Haley Reinhart Talks Post-American Idol Life and Musical Longevity

Haley Reinhart invites Dallas fans into her magical mystery world this Wednesday at Club Dada.
Haley Reinhart invites Dallas fans into her magical mystery world this Wednesday at Club Dada. Heather Koepp
Singer Haley Reinhart’s velvety vocals are highly delectable, to the point that one would hope for a case of synesthesia — a condition that often results in an ability to taste music. Her sultry, growled phrasing moves teasingly along her unpredictable arrangements, landing Reinhart in third place on Season 10 of American Idol. Her elimination in 2011 was a real foreshadowing of America’s lack of judgment while voting, but Reinhart kept her following, releasing her fourth studio album, LoFi Soul, this past March, and her covers, like “Creep” with Postmodern Jukebox, have become certified gold.

Despite all her viral success and endorsements by pop culture titans like Ellen DeGeneres, Reinhart is still the most under-appreciated vocalist of her generation. She spoke to the Observer via phone on a tour stop in Minneapolis, ahead of her show at Club Dada on Wednesday, with opener Remy Reilly.

Dallas Observer: You do some voice acting, on Netflix’s F is for Family, and you’ve said you can do a lot of voices. What’s the best impression you can do?

Reinhart: I grew up doing [South Park’s] Cartman a lot for my friends, that was pretty fun. I mostly make up a lot of my own whacky voices. I’m actually super inspired by Mo Collins from her Mad TV days, and now I get to work with her and she’s a good friend of mine, so that’s pretty full-circle.

One of your cast mates is Laura Dern and now you’re singing with Jeff Goldblum. I’ve heard his team reached out to you.

Yeah, it seems like a crazy small degree of separation between all of these things that have been happening. [Dern]’s such a sweet woman and I can’t say enough good things about Jeff. He’s an incredible individual and so authentic. There’s nobody like Jeff, and I love working with him any chance I get.

You’ve also sang with Tony Bennett, Slash, Steven Tyler and Robby Krieger. What have you yet to do?

Oh, man. Well, the first person that comes to mind since I’m in love with all of those people, icons of mine, would be Paul McCartney. I’ve seen him countless times but it’s still a dream of mine to meet him, be in the presence of him, and to get to sing (with him) would be even crazier of a dream come true.

You were a bit of a critic’s favorite on American Idol, and even Tom Hanks said he voted for you twice, yet you seemed to receive an unfair amount of criticism from the judges, except from Steven Tyler. Do you think things would’ve gone differently with different judges, say, (seasons 13-15 judge) Harry Connick Jr.?

Well, I’m forever grateful because Steven was the one always in my corner. I think it would’ve been different if any of the other judges (Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez) were replaced with Harry Connick Jr. (Laughs.) That would’ve been great. No, it’s all relative and happened the way it should, and I’m super grateful for all of it because it’s really, truly built me up to be this — the kind of person that can tour and be a business woman and just kind of keep going for eight years straight now and have fun, but also be a little tough enough to get through it all. Crazy business.

You’ve talked about building a career based on longevity. What are some mistakes you see new artists make?

I would say that you can’t really put all your eggs in one basket and rely on a million other people to do things for you. And when I say that, I really mean especially, you have to really identify who you are and your brand — I would think that’s kind of essential — and then you build an amazing team around you. And I’ve done it all sorts of ways, started with a huge team, (record label) Interscope and all that stuff. That’s great but I think for longevity, you have to continuously keep going and know who you are, enough to put your stamp on things and stand up for yourself and tell (labels) what you are and what you’re not gonna do.

Let’s talk about

"The whole dark horse thing is really what has driven me since American Idol. I’ve always had a very fighter kind of spirit." — Haley Reinhart

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 your new album, which you released independently. What was behind that decision?

I had just been waiting to make a record like this. I’m such a fan of alternative music and a place where anything goes between rock and roll and a kind of pop that leans to the left, and that’s me when I’m not doing other things like jazz. So doing it independently was super fun and a hard challenge, and I don’t regret a second of it because I already feel very rewarded just feeling that I could do it. I hired on different people, parts of my team, that are sensational and they’ve helped me accomplish the things that I want to accomplish, so this album was kind of, I feel, like a stepping out into my truest form, at least at this point where I’m at in my life, and it shows a lot of colors of who I am.

On your song, “Honey, There’s the Door,” you say you want a man to compare you to Marilyn and to Brigitte Bardot. Do you ever get any comparisons you don’t agree with?

I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten too many crazy comparisons and maybe that’s ’cause I’m kind of going far left a lot of the time, and covering guy songs and things like that. But yeah, if I were to be compared to anybody, I’d definitely want it to be somebody that’s had a long career and has class to them and, you know, rocks.

You grew up with a musician family and started singing onstage as a toddler, is that right?

Yeah, well, we kind of have a thing like that going on and off where I go back home to Chicago and I have my parents’ band back me up and we play together at different fests. Even last night there was a homecoming for me, I got to bring my dad onstage and we sang “Can’t Find My Way Home” from Blind Faith. He got to play guitar on “Shook” with my other two guitarists, and it’s always such a beautiful feeling to have my mom and my dad and my sister, all the ones who’ve taught me what it means to be a musician, there with me and paying it back, paying it forward, because I appreciate them so much for what they’ve given me over the years.

What’s your favorite subject unrelated to music?

I’m a really spiritual person, so I like to talk about how everything in life seems to connect, and this synchronicity that travels along through within, and through, all of us, and I feel really super connected to the universe. I like to open up that kind of conversation with people and see how that affects them in their realm in the world.

I’ve heard that you’re into the paranormal. Who would you resurrect from the dead for a collaboration?

Oh my gosh, the first one in mind would be John Lennon, that would be my pick. Everybody back then had such a mysticism, a lot of mystery going on back in those days, and I miss that. I wasn’t really there to be a part of it but wish I was. And John, having him leave so early on, I so wish I could see what he would be creating now, and to create with him would be a real dream.

Since this is all everyone is talking about today, other than the Notre Dame Cathedral burning, let’s get on the bandwagon: Do you watch Game of Thrones?

I actually don’t. I just saw a meme yesterday and I think I’m part of that one percent that has not seen much of it. But I’m sad to hear about what’s going on (in Paris), it’s terrible. Tragic.

Tell me something you’re obsessed with right now.

Shoot, I’m obsessed with touring right now. I’m in love with my band, they’re mostly new guys and they’re flawless musicians. I was super sick when this tour kicked off, and prior to it when my album released, I was the sickest I think I’ve ever been, so it was a crazy rough beginning where I was crossing my fingers and saying a prayer, but they really just stepped it up and we worked it out, and it came together kind of miraculously. And now I’m just straight cruising; we have a really good flow so I’m really obsessed with it right now.

What albums are you playing on repeat?

Let’s see. Traveling on the road, one of my go-to’s is Rufus Wainwright’s Poses, and I saw him in concert back in Chicago. I’m really into a lot of the art performers that are just kind of super eclectic, and he’s one of those artists. Anything Beatles, of course, and I kind of just loop all the oldies that I love. There a lot of new people that I’m digging, but I’m an oldies girl for sure.
Do you plan the arrangements for your covers, with Postmodern Jukebox for example?

I guess you could say the production is a full-on collaboration. As far as originals, I write the majority of the lyrics and when I do covers I like to, first and foremost, pick a song that I relate to and deeply connect to, and then I like to completely stylize it to do just from my heart what I feel. All those covers have been cool, too — if they have an outline, to go in deeper and show them what I think.

You moved to LA, right?

Yeah, I actually moved right after the show ended and I did a 50-city tour with Idol, and I’ve been there ever since.

I feel like your home must look like a silver screen diva’s.

Oh, man. I’m hoping to have an upgrade very soon, but at this point in time my spot is legitimately like one big beautiful closet of just anything you could imagine, because with all these videos and stuff, I go thrifting and grab all kinds of, you name it, like wigs and wings and clothes and props. So yeah, I’m definitely in need of an upgrade, to have a couple of rooms where they could just straight-up be my closet. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Any plans to get into acting? People on the internet suggest you play Stevie Nicks and I thought I’d pass along the message. Who would you like to play?

That’s awesome. I’ve seen that before, I would love that. I don’t know, I guess anybody from that older time would be really cool, like a Dusty Springfield or a Janis or Grace Slick or something like that would be awesome. Or maybe even going back to Doris Day or an older jazz singer. It doesn’t even have to be a singer. I really would love to get into acting more ’cause I grew up doing it a lot in school, a lot of improv and plays when I was young. I’m into it.

What’s something you’re not good at at all?

I’m just thinking back to school days. I’m not really good at math or geography. When I’m going certain places I’m like, "I’m gonna leave it to the driver ’cause my sense of direction is not really the best."

Going back to American Idol, you said something when you were leaving like, “You’ll be seeing me, this ain’t the end of this thing,” which a lot of reality show contestants say, but in your case was true. Do you think that dark horse element helped? It hasn’t necessarily gone well for a lot of Idol winners.

Yeah, that’s interesting. I think the whole dark horse thing, and the underdog, is really what has driven me since that time, and it keeps me going. I’ve always had a very fighter kind of spirit and I think that having a platform like that boost you up and say, "Hey, it’s all up to you now, go for it," has really allowed me to soar and just do my thing.

It seems fair to say that your fans just love hearing your voice and would buy anything as long as you’re singing on it, even if it’s Nickelback covers. In terms of sound alone, whose voice is your favorite?

Man, I’m sure that I have a bunch. Let me think first. Can you tell me one of yours?

Eartha Kitt’s.

Oh my God, are you kidding me? That’s who I was just gonna say, that’s really weird. Eartha’s kind of been a huge inspiration to me, even more recently, even on this record. It’s interesting that you say that.

I can see that same playfulness, too.

Yeah, thanks. I adore her, and she is one of those people whose voice can just form into whatever she wants; she’s cat-like, it’s amazing. Lyrically, one of my other favorite women artists is Corinne Bailey Rae. I’ve always loved her music and her storytelling.
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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio