20 Questions with Steph Hayes

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

I can’t remember the first time I saw Steph Hayes perform. As a matter of fact, I’ve sadly heard more swooning lesbians talk about her than I’ve seen her live.

That’ll change as an intimate evening with Steph Hayes on March 29th is closing in fast. She’s recording her new CD “Mostly True Stories” at Cheeks Studios. For a meager fee you can find out what makes all the girls squeal and holler. If you attend the night promises your name in the credits, food, drink and an after party.

Steph Hayes is not just a striking person, she also makes striking music. She has written w/ Billy Steinberg, John Shanks and Shelley Peiken to name a few. She has recorded for Ben Arnold, a Nelly Furtado project, and a John Lennon REMIX project.

Touring for the last few years to support her album “Dirty Beauty,” she also plays w/ Slo Mo, was a huge part of Stargazer Lily, she lyrically leads Steph Hayes and The Good Problems and I’ve seen her strumming along with the ever so dreamy Chris Schutz and The Tourists.  There’s also a project she does with Lot 6 called Shooting Ropes

Shooting Ropes is one project I would really like to see but Melinda (Lot 6) and Hayes both travel a great deal. With all this in mind Hayes says, “I make an analogy to the parts of my body and my bands represent different ones. Stargazer Lily was my heart, The Good Problems is my head and Shooting Ropes is my balls!” Shooting Ropes will be playing the Emerge Festival at Transit on May 2nd.

When I see someone with universal appeal like Steph Hayes I’m often taken back to my teen days with Tiger Beat and Smash Hits (UK) magazines. So, here is the Tiger Beat Q&A:

20 Questions with Steph Hayes

1. If you weren’t making music what would your dream job be?

I would work for the Department of Transportation as a laborer; I’d like to shovel hot asphalt, or I would be a mountain climber. I’d love to see Everest.

2. What was the first cassette (or 8 track or 45) you ever purchased?

I think it was Juice Newton. I loved “Playin’ with the Queen of Hearts.”

3. First song you ever played completely through on an instrument.

Probably a Beatles song. I had a Beatles song book. Maybe it was “Eleanor Rigby.”

4. What 3 things do you miss the most when you’re on the road?

Pete, Oscar and Nasir, my dogs.

5. How do you handle your hottie Philly Dyke Throb status?

I’m not sure I have taken full advantage of it yet, but I plan to. So look out girls!

6. What made you decide to cover Beyonce’s song?

I fell in love with that song when I first heard it. I thought it had cool emotional layers. I liked the way she was saying that ethically, he did something wrong and has to go even though it sounded like she still cared for him emotionally. Then I saw the stupid video and realized it was all tits and ass and cars and ice. Disappointing…..but I still love the song.  

7. Do you do other covers?

I’m working on some covers for my show on the 29th. Some surprising ones, I hope. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag though, or cats in this case. I love singing other people’s songs. I pretend I’m them. My dad says I’m a mimic.

8. What cover that you’ve heard is your favorite?

“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley. It stops my heart. I feel like it should be listened to only on rare occasions, it is so beautiful. Like on holidays or something. Or maybe it should have its own holiday.

9. What is your favorite venue to play a gig?

The Brick in Kansas City is pretty cool. I liked playing at The Underground in West Philly, but it kinda fell through for me. The Grey Eagle in Asheville is great. Mick’s in Omaha is cool. Eddie’s Attic, of course.

10. What is something you must have with you when you’re on the road?

Coffee. I know that’s boring but it’s true. And I love Starbucks, I can’t help it even though I know its evil. And my notebook, that is of great importance.

11. Have you ever sung the national anthem to start an event, if not, would you ever if you were asked?

I sang it once at a basketball game in high school. It was kinda lame. I don’t think I did it justice. But I love that song and I would love the opportunity to sing it again. I sing it in my car sometimes and I get very into it.

12. What are your thoughts on American Idol?

It’s a cyborg freak show! They put those people on a disfiguring assembly line which strips them of all free thought and fills them full of bad ideas while dangling the carrot of fame. I would never sign that contract. It would be like spitting in the face of art and of genuine inspiration. It makes me sick, but it’s fun to watch. And it gives me shivers sometimes but don’t tell anybody.

13. Ever shave your head completely bald?

Yeah, I looked like a tiny marine.

14. What’s the last book you read?

Run with the Hunted. It’s a collection of short stories and poems by Charles Bukowski.  

15. Describe a self-defining musical moment that has occurred in your life.

At the CD release for the Good Problems record, I did the encore as a solo. I played this really intense quiet song called, “Bottles of God,” that deals with the religion of alcoholism. As I began, people were chattering. There were a lot of them, it was at the World Café Live. By about the second verse, the whole place fell silent and all I could hear was the sound of people putting their drinks down on the tables. I have never felt the power of words so completely. It kind of scared me and I almost lost my place for a second and then suddenly, in that instant, I knew who I was.

16. Do you have words of encouragement for new musicians?

1. Be persistent. Nobody is thinking about you except you. They are not thinking, “Why does this idiot keep emailing me?” They are thinking about their own shit. If you send an email and you don’t hear back, send another one. Send 50 if you have to.
2. Nobody else sees through your eyes so give them the details. Don’t paraphrase.
3. Go on tour. There’s a world out there waiting for you.
4. Avoid the Days Inn on Trinity Lane in Nashville.
5. If you don’t listen to anything else I say, listen to me about the Days Inn.

17. What 3 albums do you never tire of listening to?

Radiohead “Pablo Honey,” Bright Eyes “Fevers and Mirrors, Liz Phair “White Chocolate Space Egg.” All brilliant. And Weezer’s blue record. Abbey Road, The Old 97s “Fight Songs.  Anything by Paul Simon. Anything by Johnny Cash.  I’m just getting into Lyle Lovett and Cursive.  Ryan Adams, “Rock and Roll.” That’s more than three, I know, but they are all important to me.  One more, Lucinda Williams, “Car Wheels on Gravel Road.”  Just one more, a classic… Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited.”

18. How do you pick your set list?

I really agonize about the set list. Well, not agonize, it’s not that painful, but I’ll pace about it. It’s very important. Must have a beginning, middle and end. Usually I like it to go up up up up, back off just a little, break it down all the way, do something shocking (like play a Beyonce song) then grab ‘em and work ‘em to a frenzy then STOP! Ahh, the formula, but it works.

19. Ever have time to watch tv? If so… what do you watch?

I like late night history channel documentaries. I like Queer as Folk or anything about ghosts. Or Law and Order SVU. Love Mariska (Hargitay) in all her various haircuts! 

20. Describe your creative process?

I let it come to me and I do my best to get it all out the right way. I am light bulb dependant. I have no control. The lights are on or the lights are off and what can I do? Certain things set me off though, like unrequited love, suspicious characters on trains, old dead writers, the empty streets of a no-name town…


photo by Sean Akers.

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