Do the open mics, New Faces Nite, writers rounds, and then you meet bartenders and promoters and make the relationships that will help you work your way up.
N/I - So you have people coming to you for advice, now?
Hadley - Every so often. Usually Berklee students who have just graduated and are coming to Nashville for the first time, or people who come to shows for the first time and see people responding, or just showing up and saying “Hey, that’s where I want to be.” That’s what I did when I first showed up here. I tell people it’s a total right of passage to just go up to people after a show and say “Hey, I like what you’re doing and I’d like to pick your brain about how you’re doing it.” It’s kind of funny being on the other side of that - not in a way that I feel like I’ve made it or anything - but in a way that it’s a beautiful thing to work toward making progress and hearing people say, “Hey, I think you’ve made some progress.” and then it’s like “Oh wow. What a beautiful moment of reflection.”
N/I - It’s a moment of positive affirmation.
Hadley - Yeah. And after being here for five years, it’s cool to be able to offer that to people who have only been here for a little bit and want to start doing the artist thing or start co-writing more. The beautiful thing about Nashville is that there’s such a community here and if there’s anything I can do to help promote that sense of community through hard work and things like that, I’m happy to do it.
N/I - Have you seen that community aspect change over the past five years? Has it shifted in any way?
Hadley - I think it’s shifted in a way, for sure. People change as they grow up, especially in our early mid twenties. I think people that I met when I first moved here have taken their paths and I’ve taken mine, which is totally fine and respectable, but in that same vein, I’ve met people more recently who are some of my closest friends, and I had no idea who they were in 2014, but now I can’t imagine my musical career without them. I think it all changes more often than not, for the best.