Long Island, New York may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of country-Americana music with a strong rural connection, but you might think differently after spending some time with the work of singer/songwriter Delaney Hafener.
The driving force behind The Belle Curves, Hafener has a way of turning your assumptions upside down. So whatever preconceived notions you harbor about country music, the USA, love, relationships, identity and belonging, you’ll likely find yourself looking from a newfound vantage point by the time you get to the end of the Belle Curves’ sophomore full-length Watershed.
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For starters, Hafener doesn’t write love songs—at least not in the typical sense. To be precise, though, songs like “We Haven’t Been Talking” and “Left Unsaid” are actually very much about love, only they address love in the context of friendship and family, respectively. Without resorting to any of the tried-and-true clichés that have become synonymous with the term “love song,” Hafener has a gift for capturing the tensions, tribulations, rancor and outright devastation that we all go through in relationships that cut just as keep—at times even moreso—than the ones we hear about in the usual breakup fare.
“If we prioritize always talking about romantic relationships,” Hafener offers, “then we end up looking at all the other connections in our life through a lens that’s really flattening. If you think about it, life gets its texture from all the different people in our lives who make it interesting. You can have a platonic friend where there’s much more intensity and depth, and where it’s much more complicated, than someone who you were seeing romantically for four months. And sibling relationships can be really intense because you have so much baggage with your siblings.”
“‘Left Unsaid,’” Hafener continues, “is about an argument that my mom and her brother had years ago, the way they had this disagreement and just couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it, and ‘We Haven’t Been Talking” was inspired by a falling-out I had with a very, very close friend I’ve had since 7th grade. That separation was far more crushing and impactful than any kind of romantic breakup I’ve ever experienced, so I wrote about it. For me, all of that richness was just begging to be voiced in songs, and yet you don’t hear that many. It’s odd—I mean, we don’t only watch movies about lovers, so why does it have to be that way in music?”
The short answer to Hafener’s question is that it doesn’t have to be that way, but that it takes an artist with the imagination and nerve it takes to flaunt musical convention and to paint with a fresh palette while still being true to the heart and soul of an artform. And as Watershed demonstrates, Hafener isn’t short on imagination or nerve. All of the interpersonal subjects the album touches are underlined by a queer, anti-capitalist understanding of the world—a perspective informed by Hafener travels acros the US in 2019. In so many ways, Watershed gives voice to what it means to find one’s place, both literally and figuratively, vis-a-vis the larger society one is a part of.
Though certainly incisive, Hafener’s music also conveys consideration, thoughtfulness, and a sincere desire to know what it’s like in another person’s shoes, even when taking them to task. Her portrayals of the American heartland on songs like “Bumper Stickers,” for example, don’t conform to stereotypes any more than her homebase in a 150-year old farmhouse/barn fits stereotypes about her native Long Island, which she also hashes out—with the same mix of critique and understanding—on “Rosé Drive-Thru.” (Hafener and her parents operate the barn as a venue, and her father, Bill Hafener, co-produced and plays on the album.) Ultimately, as Watershed shows us, genres aren’t static, but fluid by definition and able to absorb whatever fresh touches the individual artist brings to them. In a sense, every musical style needs boundary-pushing artists like Hafener to be its lifeblood.
“A big influence on me while I was writing these songs,” Hafener offers, “was the podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones, which opened a door into the history of American roots music that I hadn’t been exposed to before. It really expanded my understanding of what country music was, and the rising popularity of the online publication Country Queer inspired me to think about what it can become. That’s what excites me so much—the idea that country music has this kind of infinite room to grow. You have to be respectful of all the history you’re building on, but I think it can be done in a way that’s both authentic and eye-opening. That’s the goal, anyway—with Watershed, I’m happy if I can even get part of the way there.”