Hailey Knox cannot even entertain the hypothetical. When asked to recall a recent instance that confirmed music is what she wants to do forever, the 25-year-old singer, songwriter, and producer is temporarily perplexed. “I don’t know what else I would be doing,” she says. “I’m drawn to doing something creative. It is my purpose to make things, so even when I’m not doing sessions, I’m home jamming on guitar and noodling, so it’s very instinctual.”

And in hindsight, it was an absurd question to ask. Knox’s musical instincts pour out across “11th Hour,” her single out now, from cutting lyricism (“Boy, you did it to yourself / Only thinkin’ of yourself / Nothing else matters / ‘Til the 11th hour / And it’s too late now”) and eye-popping vocal runs to textured production.

Music has been Knox’s North Star since her childhood in Carmel, New York. Her father taught her to play guitar at seven years old, and that was all she needed. Talent show performances and YouTube covers followed in spades, but her pursuit of a music career officially began with the Knox Sisters — navigating industry firsts alongside her sister, Samantha, and their mother, who managed them, which laid the groundwork for her to shoulder pressures unique to public-facing women as a solo artist.

In 2016, Knox released her A Little Awkward EP and opened on Charlie Puth’s We Don’t Talk Tour. Don’t let Knox’s knack for viral snippets fool you into believing she’s an overnight sensation — though she is sensational — because she’s been at this for a decade-plus. If she sounds familiar, you may have heard her 2018 hit “Hardwired” on a 2019 Grey’s Anatomy episode. Or maybe you’re among the 13.2-plus million people who have streamed either “Charismatic” or “A Boy Named Pluto.”

If Knox is awake, it’s likely she’s feverishly working to perfect her already-sharp lyricism, intricate production — first through GarageBand, then Logic — and mesmerizing vocals. And it keeps paying off. Visit Knox’s Instagram page, and you’ll be greeted by several comments from SZA. The first came last December in response to Knox’s freestyle about the challenges of wanting to be a genuine artist in an algorithm- and clout-driven industry. “Ate,” SZA wrote, and her belief in Knox continues to balloon. In January, the SOS star co-signed a video of Knox teasing an unreleased track from her forthcoming project with, “God DAMMIT CHILD !!!!!! Ur eating devouring and regurgitating.”

SZA is far from the only bonafide star keenly following Knox’s posts. The list also includes Justin Bieber, Gracie Abrams, Drew Taggart, Shawn Mendes, Teddy Swims, Alexander 23, and Craig David. Knox’s list of supporters, which also includes over 587,000 monthly Spotify listeners, figures to multiply on the back of February’s “Stranger” and “11th Hour” before she fully shows her hand with another EP later this year.

A piece of advice? Jump on the bandwagon now.

I want to start with one question about your start with your sister as The Knox Sisters. What did beginning your music career and experiencing everything for the first time alongside your sister and your mom, who managed you, teach you that directly applied to navigating music as a solo artist, especially as a young woman?

Well, I definitely think growing up with my sister and mom, [who have] very loving and huge hearts, and working with them, there’s a lot of trust there when you’re working with family. And so, I think I definitely apply that to the people I choose to work with today. I value honesty and being around great people that I can trust to work with, and I think when you’re making music that’s vulnerable, you want people around you that you can trust to open up to, so I definitely think I applied that feeling just of working with my family to the people I work with today.

Who was your first idol?

It’s funny. I always say Bieber, but I loved Hilary Duff. Hilary Duff was my first concert.

I read a People interview you gave in 2016 — around the time you were opening for Charlie [Puth] — and you talked about loving Justin Bieber growing up because you admired how he blew up on YouTube. Eight years later, YouTube catapulted your career, and Justin follows you on Instagram. Do we romanticize these things from the outside, or was it a moment when you got the notification that Justin Bieber started following you on Instagram?

It was definitely like a mega deal. I was in a session, and I got the notification. I think I got so thrown off that the session just ended up being mush. But it was such a great moment. I was like, ‘Holy sh*t.’ I think he DMed me in the session, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I love him.

How do you internalize bonafide artists following and supporting you? Does it inspire you, add more pressure, or none of the above?

I think it’s a little both. I get inspired because, sometimes, if I am doubting myself, seeing somebody like SZA or Bieber — just having those names [supporting me], it’s like, ‘Maybe I’m doing something right.’ It definitely inspires, but I also get like, ‘Holy sh*t, I’m posting this, and SZA is going to see it.’ That sort of feeling. So, it’s both.

Do you have a relationship with SZA outside of Instagram?

I mean, she’s been so sweet. I think it still really hasn’t completely hit me that she f*cks with the music I make. It’s so weird, but she’s been so sweet. I’ve texted her just to say thank you so much for all the support that she’s shown, and she’s been nothing but sweet. She’s just inspiring. Everything she’s done. The melodies that come out of her mouth are crazy.

Do you know how and when she first came across your music?

I think it was a verse I did to a Drake beat. I think that was the first comment that I saw, and I think she said, “Ate.” I think that was the first interaction. I was basically just talking about the industry and stuff [in the verse].

It’s the nature of how things go now: When one video or song goes viral, everybody assumes you’re a brand-new artist, and it’s an overnight breakthrough. In reality, you’ve been at this since you were a preteen. Can you recall the first time that you recognized other people recognizing you because of music?

I feel like there’s a lot of little moments, especially with the internet. It’s just weird. You have things hit, and it’s the highs and lows of the business. But I do feel like once I went independent a few years ago, Russ did an open verse challenge, and I did that, and he put me on the official song. I feel like that was just such a cool moment. I had been a fan of him, and he was so supportive through it all. He shared me with his fans, and I think that was just a really good moment for me to go independent and feel like, Oh, I can do this.

What are some of those other little moments?

When I was younger, opening the Charlie Puth tour was such a big thing. I feel like I was too young to really take it all in — I was 16, 17 — but I remember doing those shows and meeting people after the shows and being like, Wow, this is actually something I could do.

What originally piqued your interest in production?

When I was doing a lot of sessions, I had a hard time communicating to the producer what I wanted, and so, I literally was drawn to the computer and naturally wanted to be able to do this myself. I just taught myself, and being able to do it yourself instead of trying to articulate it is a lot easier.

Have you observed differences between how you’re perceived as a producer and how your male peers are perceived as producers?

Since moving up to LA, there’s been a little bit of that. I think recently, though, I find myself keeping a close circle and surrounding myself with people that I can trust, where it’s like I can rely on people to not feel disrespected in a room. But it does suck that that does still happen [to women], but I keep the circle close and good people around me.

Courtesy of 10K Projects

How did “Stranger” foreshadow where you’re headed sonically for the next year?

Sonically, I loved how that one came about. We were jamming, and then we sampled it, but I think that song has a lot of really cool harmonies, and I love incorporating a lot of melody rhythmic within the record. It touches on that with that record, and then there’s more to come in future records that do the same.

Your next single is “11th Hour,” which orbits around a soured romantic situation, but the title got me thinking more broadly about how quickly everything moves and the constant fear of being “too late.” As an artist who has no other choice but to operate within this online machine, how do you fight against pressure to stay “relevant,” whatever that means, and give yourself time to make something that you are proud of?

It is a lot of balancing, for sure. Sometimes, I am thinking of 20 things at once, but I try to hone in on one thing. I’ve been trying to make lists. Lists are helping. But if I focus too much on how a song is performing — I don’t want to think about that and just focus on music.

How do you define whether a song is great?

I would say just if you could feel whatever the artist is telling you. Once the song is over, if you feel something from it.

Are you a perfectionist?

Yes, a little too much. I’ll complete a song and wonder, Maybe I should try this over guitar. I just like to explore every possible route. For the lyrics, [I explore] how it feels the best over this sonic bed. But it’s definitely hard to know when something’s done. Honestly, letting things have space is also always good because “11th Hour” was an idea that started a year ago. I revisited it, and I just had a new perspective on it. Giving things space is good.

What is an example of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and, as a result, something happened that wouldn’t have happened otherwise?

I’m pretty antisocial and pushing myself to be more social and meet new people. I think it inspires the songwriting. It makes me think about things differently. But making music, somebody introduced me to this feature on Logic called “varispeed,” and that literally is used within “11th Hour.” I’m able to pitch my voice. So, [I’m] meeting new people and learning new things from sessions, and I think I’ve learned something new from every session I’ve done.

It has been eightish months since you released “Future Me.” I think most of us are always chasing or perhaps just daydreaming about a future version of ourselves. But in the time since you released or wrote that song, have you been introduced to a part of your future self that you wrote about wanting to meet?

I feel like I’m meeting parts of her. I think I’m evolving and still learning more about myself. But yeah, I would say so. Confidence and being decisive are things I’ve always struggled with, but I find myself fitting into those shoes a bit more.

What would be the best thing that could possibly happen in the next year?

A song with SZA!

Posted in: Pop