Haley Reinhart was only 19 years old when she competed on American Idol in 2011, but viewers could tell right away that she was an old soul. Having been raised on classic ’60 and ’70s music since was a little kid hanging out with her parents’ band, Midnight, in Chicago clubs — a childhood she admits was “badass” — Reinhart brought fire, soul, and life experience to her Fleetwood Mac and Elton John covers. And she even made Idol history when she recruited her father to play guitar on her famous performance of Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.”
Reinhart later released two albums of originals, Listen Up! and Better, that were distinctively retro in feel, à la Amy Winehouse or Duffy. But she’s gone completely back to her roots with her third album, What’s That Sound?, featuring interpretations of classics by the Zombies (who personally reached out to praise her version of “Time of the Season”), the Kinks, the Beatles, the Boxtops, the Turtles, and others. The LP even features her dad’s guitar work and her mom’s background vocals, so it’s a true full-circle family affair.
Reinhart tells Yahoo she made sure to include “iconic, especially female, songs” like Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You,” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” the latter inspired by Reinhart’s mother, who frequently performs the song with Midnight. “She’s such a powerhouse,” Reinhart gushes. “She could do the Grace Slick thing and make her voice do the fun, flaring thing, the vibrato. I’ve just always grown up and been completely almost in a trance, hypnotized by this song and her performance of it.”
Reinhart’s mission to represent women in rock is all the more important in this #MeToo age, as female performers and artists come forward about their unfortunate experiences with sexism. Having navigated the boys’ club of rock ‘n’ roll since she was literally a child, Reinhart admits she’s had to deal with sexist behavior “in different degrees. It could be the tiniest thing that others would never notice, but you do. There can easily be a thing where I’m looked at as this young lady: ‘She’s so cute!’ But I’ve been around, growing up with that side of the business, then Idol, and now being with Interscope and then independent for three years, and now I’m with Concord [Records]. And you learn quick, and you learn a lot. It doesn’t really matter, obviously, what gender or age you are, or race. It is an interesting thing, but I’m definitely one of those kinds of people that won’t tolerate it.
“I’m glad that a lot of things are coming to a head,” Reinhart continues. “I’m glad that things are coming out. I’m glad that we’re not being silenced, and that goes to a lot of different people in this world right now. We can’t be ignored. And a big part of this record, too, for me, that’s such a big part of it. Along with peace and love and being unifying, we have to be able to speak our truths and respectfully be heard in that way. I’m glad, and I stand with all the women and everybody who’s fighting for their rights at this point.”
One track on What’s That Sound? that Reinhart feels resonates as strongly as it did in the 1960s is Buffalo Springfield’s “For What’s It Worth,” which became the album’s title track. “I feel like I’ve really, truly come to understand what that song means, as I walk through life day by day and I see other people’s struggles. I had my own [struggles], so I think growing up and really taking a step back and looking at how hip that time was, those lyrics will remain as powerful as they were when they were written.”
Coming off a show as mainstream as American Idol, Reinhart confesses that certain powers-that-be in the industry were trying to push her down a more typical pop path, wanting her to record music with less of a throwback vibe. “As soon as I got signed, I went from being ‘Stevie Nicks Jr.’ with [Interscope’s] Jimmy [Iovine] to ‘Here’s 50 songs that are really regurgitated pop,’” she chuckles ruefully. But once again, Reinhart stood her ground.
“This is not why I’m in this business. I’m not just going to try to take the easy route and get just any old pop tune that’s going to get me a quick buck — or get them a quick buck. I made that very clear right away,” she says. “Some people, they expressed, ‘I think you’re making a mistake,’ or ‘You should put the record out now and do these [modern] songs.’ And I’m like, ‘With all due respect, I want to create my own time and space to put this stuff out and write [Listen Up!].’ And I was able to do that, so I do appreciate them for honoring what my core has told me to do, my soul and my journey.
“[Artists] have to question themselves: What are you in this for? What do you want out of this? How long do you want to be doing it for? Because if you’re just going to do any old thing that somebody else wants you to do, chances are it’s not going to last forever.”
Now, almost seven years later, Reinhart’s career is going strong, not just with What’s That Sound? but also thanks to a regular gig with jazz sensation Postmodern Jukebox, a Clio-winning Extra Gum commercial, and a voiceover role in the animated comedy series F Is for Family. Her advice for young artists — and young female artists in particular — who also want to forge their own career paths? “Don’t let people take advantage of you. You learn quickly, and you can’t be naïve in this business. Do things in as a kind way as possible, but don’t let people take your kindness for weakness, either.”