When you listen to a Haley Reinhart record, it's like sticks of dynamite going off in your eardrums. There's a slinkiness to the way she delivers a lyric, too, an unfettered, daring confidence masked with a wink and a smile. Listen Up!, her first post-American Idol full-length album on Interscope Records, was packed with massive hooks, undeniable musicality and a raw authenticity. While the album (stacked with standouts like Wasted Tears and Keep Coming Back) never quite lit a fire in the industry, the project stands up as one of the finest releases in modern pop music.
Reinhart parted ways with Intersope six months after the release, and since then, she has been putting together the long-awaited follow-up. Better will be released independently and is expected to arrive in April, with the title track to impact ahead of the drop date. Her current single is a cover of Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling in Love, which you can grab now on iTunes. "Stylistically, the song 'Better' has a similar funky vibe to 'Listen Up.' I especially like it because it is geared toward women, in general. I want to inspire and motivate them to step out of a relationship if it’s not right for them and if it is weighing them down or abusive in any aspect," Reinhart shares with Popdust over a phone call last week. "In the chorus, I talk about throwing this ring a guy gave me in the ocean, and I’m already feeling better and lifted."
With plenty of time to create, Reinhart says it has been freeing to have so many songs from which to choose. "The beauty of [this process] is there has been such a long period of time. I’ve grown so attached to certain songs," she says. "The very first song I wrote for the new project is called ‘I Belong to You.’ It’s still one of my most favorite songs. Once you feel that from the get go, I think ‘well...this has to be on it.’ It doesn't matter how long it takes for everything else around you to fall into place, from building a team to strategizing to timing. The momentum of my life and career feels great right now."
While she was heavily involved with the songwriting on Listen Up!, Better has given her chances to stretch her wings in production. "I ended up taking the original production and getting a live band, including my dad on guitar. I had them cut it and I fused the two sounds together. It has a more epic, cinematic sound," she says of the new album's overall tone.
She continues, "The theme throughout is confidence. Even with ‘Listen Up,’ I would gear a lot of the record toward the ladies out there. The new album has the same kind of thing throughout it, too. The title ‘Better’ is simple and sweet, and the word itself means to progress or evolve or grow. It’s positive. Even in a lot of the artwork I’m doing, I have roses represented throughout all the photos. I wanted to tie in something that represents growth and evolution. A rose is constantly growing, blooming, flourishing."
While the singer will issue the new album herself, she admits several record labels approached her. "I had a lot of different ones contact me. It took a long time to make sure things were right," she says. "I want to get this album out there. Maybe, I’ll find the right home eventually. When you have a gut feeling, you don’t want to really wait. I’ve made my fans wait long enough for the second record. I’m ready to get this out now."
"My journey has been incredible. I decided to do this project all on my own with my team in LA and my publishing company. It feels right to release ‘Better’ on my own. It could be somewhere different in the near future, but this feels right," she says.
Reinhart has certainly been flourishing in the past few years, nonetheless. She has joined viral sensation and accomplished musicians Postmodern Jukebox on numerous pop recreations, taking on songs like Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass, Tove Lo's Habits and Radiohead's Creep, among many others, and flipping them into jazz standards. "Postmodern Jukebox has been such a wonderful thing for me to let some things out of my system. I’m such a big jazz fan. To be able to fuse two different sounds from then and now and channel a sound from the ‘40s or ‘50s is so awesome."
"I call it my alter ego. With my stuff, my voice is still the same and I might have a touch of jazzy influence, but it’s definitely not full-on jazz."
While Postmodern Jukebox won't appear on her new album Better—"that would be very cool. Maybe the next one?" she considers—Reinhart confirms she will be joining them on tour "for a few dates in London."
"We have ideas of songs we really want to do. I’ve been so busy, and they’re touring all the time," she says. "I think we’ll get another one together eventually."
Two weeks ago, Reinhart made her welcome return to the show that started it all. During her appearance on Idol, she not only mentored the next generation of singers, but she performed two duets, joining Kory Wheeler and Adam Lasher. "That was really awesome. I’m honored they asked me to be one of the few to come back," she recalls. "I was able to really bring it full circle and even have some closure and say goodbye to everyone from the security guards to the producers. So many of them came back just for this last season. It was really cool and bittersweet to hang out with them one last time. I’ve always dreamt of being able to return to the show, whether I was judging or mentoring. It was pretty perfect."
Following Reinhart's collaboration with Wheeler on Elton John's Bennie and the Jets, judge Jennifer Lopez brazenly rewrote history regarding Reinhart's Season 10 run. "Haley was on the first season that I judged, and she was in the top three. We thought she was going to win," the Booty singer claimed, seemingly forgetting numerous times she delivered veiled compliments or overly-harsh critiques.
Reinhart laughs at first. "That’s nice...if she really thought that. Looking back at all the comments the judges made is really humbling..."
Rewinding the tape, performances like Michael Jackson's Earth Song and Lady Gaga's You & I (and many more) elicited egregious or often lukewarm reception from the then-panel, comprised of Jlo, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler (who, in reality, remained in her corner up to her elimination). "I mean, they could be pretty...harsh sometimes and sometimes very questionable," Reinhart says. "But I don’t regret any of it. It really gave me even thicker skin. It’s gotten me where I am today."
"[The comments] did pull out a lot from my core. There is a lot we have to deal with in this business, especially if you are going to be someone like me and have a lot of drive. I don’t intend on quitting until I get exactly what I want and deserve. ‘Idol’ really prepares us for that," she says.
Speaking of looking back, Reinhart ponders the tracks from Listen Up! she still connects with most. "The single ‘Free’ and ‘Better’ are quite similar in the story about breaking free and feeling empowered and independent. ‘Wasted Tears,’ I love that song. I’m in a very happy, positive place right now, so I guess even ‘Wonderland,'" she says.
In support of her upcoming album Better, she is mapping out a tour to launch in May and June. "I would obviously like to spend time doing U.S. dates and then travel abroad. I really want to get to the U.K. I feel my sound would really resonate there. I know there are certain places here like Seattle and Florida, places where fans have been waiting to see me play."