Twenty-one-year-old Haley Graves, who self-defines as a Black Queer Pop Punk Artist, has found herself—but it’s been a tumultuous journey.
Adopted from birth, Graves, who is mixed race, grew up as one of the only non-white kids in a small, sheltered town in Maine—an upbringing that made it hard to claim and understand her identity fully.
After moving to Seattle to study music at Cornish College of The Arts in August 2019, Graves began working avidly as a session musician, and in 2021, dropped her debut EP, She Thinks My Pop Punk Is Cringey. On the heels of these big moves, the artist has become more secure in herself and her identity as an artist, and she’s excited to share that confidence on her sophomore EP Over, which drops today.
Growing up in South Bristol, Maine, which is 97% white, Graves says she didn’t really realize that she was Black until she was about 13. “Everybody would touch my hair without my consent. It was a thing. It’s still a thing when I go home and like, when I push people off me, they’re like, ‘Um, why can’t I just touch your hair? What’s your problem?'” says Graves. “What if I just came up to you and started petting you?”
At that point, the gears started turning, and Graves became more aware of what made her different—her Blackness, as well as her bisexuality. Around this same time, Graves was also really into Justin Bieber. She credits the pop star with getting her into guitar.
“I was just in love with him! It’s so embarrassing to admit because I’m so pop-punk now. It’s embarrassing to be like, this teeny-bopper pop star got me into guitar,” says Graves. “He played a little bit. The occasional pop star amount, the occasional G-A-C-E-B chords, the cowboy chords. But you know, he was cute, so everyone was like oh my god, he’s so hot. You know what I’m saying?”
She laughs at how far her childhood adoration of Bieber and Disney Channel stars like Selena Gomez took her—to identifying with the Latina and Black members of the pop girl group 5th Harmony and finding the yin to her bad girl yang in a 5 Seconds of Summer cover of the Green Day hit, “American Idiot.”
“That’s when it all shifted, when I found Green Day,” said Graves. “At 13, I felt kind of misunderstood [and] I wanted to project this bad girl image.”
Though Graves is much more gritty punk these days, she still brings the innocence and exuberance of those early pop influences to her music, particularly on her debut. Songs are short and consonant, as all ear-worm pop should be. This is particularly charming (or cringey) depending on your relationship with Y2K-era Top 40 rock bands like Green Day, Good Charlotte, and Avril Lavigne—but Graves knows and owns that.
“I wrote ‘She Thinks All Pop-Punk is Cringey’ right before I turned 20 about my Republican [ex-]girlfriend. She made fun of my taste in music quite a bit,” says Graves. “I had a conversation with a few friends and I was like, yeah, my girlfriend thinks pop-punk is cringey, and I immediately looked at them and was like, hey guys, I got to go, I’ll be right back, and I just started writing. I remember looking at the closet like flannel, she doesn’t like my flannel, she doesn’t like my Neck Deep tee, and I was like, okay that’s going in the song. I was so excited about it. I remember playing it for like everybody at Cornish, like, guys, I just wrote a song, I’m so proud of it.”
She’s also proud to lead with the fact that she is a Black, queer artist in a typically white-dominated genre, recognizing the opportunity in her unique perspective. “It’s not really heard of in the pop-punk scene. Pop-punk is very white. Male driven. So being Black and queer is two different things people don’t know much of,” she points out.
Palpable confidence leads to experimentation on her new release, Over, which features stretches of spoken word and more vulnerable autobiographical confessions and was co-written and produced by Grammy-nominated producer-composer Phill Peterson.
If Graves’ debut was about chasing the girls, Over, she says, is more about being chased—which nicely encapsulates where she is in her personal development and career.
“Last year, I kind of made a very big entrance in the Seattle music scene [with my debut EP]. I woke up one day and everybody in Seattle knew who I was and that was intense,” says Graves. “It’s empowering… I think I’ve started to figure myself out as an artist.”