“The older I get, I still have this pull to be on the road making music all the time,” Hailey Steele told American Songwriter. “But, then I go through phases where I want to just have a balanced quiet life at home — maybe get married, have a kid or two and be stable enough to learn how to keep some plants alive.”
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For Steele — and for many women in Western society — the struggle of longing for both an autonomous career and a comfortable domestic life has been a difficult weight to carry. While the current patriarchal system allows for men to balance their vocational ambitions with their personal lives, women have long been denied the same luxury. Steele addressed this frustrating phenomenon with her new single “All I Wanted,” which dropped on June 18.
“I know a lot of women who also feel this way and have experienced having to make those choices or try to do it all at once,” Steele said. “I sat down with my co-writer Bryan Dawley — who I’ve known for years — and we were just catching up on life for a while. It just kinda fell out that I wish it was all I wanted — to do one or the other instead of trying to have both. That would make life a lot easier. His eyes got really big and he said ‘that’s what we have to write.’”
From there, Steele and Dawley began writing in Dawley’s home studio, eventually getting a solid enough idea of the song to begin laying down tracks for a demo. When it came time for Steele to record a scratch vocal take, she ended up nailing the part.
“This actually started off as the demo vocal we did at Bryan’s house the day we wrote it,” she said. “His wife had just had a new baby and they were sleeping, and they also have a toddler who was sleeping. Additionally, I couldn’t get through the song without crying… so, for all of these reasons we were trying to get the vocal down gingerly and swiftly while still capturing the emotion. The final vocal is a one-take live thing and I’m trying not to cry or wake up any babies. Right after this is when COVID-19 got serious in Nashville, so I went home to South Dakota to quarantine and we decided we were going to release it. Bryan produced the track and beautifully played all of the instruments you hear around my initial session vocals.”
“I would have never been able to write this with a new co-writer or someone I didn’t know that well because of how vulnerable I had to get,” Steele continued. “I just wouldn’t have been able to get quite as real. And not only is Bryan a great writer and instrumentalist, but he also has a wife, two kids and has been in a band with a woman for a long time, so we were very much on the same page.”
The end result is something that is palpably intimate and universally relatable. Dawley’s tasteful acoustic arrangement perfectly frames Steele’s vocals to make a picture that is as gentle as it is powerful, as understated as it is grand.
“I want everybody who hears this song to know that it’s okay to want more than one thing for your life,” Steele said. “I especially want women to hear it and feel like they are understood. I’ve seen women struggle with these pressures that are put on us — or that we have put on ourselves — to stay young, have a family and have a successful career while seeming like you’re completely sane and keeping it together. For some it’s possible and for some it isn’t. I’ve had this conversation so many times with women I know and love, and this song is me recognizing that struggle for all of us.”
Listen to Hailey Steele’s new single “All I Wanted” below: