On the Record

On the record ... with Charlie Haley

Christian musician Charlie Haley
Christian musician Charlie Haley

After three years in the recording studio, Sycamore native Charlie Haley has just released his first CD, “Soul Searching.”

He learned most of what he knows about music in his home town.

“I went to Mr. G’s in Sycamore for years and years and he did (music) theory for me and I learned guitar from him,” Haley said.

Christian music fills the 11 tracks of the CD. Haley became a Christian after a “rock bottom experience” while living in California and since then he has been drawn to Christian music.

“I started out trying to be R&B, and kind of pop, but it just didn’t sound very good,” said Haley, who attends Christ Community Church in DeKalb. “It’s easy for me to write a song in any genre, but I started singing at church and that got me interested in doing Christian music. It was actually fun for me, and it sounded a lot more natural.”

Haley Haley met with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg to discuss his music and his faith.

MidWeek: This is your first CD?

Charlie Haley: Well, it’s my first fully-finished CD.

MW: The title of the CD is “Soul Searching.” Where did that name come from?

CH: The first song is called “Soul Searching.” It seemed like a good fit for the album.

MW: What is the songwriting process like for you?

CH: There are two kinds of songwriting. There’s the songs that just come when you are getting out of the shower and it hits you and you get the guitar and write it down really fast in five minutes. The best songs always write themselves. And sometimes you’ll get a melody in your head and you find a guitar and you kind of piece it together. 

MW: What music has influenced you?

CH: I listen to everything from heavy metal to country, even opera sometimes. Right now I’m listening to Simon and Garfunkel, my favorite. Stevie Ray Vaughan is definitely my influence for guitar.

MW: You mentioned that you perform at the Illinois Youth Correctional Facility. How did you get started doing that?

CH: Through my church. One of the pastors asked me to play there once a month but I had to go through a six-month background check.

MW: What is the reception like in the prison?

CH: Some of them don’t like us. They are just there to get out of their cell. But a lot of them are actually grateful that we’re there. It’s maybe half and half.

MW: Where else do you perform locally?

CH: I will be performing at Family Health Center. I have been going there for years and I let them hear my CD, and the owners were ecstatic about it, so they asked me to play there and they put my CDs for sale on the counter.

MW: Have you thought about performing at bars or open mics, or is your music too Christian for those venues?

CH: If you listen to the CD, it’s not churchy. It’s definitely Christian music, but some songs you could play in a bar. …If people don’t like it, they can tell me. I don’t mind.

MW: How would you describe your music if it’s not churchy? Is it more uplifting?

CH: Well, the title says a lot. It’s uplifting but it brings you through the low parts of your life. It helps you work those out.

MW: With the songs that come to you right away, do the words come first or does the melody come first?

CH: They come at the same time. Number 11 (“Falling to Pieces”) came to me at 3 o’clock in the morning in a matter of three or four minutes, in one take.

MW: How many songs are on the CD?

CH: There are 11 songs, and it took me about three years to make.

MW: Does that include the songwriting, or did you already have some songs written?

CH: Some I had written before, like number six (“Ain’t Ya Sampson No More”) I wrote about 12 years ago.

MW: Do you ever write one song, and then that song inspires you to write another song?

CH: Actually, yes. Number three (“Time to Let Go”) and number two (“A New Beginning”) actually started out as one song, and then I broke them up because it was too long, and I kind of changed the melody of one of them.

MW: What is the process of getting a song from your notebook onto a CD?

CH: You start with the basic songwriting process where you have a piano or a guitar, and you take it into the studio and you have them lay a drum track so you can sing over it, and then you take that home and listen to it. If some lyrics don’t fit, you can change it a little bit. Then you go back to the studio and you have an actual drummer do a drum track and you take it home again, and rehearse to the actual drum track and then you come back and do the actual vocal track. Then you do the background and add additional musicians later. It’s a long process.

MW: That is a lot of work.  How much did it cost to produce the CD?

CH: About $30,000. That’s $4,000 for a microphone, $2,700 for an amp and then you’re paying drummers, bass players, guitar players and then mixing and mastering is the most expensive part. There is a sound engineer sitting in there the whole time you are recording. I didn’t want to take shortcuts – I wanted it to be right. I have been doing this a long time, and I shortcutted a few times and it never sounded right.

MW: How long have you been writing songs?

CH: I have been writing songs since I was a kid.

MW: How many songs do you think you have written in your lifetime?

CH: Maybe 500.

MW: Will some of those songs make it onto another CD?

CH: Yes. My cell phone has 500 songs on it, but most of them aren’t that good. You get your ideas at 2 in the morning and sometimes you listen to it later and it sounds terrible. But I save all of them because one little idea can make a song. There are times like number six (“Ain’t Ya Sampson No More”) – I didn’t do anything with that for 12 years. Then I played it for the producer of the CD and he said, “It sounds amazing. Let’s do it.”

MW: So he heard something in that song that you didn’t?

CH: Well I liked it, but my previous producer didn’t.

MW: How many downloads to you hope or expect to sell versus hard copies of the CD?

CH: Well, I have 1,000 hard copies; well, 900 now. For downloads, I want to sell as many as I can, I guess. I essentially want to sell enough to be able to promote more, travel more, do more shows and make another record.

MW: Do you hope to make music your full-time job?

CH: To travel and play? Oh yeah. Absolutely.

MW: Have you met people who have been inspired by the music?

CH: Yes a lot, actually. I was surprised. A grandmother I know and her grandchildren are listening to the same song – number eight (“I Wanna Believe”) in the car. One lady at work said she never misses Eric and Kathy (on the radio) in the morning, but for the past week she has been listening to my CD on her way to work. And these aren’t church people. I didn’t grow up going to church either. I just started gong to church in my 20s.

MW: Do you write songs with the purpose of trying to comfort people?

CH: Certain songs, like number eight (“I Wanna Believe”), I just pictured a guy in his 40s or 50s who sits in a bar. He went to Sunday school as a kid and then quit going to church, and then he wanted to go back to church but a lot of times when you go to a (new) church, you feel unwelcome. It’s very awkward. I wanted to get to those people who feel like they’re not good enough (to go to a church).

MW: Do you feel like this is your calling?

CH: Yes I do. I thought about maybe being a lawyer but this just won’t leave me alone.

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