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Hailee Steinfeld on Working With Max Martin, Following Up ‘Love Myself’

Oscar-nominated actor talks making jump to singing with new ‘Haiz’ EP

Hailee Steinfeld

Hailee Steinfeld surveys her whirlwind transition from acting to singing, made official on a new EP, 'Haiz.'

Dani Brubaker

At 18 years old, Hailee Steinfeld already has a few blockbuster films and an Oscar nomination under her belt. As of this summer, she can add a pop hit to that list, thanks to the success of her catchy, empowering “Love Myself.” On November 13th, the singer and actress, who most recently fused both talents in a role in Pitch Perfect 2, will release her debut EP, Haiz, and then play a string of Jingle Ball shows alongside heavyweights like Demi Lovato, 5 Seconds of Summer and Fifth Harmony. While filming her upcoming film Besties in Vancouver, Steinfeld took some time to discuss her budding music career and debut EP.

Is Haiz a nickname for you?
Haiz is something that my fans started calling me for a while. I felt as though if I titled it Haiz, it would kind of make it feel like they had named it, in a way. Obviously, this is my first time releasing more than just a single, and I’ve been so excited, and I’ve had so much support from the fans, so I really wanted to make it feel as if this was something from me to them.

Anyone else in your life call you Haiz?
I do know that it’s my name in some of my friends’ phones!

Was singing a love that you had before acting or did the two passions sprout up at the same time for you?
They really did start at the same time. I think the idea of performing and entertaining has always been of interest to me, and that’s where it all stems from. Growing up, my mom listened to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. My dad would always play the Eagles, the Police and Steve Miller Band. My brother is kind of like me and a kind of a combination of my parents, but we have our own taste in addition to that. I’ve grown up listening to such a wide variety of music that one thing I have found, in making music, is that it constantly changes and evolves, and you go with a person, and you experience new things that you’re inspired by, and you find new things that you’re inspired by. It’s so amazing to go back and reference music that’s so classic and timeless, and I really owe that to my parents, just having grown up listening to what they love.

What are you listening to now?
Oh, my gosh, there’s so much. A lot of my favorite artists are releasing new music, which I’m so excited about. I’ve been listening to Kehlani. A lot. I’m obsessed with her album You Should Be Here. The writers and producers I’ve been working with on my music — Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, Mattman and Robin — have done some songs in the past couple months, with Selena Gomez. Artists that I’ve been listening to a lot are Alessia Cara, the Weeknd. 

Hailee Steinfeld

What were the steps that led to you launching your acting career before you were able to launch your music career?
I don’t think I could tell you a time when I wasn’t singing, or am not singing. It’s always been something I loved. When I first got into acting, my cousin was doing commercials at the time, and the minute I saw it come on the TV, I ran into my parents room and said, “I wanna do that! I wanna be on commercials,” thinking it’s just something you do. Singing is just something you do, and I’ve been a singer, like, doesn’t this make me a singer? I realize, obviously, that there’s so much more to it, and when I got started with the acting, that obviously took up a lot of my time the first couple of years I got into it. I started gaining interest in recording music seriously after I got into my acting, because I got a taste of what acting was, and I wanted to explore something else — that being music — something I’d been interested in for years. I started recording covers and would co-write when I was around 12, 13. Then I did Pitch Perfect 2, the perfect role, and segued into what I’m doing now.

Had you been offered singing roles before?
I hadn’t been offered any roles that had to do with singing before. When I saw the first Pitch Perfect movie, I was immediately like, “My God. If there is ever a movie like that, I’ve got to do it.” I had so much fun watching it, and I loved it, the music and everything. It was such a great feel-good film. But I thought if there was ever anything like this — not even thinking that there would or could be a sequel — I wanted to do something like that, to give me the opportunity to really fully explore music on a professional level. When Pitch Perfect 2 came around, I did everything I could to be a part of it, and it was the best experience ever and has led to so much. 

Let’s talk about the first time that you met Charlie Walk of Republic Records. What did you play for him? Was it an original song or was it one of the covers you had recorded?
When I met Charlie, I think it was in November — oh, my God, it was this time last year. Wow, OK. So it was like a year ago. I played him an original song. I played him some of the music that I sang in Pitch Perfect 2. That was it. I was looking for anything that I could play him because we were having a conversation and were going back and forth about how much I really wanted to make music and how much I’d been doing it on my own time. I was kind of just dabbling here and there. Then all of a sudden, he’s like, “Play me something.” “And I’m like, “Oh, my god, OK. Well, I have like two songs I could show you.” So I popped in my songs right at this dinner table of this event that we were at. And he just is listening to my music, just rocking out, right in front of me. I was like, “This can’t be real, like, this just doesn’t happen.” It was so random that I sat next to him. He had no idea who I was; I had no idea who he was. We just got to talking and it was just insane. It’s crazy how organic this has all happened.

Did the original song you played him make it onto the EP?
It did not make it on to this. But hopefully, if it doesn’t make it on the album, I could always do a bonus track or something.

Let’s talk about Haiz. I love how cheeky a lot of the lyrics are, especially on your “You’re Such A.” There are so many double-take moments, lyrically. You mentioned working with Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter and Mattman and Robin. Can you take me through the recording process and how you began to discover your sound?
I would describe the sound as, I think, “edgy pop.” One thing I’ve loved so much about working with the four of them, for one, it never felt like work. It’s really always been a matter of like hanging out and having a good time and talking, and within conversations, the experiences and feelings and stories come out. We inspire each other and magic happens. It’s been so amazing to go through this entire process with them because I’m so fascinated by how the four of them work together and separately.

I know you did a little bit of work with Max Martin. Is he on the EP or is that for the album?
He has cuts on a couple of the songs on the EP, which is hard for me to comprehend. When I first met him, I went to the studio and there was a parking spot that said “Reserved for Max Martin,” and there was no car there the day before. Then I went in the next day and there was a car there, and I was like “Oh, that’s weird. It’s probably somebody dropping something off and they just parked out front or something.” I go in the studio, and he isn’t in there and didn’t really think anything of it. While I’m in a conversation with somebody, I turn around and Max Martin just walks through the door. He was so soft-spoken. Oh, my God, I immediately texted my parents. I felt like crying! I am in one of the coolest studios in L.A. with the most incredible people and Max Martin is here listening to my music. It was just so surreal and still really is. I can’t thank him enough for showing interest and putting his touch on these songs.

Any favorite songs he’s produced?
What he did with Britney [Spears] obviously and what he did with Taylor [Swift]. I’ve learned now, as I did through film working with certain directors, when you watch a film and … for example, the first movie I ever did was with the Coen Brothers. I was 13 years old and had not seen their films before because as a 13-year-old, I wouldn’t have seen any Coen Brothers films. After watching a few of them and working with them, I picked up on this style that they have and this sense of humor that they have and this twist they have. When you listen to music, I find that having worked with Max Martin and working with people who are really close to Max, there’s this sense of sound and vibe that you know is coming from them. It is so amazing how they’ve broken down pop music and how they produce these tracks and so incredible to be in the studio with them and see them do it. 

Having been an Oscar-nominated actress and someone who has been doing it for a long time, when you stepped into the recording studio to record your own music for the first time, did you approach it the way you would approach a character in a film? How did you enter that different world?
Well, I remember one of the first times I went into the studio, it was all very different and I was completely unfamiliar with the whole process of how it works. You go in the studio, you get set up with the microphone, you turn everything to your levels or whatever and you get all settled, and I basically didn’t know anything. I was walking into the unknown and a couple people told me it’s as if you’re playing a character — like, just to make the comparison to what I do know and what I’m used to in acting and playing characters. I found it very hard to make it like it was a character that I was playing, because for the first time I felt like I wasn’t and that it was me. Once I was able to let that guard down of feeling like I had to play some kind of character, I was able to really go in there as myself and have fun and let my voice come through. One of my favorite parts of this whole experience is putting my own words and my own voice into what I can call my own project. 

Hailee Steinfeld

I think my favorite track on the EP is “Hell Nos and Headphones.” I love how it ties in with the anti-cool-kid narrative happening in pop music, like Alessia Cara’s “Here” and Lorde’s “Royals.” Could you tell me about that song a little bit and where it came from? 
It actually got started when I went into the studio with Justin and Julia, and I was telling them about something that had happened to me, this experience where I felt really uncomfortable. I told them how, generally speaking, there are times when I’m walking around in the world trying to figure out where I belong and noticing times where I’m uncomfortable and want to get out of a certain situation and giving myself that permission in knowing that it’s OK not to feel like you have to conform to a certain behavior. That happens often. I go through it, I see my friends go through it ,and this song is just that. It’s not feeling like you have to do or say certain things to fit into a certain place, but instead about allowing yourself to remove yourself from a certain situation without being judgmental [of others]. For me, that’s saying, “Hell no!” and “I’m going to put my headphones on and immerse myself in a different atmosphere. I’m going to go continue making music and do what I love and what makes me happy.” 

What’s been the most exciting part about launching your music career?
The best part about it, I think, is seeing how many people [“Love Myself”] has connected with. I’ve never had an instant response to anything I’ve ever worked on. With a movie, you spend months and months and months making it, and at a certain point, it’s out of your hands. Then it can come out that same year; it can come out years later, and when it does come out, you hope that it gets shown in more than 10 theaters worldwide, and sometimes that doesn’t happen. Something that you spent months on can go completely unseen or unheard of. With music, having put one single out and putting this message out that means so much to me and seeing the response from people all over the world has been incredible. Again, I am such a huge fan of music, and I love music. I mean, when my favorite artist makes new music, I look at it as the best gift in the world and to be able to now feel like I can give that to other people is pretty special. 

In This Article: Hailee Steinfeld

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