Music

Get to know pop's next big thing, Gavin Haley

© Birgit Schrank
By Chris Parkin
As US singer-songwriter Gavin Haley, who's been agreeably compared to UK songsmith Ed Sheeran, gears up to release his Long Game EP, we find out more about the former cyclocross pro.
Ask Gavin Haley to describe his music and the Michigan-born singer-songwriter will shrug off any specific definitions. “People say indie pop, but I just say ‘man, it feels good’,” he laughs. Now based in LA, Haley is, perhaps, describing how it feels to listen to his music, awash with introspection, reverb-laden guitar and sultry pop grooves, as much as he is the cathartic nature of writing it. For someone still so young, Haley has already been through a lot and his songs are proof.
Haley’s love of singing was evident early on (as you’ll find out below), but by the age of 16, music had taken a backseat to another of his major talents: cyclocross. As part of the US national team, Haley would spend half the year competing in Belgium, living with a local family, and the rest training at home in the US. Being so far from his family at such a young age wasn’t always easy.
“Thank God for FaceTime,” he says. “But, you know, I probably learned more being away than I would at home. I’ve always been an independent guy. And it helped me with where I am now; I’m gone for really long stretches of time on tour.”
It probably helped, too, that Haley’s mum’s family are all from the UK, which means he was already well-versed in the music dominating the airwaves in Europe. (“The best music comes from there, so it’s easy to be a fan,” he claims.) Eventually the pull of music-making proved too much for Haley. And now, here he is: a handful of acclaimed singles into his career, signed to Red Bull Records, and ready to drop his first EP, Long Game.
As he trucked across the US on tour, we caught up with the pro-cyclist-turned-next-big-pop-star to find out more about him.

Haley’s music is more focused on vibes than genres

“My songs bleed heartbreak, but it feels positive, man. There’s hope in my words. Maybe they’re positive because a lot of people have felt a lot of the things I’ve felt and relate to a lot of the things I’m saying. In that way, it is positive.”

Haley discovered his love of singing at church

“When my mum put me in the choir, it made me realise that I love to sing. In church, growing up, you were singing every Sunday with your family and yeah, I realised: maybe I could do this. I actually just saw a buddy from church from when I was really young. He came to my show, and I was like, yo, I never really thought about it, but Christian music and that mix of pop-country you listen to every Sunday for years and years of your life really prepared me to write these melodies.”
Gavin Haley poses for a portrait next to a red brick wall.
Gavin Haley has been compared to UK songsmith Ed Sheeran

The solitary nature of cycling focused Haley’s mind

“Training for three or four hours alone, you just pop your headphones in and you start going. My whole life, I’ve spent a lot of time by myself and I find that’s where I create the best, get in my flow the best, just understand things the best. There’s no outside noise. It’s just yourself to deal with.”

Forget what you’ve read about the end of Haley’s cyclocross career

“People seem to think I had a crash and that’s why I quit, but I had that crash when I was 16, then came back and had the best year of my life. But that was also when I realised that I really love music. So the last year of riding, when I was 18, I was on my training runs, like, do I really want to be doing this? And of course, when you start doubting yourself it becomes more difficult. My passion for music kept growing and I knew I couldn’t ignore it. So those training rides, three or four hours alone, I had hundreds of conversations with myself, working out how I was going to go about it.”

Haley already has plenty of experiences to write about

“It was a major switch from that to living in LA. It’s weird, I write a lot about relationships and stuff, but I also write a lot of stories. I disguise them with words, but I do have a lot to tell. I’ve seen a lot and it’s like, writing comes so easy. I tell people, I have 500 demos, most of which will almost never see the light of day, but I wrote so much to get to a place where I can finally feel comfortable with music.”

Music takes Haley to 'the other side'

“The other side for me is, like, when you’re listening to music and you get that feeling – goosebumps or whatever you want to call it – where you close your eyes and nothing in that moment but the music matters. There are no worries in your mind, everything is safe. I kind of take that a step further. I’ve really grown in my spiritual world. I’m still trying to figure it all out to put it into words, but that’s what I call the 'other side', and I’m able to pull a lot of my music from there. I play guitar, close my eyes and the melody comes into my head. Frank Ocean is the perfect example. He reaches so far to get the stuff he’s making. Coldplay, too. The start of their songs, like Clocks or The Scientist, there’s this strong, undeniable feeling that just hits you. There’s a reason it feels different.”
US singer-songwriter Gavin Haley poses for a portrait against a pink wall.
Through his music, Gavin Haley has grown spiritually

From cycling in odd socks to painting his nails, Haley is proud to be different

“You can ask my friends, man – I’ve always been different. When I was racing bikes, I was wearing different colour socks, putting s*** on my helmet. I just always wanted to be different. It think it’s boring to look like everyone else. Even when I started painting my nails a couple of years back; like, I have four sisters so I’ve always had fun with that sort of stuff. It’s really cool to be in a space, on the West Coast, in 2019, where you can really be yourself and it’s okay. You can be you and still have a voice.”

Haley's hero is Muhammad Ali

“I just always wanted to have that confidence he had. When I was 14, I was s*** at bike racing; and then when I was 15, I was one of the best in the country. It was a weird flip. But when I was 14, my confidence was still the same as when I was 15. I feel like if you believe in yourself to the point of wanting something to happen, you can close your eyes and see it happening, and Muhammad Ali was a prime example of that. He spoke everything he did into existence and had this walking swagger about it. It’s about speaking things into existence with no ulterior motive, just simply because you want something and believe you can do it. Ali got me so hyped every day – plus he’s from Louisville, Kentucky, which is where I’m from.”