Hayley Sabella has a complicated relationship with Cape Cod – it’s a significant setting for her personal history, and she’s now recorded two versions of a song about its evolving role in her life, the latest version of which is premiering exclusively with Audiofemme.
The Massachusetts-based singer spent her high school years commuting across the bridge to attend Sturgis Charter Public School. Sabella’s family had recently moved back to Plymouth from Nicaragua, where her parents had been teaching in an American school, and her youthful eyes saw the Cape from a negative perspective with its long, dark winters that leave the streets and beaches barren for several months, creating a sense of isolation. “I had a painful association with Cape Cod,” Sabella admits. “It had a lot of melancholy to me growing up. I had this subconscious belief that nothing good happened there.”
Sabella’s transition from Central America to the United States wasn’t easy and left her craving a sense of identity. “I really repressed the way that it shaped me for a long time because you come back from the jungle and start middle school, the last thing that you want to do is stand out or be different. You want to blend in,” she explains. “My childhood was in Nicaragua, so I felt like a strange kid from the jungle. Interestingly enough, it filled me with this longing for that belonging, that sense of safety, that sense of really deep, strong community.”
Sabella’s view of Cape Cod transformed in her adult eyes, as she eventually found comfort in the isolation. Sabella was inspired to write “Cape Cod” after attending the Wellfleet OysterFest, a day that began reveling in the local food and art festival and ended with her bar hopping across town, meeting people who’ve been friends since kindergarten. She even found herself at a kind stranger’s home, the experience introducing her to the community she deeply desired in her youthful years. “It revealed to me that there is magic on Cape Cod,” she recalls of the memorable day. “I feel like I got more comfortable at that melancholy and the sense that it’s beautiful even though it’s austere.”
The song also serves as a bridge between Sabella’s past and present, its lyrics recalling a distinct moment when a childhood friend from Nicaragua came to visit her on Cape Cod. Sabella played the song for her friend, the lyrics expressing the feeling of being an outsider while making precious memories with “your pal since the third grade.”
“Cape Cod” first appeared on Sabella’s 2018 album, Forgive the Birds, in the form of a twinkling acoustic ballad. The new rendition, which is slated to appear on her upcoming EP, Flew the Nest, was born on a $50, light-weight classical guitar that hung above Sabella’s bed, making it easily accessible as she nursed a broken leg back to health. She invited her band members to play on a new recording of the song, giving it a fresh identity with the instrumentation that feels fuller while establishing another component of community. “’Cape Cod’ was definitely a release in a sense. It shifted that grief sense into a joy,” she observes. “It goes from this lonely, isolated version to inviting friends into the process. It’s a further expression, that movement from being isolated to realizing that there’s a community there.”
Sabella now sees Cape Cod as a place of solace, somewhere she can escape and appreciate the deserted beaches in the wintertime and quiet air that surrounds them, instilling her with the ability to enjoy her own company. “It’s a place of renewal I think. It’s a place where I go to rest,” she notes. “Getting comfortable with being alone is something I’ve been working on for years. I think it’s really important for my growth to have gotten comfortable with spending time by myself. Now I really look forward to it.”
The evolution of the song itself adds another layer to its symbolism as an anthem of change. “I feel like songs have this way of revealing things to you. Your subconscious reveals things to you before your conscious mind can make the connection. This song reveals things to me over time,” Sabella remarks. “That’s the healing power of music.”
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