Few artists posses a duality quite like Hayley Thompson-King. The Florida-raised newcomer grew up riding and showing quarter horses, listening to country music as the family dually trucked along.
But she also fell in love with opera, eventually chasing the muse to a Master’s degree in Opera Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. The dramatic, visceral (and often violent) Romantic art form helped create a thematic base for her music.
But then again, so did her love of country. What Thompson-King ultimately comes up with is a dramatic recreation of garage country. She found a way to make high concept surf rock. Or maybe it’s psychedelic honky-tonk. You’ll just have to listen for yourself to find out.
Her natural curiosity at a young age drove her towards the sound. But it mostly came out as misbehaving in Sunday school. “I guess you could say I was obsessed with getting to the bottom of what exactly would send one to hell,” she says.
Just latch onto that and remember it when you listen to her new song, “Large Hall, Slow Decay.” In it, Thompson-King seems equal parts Reverend Horton Heat and Nikki Lane. In reality, she wrote it about a band member. Apparently, the two did not have a great split.
“Large Hall, Slow Decay” is one of the first tracks off her new album Psychotica Melancholia. She calls it a “Sodom and Gomorrah concept album.” Which, again, remember the hell bit.
Much of the record focuses on calling out false idols, human or otherwise. She and guitarist/engineer Pete Weiss holed up in Vermont for six months to make the record. “We weren’t trying to do something perfect,” Thompson-King says. Instead, they opted for something more wild, real and human. “We wanted it to be emotional and exciting,” she says.
Thanks to her opera background, much of the record refers to classic, often gothic imagery. There’s a reason all those German operas seem so dark, after all. And, in a similar vein, much of her music relies on mythology.
Thompson-King actually lives in Massachusetts. She received a grant from the city of Somerville to be an Artist In Residence. She also currently teaches voice lessons. But her heart lies in songwriting. “As a singer, I knew I had this big voice and I wanted to use it in a serious way,” she says. “But it needed to be my vision. I needed to write for myself.”
You can hear more when her debut album Psychotic Melancholia drops Sept. 1.