Bailey Hefley is a hopeful romantic, but you can’t blame her for believing in happy endings. She’s living proof that they exist.
The Little Rock, Ark. native suffered debilitating seizures as a small child. The medication that saved her life also robbed her of her innocent enthusiasm for eight years and left her in a state of perpetual lethargy. As a teenager, she overcame the condition and felt “awake” for the first time. Bailey was ready to tackle life as an active participant, not just an observer. That meant making up for lost time by developing real friendships, discovering boys, and riding horses, a passion that led to competitive barrel racing.
Nothing, however, has made more of an impression on her than music.
One of Bailey’s first memories was as a three-year-old, telling her mother that she wanted to be a country singer. As a five-year-old, she took the stage for the first time, singing Shirley Temple’s “Baby Take a Bow” at a school talent show.
As a teen, Bailey was ready to begin fulfilling her dream of country stardom, drawing inspiration from heroes like Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain, whose Live VHS tape captured her imagination.
Singing lessons, local gigs at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock and trips to Nashville followed—her first trip coming as a 13-year-old in 2004 to demo some of her songs and co-write with other artists. Doors opened and doors closed, but a chance meeting with singer/songwriter Bobby Pinson (Toby Keith’s “Made in America,” Sugarland’s “Already Gone”) when she was 14 years old led to a decade-long friendship. Bailey credits Bobby’s mentorship with teaching her about the songwriting craft and instilling in her a deeper appreciation of lyrics.
“Before meeting Bobby, I just considered myself a singer,” says Bailey. “After working with him, I learned I had a passion for songwriting. Because of the seizures as a child, I spent eight years of my life standing back and observing people and watching life from the outside because I was so medicated. Naturally, I’m a very extroverted person, but during those eight years, I developed a quality of seeing what’s around me. I think it gave me depth and made me a much stronger person. Bobby helped teach me to channel that into songwriting.”
Whenever a door closed, Bailey drew confidence from her little victories along the way, like befriending Pinson, opening for Hank Williams Jr. at Little Rock’s RiverFest or besting a teenage Brett Eldredge in a singing competition. Watching Brett’s career skyrocket over the last few years has given her more conviction that she’s on the right path.
After studying voice at Nashville’s Belmont University from 2009–2010 and continuing her degree at the University of Arkansas from 2010–2012, Bailey moved to Music City for good in 2012. Since that time, Bailey has honed her songwriting chops at local writers’ rounds and celebrated additional victories, including opening for Old Dominion, Ashley McBryde, Deana Carter and Arkansas native Justin Moore. In 2016, Bailey developed a friendship/mentorship with Jamie O’Neal, who scored a number of hits on the country charts in the early 2000s, including “There Is No Arizona,” “When I Think About Angels” and “Somebody’s Hero.”
“Jamie is an unbelievable friend and mentor to me,” says Bailey. “She is an incredible songwriter, singer, performer and producer, and she has had so much success in the music industry in so many different areas. I have to pinch myself sometimes over the fact that I’m working professionally with one of my childhood heroes. My family and I used to jam in the car to ‘There Is No Arizona.’ There are plenty of people in Nashville that I could potentially work with, but I feel blessed to be working with Jamie. She is so kind, but also completely unafraid to tell me the unvarnished truth, which are two qualities in a person I don’t take for granted because that is a rare combination. I don’t want ‘yes’ people around me.”
Bailey will release her new EP, So.That.Girl., later this year. The six-song offering, all of which Bailey co-penned, is about finding love—and all the ups and downs that come with it. There are themes of broken trust in “Not Your Cinderella” and the mystery—and thrill—of the unknown in “Gotta Find Out,” while the title track serves as an autobiographical lesson in the optimism of love.
The EP’s lead single, “Dust on a Diamond” tackles a failed relationship that Bailey hopes can comfort other young women who have found themselves in similar circumstances.
“I went through a really difficult breakup with a guy that I think a lot of girls can relate to,” says Bailey about co-writing “Dust on a Diamond” with Marti Dodson and Linda Greene. “It totally tore me apart. I was in school and I was trying to study and I can remember taking my notebook and just trying to write in the margin little notes to myself. I was so distracted by the fact that I couldn’t move on from this guy. I was so broken and I didn’t believe in myself. I would write little positive notes to myself in the margin and then stand up and go look in the mirror in my bathroom and just cry. As embarrassing as that is, I would just cry and with tears streaming down my face, red eyes, looking in the mirror, saying, ‘You are gonna be okay. You’re good enough. This doesn’t define you.’ Shortly after I went through that myself, I had a friend go through a very similar situation and I thought, ‘Maybe that’s why God put me through all that pain.’ I kept wondering why I had to go through it. And then the thought dawned on me that maybe I can help more than just this other girl. Maybe I can write a song about it and help a lot of girls. Maybe I can write the song I wish I had when I was in that place.”
Bailey says the EP, which Jamie O’Neal produced, is a “roller coaster ride of love” commensurate with some of the relationships she’s had over the last five years. It’s marked with the “depth” she developed as the optimistic young woman who overcame those childhood seizures.
“This EP because it totally describes the ups and downs of my love life over the years,” says Bailey. “There’s something for every emotion you go through in a relationship. The title of the EP is So.That.Girl. I’ve been so that girl that didn’t know how to tell her crush she likes him as more than a friend, so that girl that thought found love, so that girl that had her heartbroken by the guy she thought she’d spend forever with, and so that girl that overcame controversy and found power in figuring out who she is alone. I want listeners to experience the passion that I wrote about. From the sadder songs, they can relate to the way that I felt when I wrote them, and from the happy songs, maybe they can turn it up in the car and have some fun or dance. I want them to feel something.”
Bailey’s hope is that other other young women will relate to her diary-like lyrics in a very personal way and find a song for whatever they need.