Rising Star: Island Songbird Takes Flight
Haley Mae Campbell grew up running along the shores of Isle of Palms’ beaches. Now she’s rocking Lowcountry music venues with her catchy, alt-country music. By Anne Harris. Photos by Steve Rosamilia.
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
According to Isle of Palms native and rising star Haley Mae Campbell, singing this iconic song from Peter Pan as a young child is one of her first memories of falling in love with music. "It kind of became my anthem,” she laughs. It’s a sentiment that a lot of children growing up on the islands can relate to.
After moving from New York, Campbell and her sister, Jillian, were initially homeschooled by their mother and spent a lot of time roaming the beaches, exploring all that the Lowcountry has to offer. “There was no sitting in classrooms — we were definitely spoiled growing up here,” Campbell says.
Although there was no one musical in her family, Campbell’s mother encouraged her daughters to pursue the art. Jillian played the piano while Campbell got her start in musical theater. She quickly discovered that while acting was not in her wheelhouse, singing and performing were.
Campbell enrolled at the School of the Arts in middle school and got her first real taste of what would eventually become her career came when she performed in the eighth-grade talent show. Her original song on the pressures of middle school was a hit with her peers and gave Campbell an adrenaline rush that she’s been chasing ever since.
Campbell credits the start of her career with something of a Christmas miracle. As a fourteen-year-old, Campbell wrote an original song about the very un-Christmas weather that all Lowcountry children know all too well. She was invited to sing live on air with Y102.5’s Brian Cleary. “I was so nervous,” Campbell laughs, “I was sitting in this guy’s office, playing my ukulele!”
Despite the nerves, Cleary saw something in Campbell. “Along with her talent, Haley Mae Campbell has that fire, the desire to fulfill her career goals, and a 100 percent commitment to doing what she needs to succeed,” Cleary said. He became invested in her career, introducing her to others at 103.5 WEZL and before long Campbell was playing at Party in the Park and opening for big name artists including Sheryl Crow and The Avett Brothers at local festivals.
Campbell continued to craft her own original songs and released her first album, Hugs & Disses, in 2015. The entire debut record was recorded over five days in Nashville, and even though the songs were her own, the process was mostly in the hands of others. Th at realization, and the resulting “manufactured, pop country” vibe of the album, led Campbell to decide to go in another direction — one that felt more authentic to her.
The next time around, Campbell knew she wanted the freedom to try out all her different artistic moods, yet still come together to make an album that sounded like Haley Mae Campbell.
Last year Campbell teamed up with another local artist, her drummer Ben Sewell, whom she has known since middle school, and began writing again. “I think writing with someone gives you a whole other dimension,” Campbell says. “You are able to bounce ideas off of each other and really hear what works and what doesn’t.”
Campbell and Sewell brought in local studio engineer Joey Cox and recorded her newest album, EP Phone Home, right here in Charleston. EP Phone Home was met with widespread praise, Th e Charleston City Paper going so far as to say, “sometimes the growth of an artist can startle you.” Several of the singles, including Campbell’s personal favorite, Evergreen, were picked up by local radio stations.
Another of Campbell’s favorites is her latest single, Lose My Number, released in January and available online.
“There is nothing like hearing one of my singles on the radio when I’m not expecting it,” Campbell says, a huge smile on her face.
As Campbell’s star continues to rise, she credits much success to the place where she was raised. “Charleston may not be known for its music scene, yet. But we’re getting there. Kind of ‘come for the food, stay for the music,’ I hope!”
Her personal ambition and will to succeed is what will take Campbell where she wants to go. “Haley Mae is really focused on her singing and songwriting, and always improving, “Cleary said. “I've known her for more than 5 years now, and she gets better each time I see and hear her perform. In the end, not everyone makes it. But Haley Mae has the talent, and I hope that her hard work and eff orts pays dividends at some point soon.”
With a new album already in the works, Campbell again plans to stay local and record in the Lowcountry. “I’m working on the mood of the album. I’ve got about six songs done, so I hope to have something by late spring or early summer.”
With a work ethic like that, maybe against her wishes, it seems that Campbell is very much growing up.
Hear Haley Mae Campbell’s music online at music streaming service Spotify or haleymaecampbell.com