When Hailee Steinfeld released her second EP, Half Written Story, in 2020, it was only one part of the story she was meant to tell. Following a more reflective period during the pandemic, the singer, songwriter, and actress began writing a collection of songs entering a new era of her life—more confident and less angsty, all starting with the easy breezier “Coast,” co-written and recorded with Anderson .Paak.
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“I had this idea that I should get into this bigger picture project that I have been dreaming of making,” Steinfeld tells American Songwriter. “On ‘Half Written Story,’ I got off my chest what I needed to, which was a range of emotions from being angry and very emotional and frustrated and sad, which I had been feeling for a while. Then, I got into this other world, and ‘Coast’ was the first song that came about.”
Working with Canadian producer Koz, known for his work on Dua Lipa’s 2020 release Future Nostalgia, Steinfeld enters a more lightened scene on “Coast.” Also co-written with Mikky Ekko and Gabe Simon, “Coast” emits more dopamine highs and sunnier (California) days—You’re the wave upon the ocean / Poundin’ rhythm and motion / It’s a full moon kind of night / I don’t wanna go home yet / You can question my devotion / Wear my heart on my shoulder / Just relax and let the riptide pull you close … Parties in LA feel like holidays / Hit the PCH and we on the way.
“It’s one thing to write the music and be in a room with incredible people and feel like you’ve got to put it out into the world to take on a life of its own,” says Steinfeld, of songwriting now. “It’s out of my head and into yours. There’s a whole new life beyond what my original connection to the song is, but after putting those songs out [‘Half Written Story’], I wanted to create this world full of creativity and freedom.”
Holed up during the pandemic, Steinfeld began crafting her new world of songs, including “Coast,” which she initially began working on in her makeshift home studio before rerecording at EastWest Studios in Los Angeles, where The Beach Boys recorded Pet Sounds.
“I began painting this picture of this ideal world, if everyone could go out and be whoever we wanted to be, and do whatever we wanted to do,” shares Steinfeld. “I wanted to create music that felt good and felt breezy and I did the record in Malibu, which is one of my favorite places in the world, and “Coast,” along with a lot of the other music, is inspired by that.”
Now seven years after releasing her Love Myself remixes in 2015 and her 2016 debut EP, HAIZ, Steinfeld has reached a deeper connection with herself, and her music.
“I think I was allowed maybe too much time to understand where I am as a person and who I am, where I want to be, and who I want to be,” says Steinfeld. “This new collection of music came from a very confident place of feeling a little bit more relaxed, laid back. These [new] songs represent beautiful moments in my life. There’s a security and a confidence that, when I was making ‘Half Written Story,’ I didn’t have nearly as much.”
Songwriting has also been a transformative experience for the artist over the past two years. “As a writer, there are multiple approaches,” she says. “With this new project, I started with the visual world of it all. I knew what I wanted to talk about, and I’m a very visual person, so if I could figure out what this whole world looks like, then I can figure out what it sounds like. I’ve never taken that approach before.”
She adds, “As a person, and as an artist, I’m constantly evolving and learning and growing.”
Moving between music and acting, Steinfeld—who picked up an Academy Award nomination in 2010 at the age of 14 for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the Coen Brothers drama True Grit—recently starred in Apple TV+ series Dickinson, which she executive produced, earning her a 2020 Peabody Award. Steinfeld is even set to reprise her voice role as Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen) in the animated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse sequel in 2023.
“Through my acting, I’ve been exposed to a whole new world of ideas that have been created for me to step into, and it opens up a whole new world of thought and inspiration,” reveals Steinfeld. “In the last few years, I’ve started to see how it all sort of goes hand-in-hand for me.”
As the other side of Steinfeld’s story of songs unfolds, she’s ready to release an album, to tour, and would like to produce more, and even direct, on the acting side of things.
“It’s hard to stay in the present, but I want to get better at that and appreciate what I have done up until this point,” said Steinfeld. “My barometer for that is my level of happiness, if I can continue doing what I’m doing right now and remain this happy and this excited and this in love with what I’m doing.”
Photo: Katia Temkin / Republic Records