Hailey Kilogore has been really grabbing our attention these last few months with the recent release of her EP “Desire and Devotion” (co-executive produced by Adam Blackstone) and her handful of singles that came out before that. Known for the role of Ti Moune on the Broadway show Once on This Island and as Jukebox on Power Book III: Raising Kanan, this singer/songwriter is now tackling a new journey of becoming an independent artist.
Although clearly an accomplished actress and individual already (she’s been nominated for a Tony Award after all), it’s now Hailey Kilogore’s time to shine as the powerhouse vocalist and songwriter she is. With songs like “Three” and “Miss U” that provide 90’s/2000’s nostalgia while keeping it fresh, Hailey is quickly becoming one of our favorite female R&B acts. Bringing back storytelling and emotion in her music through her lyrical content and vocal ability, it’s no wonder why we feel she will be a major threat in the years to come. We talked to Hailey about some artists who inspired her, the meaning behind her EP “Desire and Devotion”, working with Adam Blackstone, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So of course I gotta say congrats on the EP and on the release. You’re a vocalist to me, when I hear you sing it’s like wow, so where’d you get that vocal ability from? Talk about your background in music in general.
Hailey Kilgore: I’ve always loved to sing. It’s always been my safe spot. It’s always been where I feel like I can be the most vulnerable, the most authentic, the most honest. Ever since I was a baby, I’ve been singing even when I was a little girl. It didn’t matter if we were in the grocery store, I would sing full out. It didn’t matter if we were at the gas station, I would sing full out. That’s just what I loved. My parents really supported and nurtured my gift. I would not be here vocally if it weren’t for them. I’ve done theater, I’ve done gospel choir, which I love, I’ve done Hip-Hop with Power. I’ve just done so many things with my voice that I’ve always been kind of hiding behind a character, singing someone else’s music or covering someone else’s music. So it was really exciting when I took on the EP for sure.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell me a few artists and albums that influenced your style and made you want to start making music.
Hailey Kilgore: Songs in the Key of A Minor by Alicia Keys. I love her endlessly. I respect her endlessly. Really watching her, observing all the behind the scenes and live performances and even being in the room with her, she really taught me to focus on the artistry of the song. I’m of a generation where it’s about maybe the viral-bilty of a song, making sure a song is viral enough, making sure a song is gonna pop off on TikTok or whatever the case may be, which is beautiful in a lot of ways, but she really taught me the artistry of writing a song and making sure the emotion is in the song. So her, definitely Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, just all of the divas. All of the people who really sing, that’s who inspired me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I wanted your perspective on this whole Tik-Tok era because you make music that’s so opposite of that. I say that as a compliment because that’s what we love and it reminds me of the stuff that I grew up with. Is it a little bit intimidating to see where the atmosphere is when you put out these songs?
Hailey Kilgore: I think it’s cool. I think that at first I was like, okay, this is where we are *laughs* . I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but the more that I observe kind of this culture where music is at and finding music, I like to separate the artistry from making it promotable or whatever the right word is. I find it very interesting. I love seeing people connect to different songs in different ways, and I think it’s also giving more opportunities for independent artists like me, unknown musical artists like me. While yes we still have to fight the record labels and all of that stuff, we have this new found outlet that we can share directly to consumers [like] “Hey, this is what I’ve got going on. I hope you connect to it in some way. I hope it makes you feel something”. So I think it’s cool.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I wanna really focus on the music because it’s amazing and I feel like you deserve to get that spotlight. Who were you listening to when you made the EP and where was your headspace at? Who were you drawing inspiration from when you took on this project?
Hailey Kilgore: Like I said, Alicia Keys. I have this really special playlist that’s kind of like my writing playlist and it’s literally called “the Playlist”. It’s got Janet. It’s got Whitney. It’s got Muni Long. I have so much respect for her as an artist. She really even inspired me on the business end of things. There’s so many people. Coco Jones is on it. Kiana Ledé. I love Kiana Ledé. I love her personality. I love how real she is and I love how real her music is. Ariana Grande, which was interesting because I used to be a really, really big Ariana Grande fan when I was like a kid, but as I’ve gotten older and I go back and listen to Yours Truly, all of her earlier projects, I really respect her musicality. I really loved that for inspiration. Those were kind of the main artists I listened to.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s funny you mentioned Muni Long. Right now I have a favorite group of female musicians from this generation, you’re one of them. Muni Long, Jai’Len Josey, Nija and Joyce Wrice are some others, so you’re definitely in that caliber. Let’s go back to the EP. What is the meaning behind the title, Desire And Devotion?
Hailey Kilgore: We worked on the project for four years. It has been a journey. There were moments where it was extremely difficult and heartbreaking, and then there were also these breakthrough, beautiful artistic, I see the light moments at the same time. Desire and Devotion really came to us when we finally had a full body of work. I actually had like two or three albums worth of music ready to go. It was a little difficult getting a hold of my producer Adam Blackstone sometimes, because he’s literally everywhere: world tours, Oscars, Super Bowl. He’s doing it all, but he was also helping me. I love Adam. I’m so grateful for Adam. We sat down and had a meeting, and he was like “Girl, you have too many songs. Why don’t you split them up into smaller projects?”. One, because that way it’s easier for the listener to digest and really fall in love with certain songs. And two, longevity and being able to have the Rolodex of music ready to go.
Desire and Devotion came from falling in love. We decided that we were gonna split the album up into two parts. So there’s Desire and Devotion, and then part two is Heartbreak and Healing. You get a mini exclusive right there. Desire and Devotion is the story of falling in love, whatever that means for someone. Falling in love with yourself, falling in love with someone else. And the story between the two because in my [early twenties], you know, you’re in your early twenties as well, I experienced really deep, real, beautiful love for the first time. It starts as one thing, but then it ends as something else. I think there’s something to be said for lust, romance and the fantasy of all of that, which is beautiful and a beautiful experience in and of itself. That is kind of the first half of the EP. It’s all about the lusty, sensual moments. Then as we go to the second part of the EP, which is a little bit more ballady, a little bit more vulnerable, it’s about that true devotion to someone and that true level of commitment. So yeah, that’s where the title came from.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I love that. That definitely tells me why we like your music so much because you have such a great concept of what you wanna come across with. I can’t believe you just told me there’s a second part coming. I’m trying to process that right now.
Hailey Kilgore: I’m excited!
YouKnowIGotSoul: If you wanna talk about it right now, go ahead. I was gonna ask you your plans for 2023. We can jump into that if you want to?
Hailey Kilgore: Yeah I think my goal last year in 2022 was to just start putting music out and just start putting myself out there in that space, which is a lot different than putting yourself out there as an actor. I’m trying to slow down and enjoy the first EP and really put it out there and get more ears on it. But yeah, I’m really excited for part two. I love that not only is there storytelling in the albums, but also you just hear my songwriting getting better. You hear the production getting better. You hear the vocal arrangements getting tighter. It’s just a journey. I’m enjoying that part alongside the music release element of things.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For sure. I can’t wait now, especially if you’re saying it’s gonna be better. Let’s go back to Adam Blackstone. I know he’s worked with a lot of people like Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, and I could see a little bit of their sounds in what came across in your EP. How did you meet Adam and how did the project come together?
Hailey Kilgore: We worked together [before]. We workshopped a theater project together that he was working on musical arrangements for. I know that people know Adam for the tours and the live shows, and he’s like the mastermind behind all of that, but he’s also done a lot of Broadway stuff like he worked on Hamilton. So our paths crossed in the theater world. It’s so funny because when we started this music journey initially, I didn’t know if I could do it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Why? What’s the difference between theater and the music?
Hailey Kilgore: It’s so weird, it was an insecurity thing. I just didn’t feel like I was allowed to be myself musically. I thought I had to just be one thing. So when I did this project with Adam, I just remember every time we would sing through something, he would be like “Just sing out and sing to you. Be you and sing with your soul”. That really just changed me as a person. So I have a lot of respect for Adam just as a human. We haven’t even touched on the music part of things yet. He’s just a beautiful person.
I reached out to him afterwards and I was like, “Hey, I really would like to do my own music. I don’t know if it’s gonna fly or if it’s gonna fail, but I would love to learn from you”. I was just really honest. I was just like, I have so much that I need to learn and I feel like you can teach me and I feel like you’re the right person to teach me. Luckily he emailed right away he was like, “Yes, of course!”. He’s just always been in my corner, creatively and as a friend.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The first song I want to talk about is the single “Miss You”. That’s definitely one of the ones that really got us super excited for what was to come. I’m gonna name the song and just tell me a little bit of the inspiration behind it and how it felt making it. So we’ll start with “Miss You”.
Hailey Kilgore: “Miss You” was … I had a bomb weekend with my boyfriend at the time and I was like I am in love with this man. I love him so much that just the feeling when they’re gone and you know you’re gonna see them again, and you know they’re thinking of you and you’re thinking of them and the spiritual connection of it all, I was like, I’m in love.
I got it bad. I wrote the song in 15 minutes. Like I have the voice memo *laughs*.
YouKnowIGotSoul: “Hold Me”, that to me is like Whitney straight out. The whole production. Tell me what was the inspiration behind that and how it felt to make that song because when I hear it, I’m impressed.
Hailey Kilgore: “Hold Me” was one of those songs that was a song that I needed, which I hope translates when people hear it. I struggle with depression. I was going through a really low point where I didn’t know, you know. I’m a young black woman in the entertainment industry and I got started very, very young. I’m such a workhorse. I didn’t focus on my mental health. So this one morning I was sitting at my piano, I was living in East Harlem at the time, and the song just came to me. I remember being like, I just want my Mom and Dad *laughs*. So yeah, it’s one of my favorite songs. It’s gonna go down as one of my favorites.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Absolutely. It’s definitely one of my favorites off the EP. I appreciate you being open about the struggle with depression. I think that, again, it goes back to your music and how the whole team feels it because of how open you are on it. Let’s hop into probably my favorite song “Three”. I think it’s the best song that’s come out in the last two to three years and I genuinely mean that. You have to tell me everything about it.
Hailey Kilgore: Thank you so much, that means a lot to me. I really appreciate it. “Three” was one of the first songs that I ever wrote in my life, from start to finish. What’s so amazing is that literally three years ago I didn’t know anything. I had GarageBand, and I had a little Guitar Center microphone that wasn’t even a condenser mic. It was like a Skype microphone. I sat in the kitchen and I came up with the melody. That’s really inspired by Motown, Aretha Franklin. Honestly, that’s another one that’s just super vulnerable. I did a little terrible GarageBand demo of the whole thing. Then eventually we were in the middle of the album process, I was going through some files and I found it. I went into the studio and I recorded the whole thing acapella. I sent it to Adam, he was like “no, no, no” give me a week. So he took it away for a week, sent it back, and it was just like, oh, this is this music. This is so music, like, I remember this, I remember growing up hearing this, but it’s so weird that it’s me. That song is a dream. I love “Three”. One day when I’m hopefully touring the world singing, I can’t wait to sing that live.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Only request I have is you gotta let me come and see you live. That’s it.
Hailey Kilgore: Of course! You guys have been so supportive. I have to thank you because I’m an independent artist and it’s hard to get support. People are busy, people are stressed, people are sad, people are tired so I’m really grateful for you guys. You guys are always gonna get the VIP tickets.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I appreciate you appreciating it. A lot of the independent artists we talk to, they do face those struggles. So as much as we can help, especially when the music is the quality that it is, we have to help. I’m really interested in your background in terms of Broadway and acting. What have you taken from those roles to the music now, if anything? Going back to Jai’Len Josey, I think she is amazing too and I feel like it’s from that Broadway and church come up. Has Broadway and the singing roles you’ve had affected your music in any way?
Hailey Kilgore: When you eventually talk to Jai’Len, I’m curious to hear what she says. First of all, I love her. That’s my girl. I have to start with gospel choir actually. I’m so glad I started with the gospel choir because I learned: Be truthful, be real, be grounded and sing for something that’s bigger than you. So I had that instilled in my brain at a very young age. When I got into theater: perform, reach people, and stage presence. It’s definitely impacted my music in a lot of beautiful ways. I know the difference between a performance track like “Dream” right? Something that’s just fun, hot and cool, but I also know how to pull it in when we have “Three” and “Hold Me”. I don’t think I would be able to do that by myself if it wasn’t for theater and watching my favorite composers. I love Stephen Sondheim, I love composers. I love watching new musicals be developed. It just all hones into the craft of it, you know what I mean? So that and then doing TV and film it’s just a great way to get yourself out there. I get to share my gift with people. You know?
Rapid Questions (Check video for full answers)
An album you’d pick if you could only play one for a month:
Whitney by Whitney Houston
Favorite song right now:
“Kill Bill” by SZA / “Irresponsible” by Kiana Ledé
A new school artist you want to work with:
A old school artist you want to work with:
Whitney Houston or Mary J Blige
Someone you want to write for:
A song you wish you wrote:
“Crazy in Love” – Beyoncé
Favorite Whitney song?
“All the Man That I Need”, but it’s gonna be “How Will I Know” tomorrow. It’s gonna be “Saving All My Love”. I just love her. How do you pick one?
An album you wish you were featured on?
ALICIA – Alicia Keys