Inspiration strikes entirely without warning. So, Leah Haywood always remains receptive to such unexpected waves of inspiration, catching them as both a multiplatinum songwriter and producer and now as a solo artist under the name of Haywood. After penning hits for everyone from Katy Perry and Kygo to Blackpink and Selena Gomez, the New Zealand-born, Australian-raised and now Los Angeles-based songstress and producer introduces a glorious and glossy sound of her own on a series of 2021 singles for Palm Tree Records punctuated by her skyscraping vocals and punchy lyrics.
“For my solo music, I didn’t really sit at the piano and labor over writing,” she admits. “Everything arrived as a fully realized picture in my head—from the melodies to the lyrics to the production. I waited until the songs came. It took patience, but they kept coming. As it flowed, I was fulfilled by hearing a sound I had imagined.”
That happened at the apex of an incredible journey thus far. At just seven-years-old, Leah began taking piano lessons. Discovering Leah had perfect pitch, mom encouraged her to continue classical training throughout high school. In her senior year, she left school to attend the prestigious Conservatorium of Music at the internationally acclaimed West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Obsessed with Australian star Tina Arena, she noticed the name of the singer’s A&R rep Peter Karpin in the liner notes and dreamt of being signed by him. Through a serendipitous turn of events, she actually caught his attention with a performance on In Melbourne Tonight and landed a deal with Sony Australia. On the heels of a #1 radio hit and widespread success in Australia, she relocated to the United States and successfully launched a career behind-the-scenes.
Co-founding Dreamlab as a production and songwriting collective with her husband Daniel James, she penned and produced tunes for some of the biggest superstars in the world. Among dozens of cuts, she co-wrote and produced most recently a new track for Justin Bieber’s album “Justice”, the international Top 5 hit “Never Really Over” for Katy Perry, “Not OK” [feat. Chelsea Cutler] for Kygo, “Lovesick Girls” for Blackpink, the platinum-certified “Hit The Lights” for Selena Gomez, and “Marilyn Monroe” for Nicki Minaj’s #1 album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Not to mention, she vocal produced Selena’s multiplatinum #1 records “Good For You” and “Same Old Love.”
However, inspiration overcame Leah in 2019 and pushed her towards Haywood. “It wasn’t something I set out to do,” she reveals. “I was driving down Ventura Boulevard, and a chorus popped into my head. Everything about the idea was very autobiographical. It was so personal it didn’t feel right to have someone else tell my story. I tried a track, and my husband was like, ‘This is amazing’. From there, the songs just kept coming.”
One of those songs, “Cheers To Us” [feat. Jackson Foote of Loote] opens up this chapter as her debut single. Following a heavenly harmony, neon piano glows beneath Jackson’s opening verse before Haywood responds with a nostalgic plea. A glitchy beat and sunny guitar give way to a massive and magnetic hook uplifted by her towering range as she croons “Before we shot up in flames, we had some golden days.”
“It’s the happiest and least bitter breakup song of all time,” she smiles. “The idea is, ‘It was good while it lasted, and we got so many amazing things out of the relationship.’ It comes from the point-of-view of living life with no regrets. As you progress in life, you look back and see pain serves a purpose. Something beautiful comes from tragedy. Jackson’s gorgeous vocals were the perfect fit. It felt like a real discussion between two people. Given its explosive nature and conversational lyrics, it felt relatable and was a great way to kick things off.”
Delivering more anthems for a variety of collaborators and planning further solo singles, inspiration has struck in a big way, and it’s now Haywood’s time.
“I didn’t have any choice in the matter,” she leaves off. “I couldn’t have written these songs ten years ago. I didn’t have the narrative in my own life to dig into, and I didn’t have the depth of life experience that I do now. I’ve been through a lot of highs and a lot of heartbreak. This project is what I was designed to do. It happened when it was meant to happen. It’s like someone flicked the switch in my head about how to put my life on paper and I suddenly figured out how to write my own story.”