Copyright Andrew Scott Blackstein
HAYLEY JANE AND THE PRIMATES
By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
This Thursday making their debut at the Pickle Barrel is a band not to be missed: Hayley Jane and the Primates. I first saw this band two years ago at Jerry Jam in New Hampshire and became an instant fan. I’ve seen them twice now and the band is very tight and Hayley Jane is a unique singer. I had the pleasure of speaking with her to learn more about the band, which she describes as “a genre crazy theatrical production.” She sometimes brings dancers with her — that’s the theatrical. When I first saw them in 2016, she and the dancers blew me away.
She continued. “It’s really just my brain to music, which can be scary. It’s emotional. We try and take people on a ride that isn’t necessarily a full-time party. It’s more like life with its super ups and super downs, it can get scary and it can get sad. But it always comes back to love and positivity. The boys like to jam out so there’s elements of jam there plus funk, folk and Americana. To me, I like to say it’s pure emotion. We like to make people feel things. In the end, that’s what is therapeutic about music.”
The band hails from Boston, although Hayley Jane divides her time between there and Burlington, Vt. Occasionally she will do a month-long residency at Nectars. Haley Jane is the lead singer and also plays the washboard. The Primates are made up of Justin “Juice” Hancock (guitar/vocals), Josh “Tree Beard” Carter (bass/vocals), Greg “Smitty” Smith (guitar/vocals) and Ryan “The Claw” Clausen (drums).
The band has two albums to its credit. This past September, it released “We’re Here Now” and before that was “Gasoline.” Hayley Jane used to write all the music and said, “I used to write with Justin and then we started writing as a full band and now we only write as a full band —everyone is involved.”
Hayley Jane grew up in Atascadero, Calif. In the fourth grade, she joined the choir and her teachers liked her singing so much that they wanted to work with her a couple days after school to prepare her for an upcoming talent show. Growing up as the youngest of three girls, she had to fight for attention. She said, “When it came time for the talent show, I remember walking out on stage and seeing my whole family sitting in the second row and all looking at me. It was the first time since I was a baby that I had all of their attention at once. I vividly remember thinking to myself that I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.”
At age 11, she started doing theatre. She did school plays, then community theatre and then got a job with Disney in California when she was 17. She moved down to Orange County and bounced around there for a few years. She said, “There were two years down there that were pretty crazy. L.A. was pretty cool, but at 17 it was very scary. I was from a small town, so I wasn’t ready for that energy yet.”
She was a bit dejected after Los Angeles because she had to move back home. She was supposed to be the girl that made it big in L.A, but then she was back home working at Starbucks. She was going to move to Georgia with her army-based boyfriend. She had no plans to do music. One day on a loading dock in her hometown, she met a Boston-based band through a friend — Westbound Train. They listened to some of her music and convinced her to ditch Georgia and give Boston a try. She did, and by the end of a month, she was living there. That was 2005.
Hayley Jane formed the Primates in Boston in 2007 and for a few years they played around different places, and that helped her get her name going. She then got scooped up by Big D and the Kids Table as a backup singer. They took her on Warped Tour and over to the U.K. She said, “I got to do all sorts of cool stuff with them.” The Primates took a break, but were back later.
In 2010, Hancock joined the Primates: Hayley Jane, Jesse Hayes on drums and Devin “Dabbo” Caucci on bass. In 2011, Dabbo passed away and that really halted things. Hayley Jane remembered, “I went through a lot of emotional stuff after that. It’s funny because when I tell people we’ve been a band for 10 years, they’re surprised we’re not bigger or well-known. I’m glad that we’ve had all these experiences. I miss Dabbo a lot, but that gave me the opportunity to meet Josh. With the band now, the last three or four years have been pretty remarkable for us. Two years ago we scooped up Ryan Clausen from Burlington and Smitty. The lineup we have now —that’s when things really took off. There was this high level of friendship and trust. We needed these other personality types to join the band to kick it into high gear. Now, it’s really a well-oiled, functioning machine. It took a lot, but here we are, and it’s so worth it in the end.”
As I mentioned, the dancers are a very cool part of the show. Hayley Jane said that started slowly with the song “Madeline.” She talked about it. “That’s about a lot of things, but mainly about the girl in my head. Sometimes I can feel detached from my own brain and it’s almost another person that I talk to. I had an idea to have one female dancer and honestly it was a way to work through some things. One of the dancers I had was dating an ex-boyfriend of mine and we were friends. Sometimes working through those emotions can be hard, so I told her let’s dance together. It was quite the experience and I realized how much I enjoyed having another female on stage with me, and how much it added. In the beginning, the woman would wear the same thing as me to represent that she was me. Everything has evolved now. Then I met Caitlin, who is my main homegirl in this … She studies philosophy and psychology so she has a grip on what I’m trying to do here and she can almost help me decipher what I’m trying to portray in the dances. These aren’t just dancers — they’re friends and my support system. I’m surrounded by men in almost every aspect of this, and bringing like-minded women along who understand me is great. These women are more than dancers — they’re geniuses. They’re creative and open to what I’m doing. What we’re trying to create here is moving energy around and pushing it around the stage and not only there, but passing it to the audience and really building it and creating something special through movement.”
Hayley Jane has a new side project with Ryan Montbleau called “Yes Darling.” She said, “Oh my God … One girl said ‘it’s like June Carter and Johnny Cash meet Tenacious D,’ or ‘if ‘La La Land’ was rated R and they took acid every once in a while.’ It’s really funny and coming along nicely. We play this couple and we’re real about it. It’s about love, but it’s also about how obnoxious you can find your partner. How hard it can be and the fighting, the love, the temptation of other people — everything. We’re releasing that album on Valentine’s Day and we have a tour based around that.” She’ll be bouncing back and forth between this and the Primates for the spring and summer.