Hailey Knox doesnâ€™t just sit on the sidelines: sheâ€™s become the mastermind behind building and producing her own soulful pop songs. To push her own boundaries, the 20-year-old singer-songwriter has been cutting her teeth on the road the past two years since her debut EP release A Little Awkward, touring with Charlie Puth, Ruth B., and AJR, and making her festival debut at Austin City Limitsâ€™ 2018 festival. Because of her live shows, Knox has grown into a powerhouse, building her songs onstage with a loop pedal. Now, sheâ€™s ready to show the world the dynamic range of music sheâ€™s capable of producing, with her latest release — the â€˜Hardwired Mixtapeâ€™. And she does: her latest project feels like a pile of vibrant confetti, sprinkled with never-before-recorded full-length songs and snippets of Frank Ocean-like audio notes she recorded to show that thereâ€™s more depth to her artistry. â€œWe called it a mixtape because itâ€™s slightly all over the place, but in a good way,â€ Knox said of the project. For people who havenâ€™t experienced her live shows, this mixtape is a window into how far sheâ€™s come since 2016.
Throughout 11 tracks, Knoxâ€™s mixtape combines songs Hailey has been developing and evolving for years and some fresh cuts from GarageBand, working with the producers who discovered her Mike Mangini and Peter Zizzo, along with songwriter Imani Coppola, and showing off her own production skills. But mostly, itâ€™s an inner look at how she spurs creative concepts.
On her new mixtape, Knox combines stripped-down songwriting and lyrical detail of A Little Awkward and the husky, textured grooves of her singles since then. Itâ€™s an effort in chronicling her journey of self-discovery in music and beyond, revealing the loneliness of life on the road and her own personal anxieties. But there are still hints of cheeky pop culture references to Sour Patch Kids and Scooby Doo, embedded in her songs.
Fear proves to be a driving force for Knox on her latest work. Latest single â€œHardwiredâ€ pays homage to her debut EP, as soft acoustics and a looped drum beat reverberate as Knox recounts her own crippling self-doubt. â€œI laugh when Iâ€™m weak,â€ she croons vulnerably on the diaristic track. Also featured on the mixtape is the R&B-tinged â€œTraumatized,â€ which Knox has played on tour for two years. The song details the overwhelming feeling of having to pretend to be confident when youâ€™re not. â€œIâ€™m choking back tears/Wanna die/Maybe thatâ€™s TMI,â€ she sings unabashedly.
At the same time, Knox tackles the unspoken hurdles of touring on the dark, indie-pop â€œRunaway.â€ â€œI love it here but I wanna be upstate,â€ Knox yearns with her piercing lilt against cinematic horns, as she details the constant cycle of being homesick. The wistful snippet â€œRed Eyeâ€ follows up on â€œRunawayâ€ with a devastating beat drop as Knox continues to crave home.
On standout track â€œBitch Bitch Bitch,â€ Knox puts her own sweet spin on a diss track; focusing on the positive and calling out people who feed off of contagious negativity. â€œItâ€™s a way to tell people to stop complaining and appreciate what you have,â€ Knox says of the song.
But Knox is perhaps most soulful when she meditates on her own heartbreak. â€œDonâ€™t Got Oneâ€ highlights Knoxâ€™s gospel tone as she croons about the downsides of having your career take-off while youâ€™re longing for love.