Lee's Summit, Missouri, folk artist Bailey West is at 17 years-old already an accomplished songwriter and lyricist whose music is honest and melodic. Currently a senior at Lee's Summit West High School, West is also a talented singer and guitarist whose work you'll be hearing more from in the years to come. In this interview, West describes her earliest songwriting efforts, what she does now to get inspired and shares her list of book recommendations.
Introduce yourself. Where do you go to school? How long have you been writing songs?
I'll be entering this year as a senior at Lee's Summit West High School; I've lived around here my whole life. I have been writing little songs and dancing around my room for as long as I can remember. Most of the "songs" I wrote when I was little were about candy or my dog. In fourth grade, my dad and brother started learning the guitar, and I wanted to as well. I got a bright blue Luna guitar that Christmas and started learning the basics. In sixth grade, I started pairing lyrics and melodies with chords on the guitar. After that I had to learn the actual structure of a song, and by seventh grade I was writing full songs. Now I don't know what I'd do without it.
Describe your creative process with songwriting. What tools do you use to write and/or record your music?
My songwriting process varies. Sometimes I'll start with a chord progression and then add lyrics and melody, or I just start with a melody in my head, then add lyrics and chords. Sometimes I sit down, pick up my guitar, and it all comes at once. Throughout the day I'll randomly think of phrases that could be put into lyrics, so I have a whole Notes page on my phone dedicated to that. At home I have notebooks of songs, fully written or just partly done. When I start a song, I usually record it on my phone. I continue to update the recordings as I work on the song, and eventually I might post it on YouTube or SoundCloud.
Please share a story about moving through a period of creative struggle. What got you through?
I definitely do experience writer's block. Sometimes the pieces just don't fit together like I want them to, or my mind is completely blank. Whenever this happens, I have to take a break. I won't play for a few days, and usually I can come back and work it out. The important thing for me is to not try too hard. My guitar teacher once pointed out that when I feel like I'm writing a crappy song, just keep writing, but don't put so much pressure on it. If I overthink and worry, then everything just feels forced and I can't write music like that. I have to feel what I'm writing and be excited about it; I want it to be an emotional and passionate experience. A lot of times if I just let go of the pressure, things flow naturally and it's a lot more productive.
Who or what inspires you?
I'm inspired by people's drive to move on and stick together. I believe that naturally we want to grow as people and move past pain and hurt. I love how people find comfort in one another, it brings us all together. Having a healthy support system is such an important part of getting through life. Music is so great at bringing people together, and I love that. I want my songs to be a cornerstone for people going through tough times. I want to show people that they are not alone, and I hope my songs are something they can relate to.
Bailey's recommendations from the Johnson County Library Catalog:
I am J by Cris Beam
I read this a few years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. It's about a female to male transgender teenager going through family, relationship, and self identity struggles. It did a lot to get me interested in learning about transgender people, and it really opened my eyes to a lot of struggles they go through- especially as younger kids into adolescence.
I love Jennifer Brown. Her books are raw, emotional, and they also open your eyes to a broad range of perspectives. Hate List is about a high school girl whose boyfriend brought a gun to school with the mission of killing everyone on a "Hate List" of people from their school that had bullied them. Bitter End follows the relationship of a high school girl and a boy, whom she falls in love with, but he starts abusing her. Both books help you be more understanding to people stuck in those situations. For me, it provided a perspective that I had never thought of before.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is about a young girl who struggles with eating disorders and self image. I also feel like this book is raw and fresh; there are multiple quotes I have picked out from this book because it really hits home sometimes. It shows perspective on what a lot of young girls think about their bodies, what they are raised and conformed to believe about themselves... And how that impacts them in such unhealthy ways.
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This is set from the perspective of a high school boy who receives a box of record tapes. It turns out to be a set of letters from a girl he know that committed suicide a few weeks prior. The tapes explain a succession of events throughout her life that lead up to her decision to take her life. Each side of 7 tapes had a story addressed to a certain person. This was also a very moving and emotional book, one that hits home for many as well.
Side note: These books are emotional and can get depressing, but I think it's really important to read and learn about other people's struggles. It helps so that we are more understanding to a broader range of people and their situations. Books like these put you in their shoes and it can change your perspective. I love books that make me feel and make me think.