There is something refreshingly different about Canadian musician Hayley Gene. The singer-songwriter, who goes by the name W. Darling, is near the opposite of what one has come to expect of an artist that pledges their talents to pop.
Take her Instagram account for example. Following @_wdarling will not clog your feed up with puckered lips selfies. Instead, you’ll be treated to unplugged serenades that range from original songs to covers of the singer’s favourite musicians, like Joni Mitchell.
Judging from how she tackles social media, it would seem the celebrity side of the music business doesn’t much interest the artist. And for that, we can’t get enough of W. Darling.
As for the reason behind the separation between the singer and hype grabs, apart from being just too cool for all of that, the singer’s linage may just play a factor. Daughter of children’s folk icon Fred Penner (Canadian ‘80s babies will know the performer from his long-running CBC show, Fred Penner’s Place) the spotlight is nothing to fuss about for the singer, who grew up in the studio and on tour with her father. The other reason for W. Darling’s purist approach to the industry is she’s something of a lone wolf—a trait transparent in her songs. “While on the surface I can come off as quite extraverted, which I attribute mostly to growing up on stage, the truth is I am a pretty emotionally unstable person. I get very affected—very deeply—by the people in my life and have a real tendency to retreat into isolation,” she shares. “That’s why this work is so important to me, because it can reach someone who hasn’t gotten out of bed in two days. It has the ability to connect and offer understanding for people who don’t know how to ask for help.”
Since we first had a chance to collaborate with W. Darling on a fashion video starring The Path’s Kyle Allen, featuring him breaking it down to her track “Dizzy,” (off her EP Lost Girls: Chapter Two, released at the end of last year), we’ve been enamored with the lyricist’s knack for penning evocative songs that manifest the breathy romance and harrowing melancholy that interweave life.
Music aside, another reason we have our eye on the syrupy-voiced W. Darling is her personal style: we can’t help but love a girl who has a reserve of nautical striped gear in her closet. Below, we get to know the singer-songwriter as she talks music and the beauty secrets that keep her looking stage ready.
To start, take us inside your songwriting process. Do you find inspiration from your life mostly when writing, or do you like to imagine scenarios and write about those?
I usually write about my experiences. With the exception of, “I’ll Keep Waving” from Chapter 2, these songs are mostly about one particular difficult relationship, and how much I have learned through that tumultuous time in my life.
Which artists have influenced your own sound? Are there some that we might not be able to hear in the music?
I am really inspired by great songwriters. I’ve been influenced by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Peter Gabriel and most recently, The 1975…which I am currently obsessed with…like, obsessed. If I were 16, I would have a picture of the drummer George Daniel on my ceiling.
That’s a lot of love!
Their music is so inspiring to me. I haven’t fallen in such deep musical love with a band in a very long time.
Let’s talk about your personal style, when you’re not on stage, how would you describe your look in a nutshell?
I love androgyny in women’s fashion. The strength and femininity of Diane Keaton with the rough-around-the-edges look of Patti Smith. I’m more comfortable when I feel a bit undone. I never want to look like I’ve spent hours in front of the mirror. I want to portray a sort of casual yet deliberate persona. Long, cape-like coats, done up collars, ripped jeans, white sneakers and last night’s makeup.
What about your beauty look, what’s your approach to that? Are you a fan of playing with makeup looks, are do you like to keep it simple and natural in your daily life?
I keep my makeup pretty simple in my everyday life. It’s all about skin, brows and lashes for me. I want dewy skin, bold brows, matte lips and long wet lashes.
That’s a particularly good look in the summer! Are you good about keeping to beauty rituals both in the morning and before bed?
I am the worst at taking off my makeup before bed…I’d like to say it’s just because I love how day-old-makeup looks, but it’s also because by the time I’m in bed, I just don’t want to get up and take my eye makeup off… and you can’t make me. That being said, I am obsessive about my skin and am militant about moisturizing, though I only ever wash my face with water.
Only water, huh? I like that. What’s one beauty item you won’t leave the house without applying to your face?
I’m picking three: Weleda Skin Food cream, M.A.C. tinted moisturizer, GOSH volume mascara.
Have you snagged any beauty secrets from other musicians or hair and makeup artists you’ve worked with in the past?
Don’t be afraid of moisturizing.
In your opinion, what’s the single beauty product every woman should invest in?
Weleda Skin Food. It’s everything.
What have you learned to be an easy way to transition from your usual daytime look to the perfect evening look, something you might even wear on stage?
A long coat. I usually have a couple in my car just in case. Even if I’m just in jeans and a t-shirt, a strong coat changes everything.
Do you think stage makeup should be more dramatic or do you like to look pretty much like yourself when you’re up there?
I tend to lean towards looking like myself on stage, however I don’t think it’s really the most effective. The truth is, it is a performance and a heightened version of myself up there, so I think the look should reflect that.
That makes sense. What’s one beauty item can we find in your purse on an average day?
GOSH SHOW ME VOLUME Mascara in Carbon Black.
What’s one thing we will never see you do beauty-wise?
As an evolving creature, who knows? That being said, I don’t want to wear crazy high stilettos on stage. Ever.
What new beauty trend or colour are you planning to test out this summer season?
I am really into earthy, monochromatic tones right now. Ivory, white, grey, black. Really simple, elegant colour palettes that are easy to embellish with a pop of colour.
Who is your beauty idol and what about her beauty looks inspires your own look?
Patti Smith. She’s just a bad ass.
Finish this sentence: Beauty is…
Beauty is confidence.