By Lindsey Fleming
[S]itting with Haley Slagle at the bar of 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown, WV—where the homegrown singer/song writer recently performed material off her first solo album, Liar’s Best Friend—she can be a little tough to hear, even when you’re across a booth from her.
And unlike when Slagle played in front of a sizable crowd at this college town music venue a few days prior, 123 Pleasant Street is mostly free of patrons this early on a Wednesday evening.
So, when she explains that her vocals used to get lost when she’d take the stage here—or anywhere—it’s easy to believe.
“The bands I was in when I was younger, they were always really loud,” Slagle said. “Nobody ever heard what I was saying. I could have said anything.”
Then came along an “unnervingly quiet” project that eventually fell apart, but taught Slagle to write with intention and left her with the seeds for Liar’s Best Friend, out September 4.
Bandmate Jeremy Batten, the new album’s producer, pushed Slagle to develop the songs.
When arranging, Slagle and the foursome who back her—Batten, William Matheny, Bryan Smith and Michael Stewart—kept things simple, recording everything in two weekend sessions in Smith’s basement.
Batten’s eight-channel preamp dictated the use of limited mics, and he said, “We just tried not overthink it.”
What started out as a collection of forlorn songs with a traditional country bent evolved into nine sparser, more precise tracks that are no less evocative for the transformation.
Take for instance, Slagle’s version of Dwight Yoakam’s “Ain’t That Lonely Yet.” Instead of the country legend’s gritty goodbye, she takes a more melancholy approach, while Stewart’s use of synthesizer switches up the sound even further.
“That was a fun thing that just happened organically,” Batten said. “Michael went from bass to synth, which isn’t an instrument you use that much in that style of music.
“While the lyrics on that song aren’t super happy, it’s also something of a middle finger, the way (Yoakam) sings it. But with Haley, it’s more like her trying to convince herself that, no, she’s not that lonely.”
“We let it evolve how it was going to evolve,” Slagle said of the entire project. “I just felt like we didn’t force anything. If we were trying to record something and it didn’t work or arrange something and it didn’t work, we just walked away from it.”
It’s not the most natural feeling for Slagle, a songwriter who’s not good at letting go, lyrically.
“Normally, I have this obsessive need to finish things, where I’m just like why?” she said.
You’d be forgiven if, when listening to Liar’s Best Friend, you get the impression that this is true for more than the artist’s creative process.
In the album’s introduction, “Through the Autumn Chill,” Slagle bemoans emotional stagnation over the slide of seasons.
Then there’s “Whiskey,” built on the concept of drinking your way through a town full of bars to get over someone.
But this isn’t a break-up album in the traditional sense. True, its inspiration is a soured relationship, just not a romantic one.
“It can be even harder,” Slagle said, of cutting ties with a friend.
And, these days, her visceral delivery of that devastation is certainly getting heard.
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With the album’s “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” already released (via an exclusive premiere with Elmore), Slagle will share the stage with Lydia Loveless on September 12 at 123 Pleasant Street, preceded by gigs at the Tree House Lounge in Washington, D.C. on September 4, at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall on September 7, at Fairmont, WV’s Joe N’ Throw on September 19, as well as a September 8 performance for The Huffington Post’s “A-Sides” sessions.