It’s a sunny Sunday morning in January and I walk up a long flight of stairs to Hayley Johnson’s (of The Little Miss) apt in Echo Park. Hayley shares the apt with another roommate and it’s a lovely spot overlooking the hills of the city. Walking into her bedroom/creative space, you are greeted by the beautiful antique furniture, passed down to Hayley from her great grandmother. It’s made of wood (the real kind) and has a deep reddish brown hue, with all the wear and tear you would expect from early 1900s furniture. But what immediately strikes me is the gorgeous, pure, unfiltered California morning sunlight that floods the room from the solitary window to the right of the bed.
Hayley is originally from San Diego, where she lived until her late teens. Although her sound is Americana, she dIdn’t grow up on folk music. In her youth, she listened to whatever was playing on the radio and as a young girl, she dreamed of becoming part of a girl group (of the Spice Girls variety). When that dream began to fade and her musical tastes developed, she started listening to Sinatra, Jazz, and the old greats. It was at this time that she began to write lyrics and melodies to which her dad would accompany by playing lead guitar. The two of them formed a small band and performed at surf competitions, churches and coffee shops around San Diego. When she went away to college in San Francisco she gave up on music, thinking it was time for her to pursue something “academic” that would have a bigger impact on the world. She chose philosophy.
When we spoke about her creative process, Hayley laughed saying she was pretty sure she didn’t have one. But she admitted that her only ritual is to close all the windows and make sure no one is in the house when she’s working on a new song. She sits on the edge of her bed and begins to write.
Before starting a new song, Hayley spends a lot of time collecting ideas and thoughts, processing them until she understand how she feels about them. She begins each song from the first line, not the chorus or the hook, but the first sentence like a novelist beginning a book. She usually finishes within an hour because by the time she’s ready to write, the song has already formed itself inside of her. She doesn’t edit the lyrics once they’ve been written, choosing to keep them in their original raw and unfiltered form.
One thing that you notice in the music of “The Little Miss” is the ever present humor. Although Hayley is drawn to examine questions of self criticism and the disappointment one feels when they do not meet their own expectations, her songs are all served with a slice of self-awareness and the understanding of the absurdity of it all. But underneath the humor, there is a coming to terms with the various aspects of oneself and a genuine desire to find moments of specific connection to others through shared experiences. In Hayley’s view, to really change the world, we have to focus on healing ourselves and only then can people become better versions of themselves and heal others.
For the longest time Hayley felt like to pursue music was a selfish thing. It took her years to reconcile that feeling with the innate need she felt to write and play. Like so many artists, it seems that we must give ourselves the permission to create before we can actually pursue our creativity. And not just that, but we have to constantly recommit to giving ourselves that permission. Not just for creating, but for failing, and trying something new, and expressing ideas that may or may have any value. You have to keep convincing yourself that it’s ok to have a voice.
I know that it’s something I’ve struggled with myself on my road to choosing photography as a career. Despite it always being a passion, it took my father’s passing to finally give myself the permission to pursue it fully. Because (as I got to see first hand), life is too damn short.
Check out The Little Miss’ music:
Spotify: The Little Miss