They grew up only 3 miles apart in Northern California — though Shannon Haley and Ryan Michaels didn’t know each other until well after each had embarked on their own musical career in Nashville. Shortly after meeting they began singing and writing together and discovered an electric musical connection. With two unique voices coming together as one complete sound, there is no lead singer in this duo. Their vocal blend and harmonies carry their music, each song showing two halves of a conversation that unfolds over time.
Over the past couple of years, the duo — now Haley & Michaels — have quietly gone about building their music career inch by inch and piece by piece. On May 9, the duo wed in Northern California with close friends and family where Shannon walked down the aisle to “Giving It All (To You)”, which the couple wrote for their wedding.
“We sat down to work on our vows, but instead, we ended up writing this song,” says Haley. “We incorporated some of those lyrics into our vows, but we thought me walking down the aisle to that song would be really special, based on what the lyrics are about.”
We sat down with them last Friday, before their show at Joe’s Bar, to talk everything from music to marriage. Their insight was only outmatched by their talent and down to earth personalities. Here’s what they had to say:
You two are a married couple. Are there ever times when being together all the time is challenging?
Ryan:Unfortunately for Shannon, we are together all the time. (laughs)
Shannon:I feel like we have learned how to spend all of our time together. We have learned how to make it work and it’s gotten easier as time has gone on. At first it was kind of a learning curve.
Ryan:We work together, but we don’t always work together. What I mean by that is, Shannon works on a lot of things that I have nothing to do with, but we are always united and I’ll do certain things too. We’re not necessarily responding to every email and making every phone call together. We used to, but the divide and conquer approach lets us take advantage of the fact that there is two of us.
They say you should never work with family. Do you ever need time to just separate and regroup?
Ryan:Yeah there is a corner that I go sit in sometimes. (laughs)
Shannon:I think you speak differently to your best friend or partner than you would to a co-worker, so when I am working on something that is business with Ryan, I try to separate it and remind myself that this is business and I don’t want to snap on him just because I disagree with him.
Ryan:I can piss her off in business and it’s not going to affect the relationship and vice versa. (laughs) But honestly, when you’re with someone and you love each other, if you can figure out the communication, which takes work, there is a big strength in that. Knowing that we want the same thing and being extremely united really helps a lot.
Who are some influences, past or present, that you really look up to?
Shannon:From a musical place and on a personal level, I am really inspired by Little Big Town. They have stuck with it for so long and now they are superstars. Also Keith Urban, who I followed when he was with The Ranch. I’ve heard his story about how long he was in Nashville and continued to be persistent and now look at him, so that’s really inspiring.
Ryan:Along with Garth, I’d say U2 and Bon Jovi and people like that who go beyond the music and try to uplift people and make the experience bigger than any one song. We try to include that element in what we do as well. Hearing that someone got married to our wedding song, that’s the stuff that inspires us.
Speaking of Keith Urban and LBT sticking it out for so long, other artists like Kip Moore have been very vocal about grinding it out for years. Is that artist grind something you identify with at this point in your career?
Shannon:We definitely identify with that. Right now, it feels more energizing and not exhausting at all because we feel like we are on the right path, which is exciting. It’s definitely a grind to try and build something though.
Ryan:The irony is that everybody wants something young and fresh and on the flip side, they want something that is polished, matured and ready to go. You can’t always have both. For us, we weren’t ready when we first moved to town, eventually things started falling into place and moving faster. So although it is a grind, it’s exciting.
What is your opinion of reality TV shows and the overnight success they portray?
Shannon:I understand how hard it is to get exposed to everybody and have that opportunity to be successful, so I understand why people might choose to get on a television show. I have no disrespect for that, but I do totally agree with the sentiment that the beauty is in the climb and that nothing really happens overnight. Carrie Underwood is a superstar and I’m sure she would say that just winning American Idol is not all it takes.
Ryan:and Carrie is the exception to the rule, as far as someone who stuck. There is also something to be said for building a foundation. If you have one single that shoots up the charts and your second song isn’t quite as strong and you go play shows, the room is gonna be empty. So by going to markets and making fans and meeting people who know more songs, you build a foundation and somebody like Eric Church is a perfect example of that.
You both grew up in the Bay Area. Is there even country music there?
Shannon: (laughs) I grew up loving country and my mom loved it, so I fell in love with it too. Our hometown radio station 95.3 KRTY was my only outlet for music and I listened to nothing but that. That was the first station to play our music.
Ryan:We both grew up listening to a show called Gary and Julie in the morning. That’s really what we bonded over when we finally met in Nashville. It was a trip. We did an interview with them and we thought we could retire after that (laughs) but we didn’t know they were gonna play our song. It was pretty special.
What was it like the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
Shannon:I was actually nervous because I thought I was gonna mess up. The I realized I couldn’t. (laughs) I was kind of freaked out.
Ryan:I am very OCD so all I could think about was that the WAV file of the song was gonna skip and I don’t know why but I felt like it wasn’t going to play the whole song. (laughs) Our families kind of thought we were nuts for a while, but then hearing our song on the radio made everyone call us and tell us we made it, which doesn’t mean that at all. (laughs)
Did you ever get to that point where you thought “this has to work no matter what?”
Ryan:Unfortunately, we both forgot to have a backup plan. (laughs) So it never really occurred to either of us that there was something else we could do and it still doesn’t.
Compared to being a solo artist, do you find being a duo gives you more liberty to be creative with your music?
Ryan:We always love hearing other duos. We enjoy hearing how people do their vocal parts or their music. For us, the thing we make sure we are always mindful of is that there isn’t a lead singer in this group and that’s how we write. We’re always having a conversation and changing who is singing what parts, so we can have both perspectives of the relationship.
Tonight you’re playing with Charlie Worsham at Joe’s Bar. Are you big fans of his?
Ryan:Charlie is an old friend of mine. We used to do songwriter’s nights together in Nashville all the time. I actually produced an R&B record that I had him play on years ago. It’s been really cool to see people like Charlie, who are so talented, and have been working hard for a long time, start to pay off.
You both have great hair, whose takes longer to do?
Shannon:(Laughs) It’s still me but it’s close.
Ryan:Closer than I’d like to admit. (laughs)
Is there a full length album on the way?
Shannon:Yes. We are working on some new music right now to round out the album. We don’t know exactly when it will be released just yet.
Check out the latest single ‘Giving It All (To You)’ from Haley & Michaels