Hayley Orrantia’s career has been quite the whirlwind. The singer, songwriter and actress decided to pursue music at eleven years old. By fourteen, she was recording music for Disney; a 2010 song called “Magic of a Friend,” included on the Tinkerbell and The Lost Treasure soundtrack and a few backing vocals on the soundtracks for Camp Rock 2 and Hannah Montana Forever. The following year, Orrantia appeared on Fox’s The X-Factor, where she was placed into country girl group Lakoda Rayne.
In 2013, Orrantia’s career changed forever when she was cast as Erica Goldberg on ABC’s now-hit comedy The Goldbergs; her first real acting role. She jokes that her actor friends get mad at her for moving to L.A. to make music, and instead stumbling into a series regular role on a major television network. But the truth is, the good-natured Texas native hardly stumbles into anything. Beneath her vast natural talent is a relentlessly hard worker who never gives up on her goals.
Inspirer caught up with Orrantia while she was recovering from vocal surgery and promoting her new season of The Goldbergs. Here’s what she had to say about recovery, her songwriting process, and what she plans to work on in the future:
When did you first discover you wanted to make music?
Well, I was riding in a car with a family friend when I was nine. And I was singing along to the radio, and she said: “wow, you need to sing for your parents when we get home.” And I was like, “uh ok, that’s kind of weird, but sure.” And my parents were like, “Hayley, you’re really good. Do you want to take classes?” I was kind of like, “I guess so.”
I didn’t know what any of it meant. Cause there are kids who play soccer or volleyball, but music was my thing. So I think probably when I was around 11 and I started really taking it seriously, I wanted to perform and songwriter. That’s when it all got started.
Is songwriting a process that’s always come naturally to you?
No, I definitely had to learn the way you songwriter. There are different ways to write, but generally, there are some rules and boundaries you have to follow. It was a process to learn, but after that, it kind of came very naturally. As a songwriter, you get these random ideas that pop out of nowhere. It’s almost like, where did that thought come from? And then you write it down and you can just build a beautiful concept and song off of it. To me, that’s one of the coolest accomplishments: when you start a song and it’s just this one little line in the beginning, and at the end, it’s now this story or experience you’ve had that other people can now listen and relate to. To me, that’s one of the best feelings.
Now, you’re finding your voice as a music artist. Can you share how you came to country music?
It was kind of a crazy journey because I started out doing R&B/Pop/Singer-Songwriter music. Then, when I was on the X-Factor, I was put into a country/pop girl group. I think that’s when I realized that country was not what I thought it was. When I had heard country before, I thought “it’s really twangy, I don’t get it.” Even though I’m from Texas! Then it kind of just resonated with me after X-Factor because of the storytelling ability. I loved pop music, but it never really told much of a story. It never really got in-depth. And if it did, the upbeat aspect of pop music really killed the mood for me. So being able to explore songwriting within country music and being able to add my own flair to that is a really cool process. It’s something I’ve been working on for the last four years. Finally, when I made the transition, it just made so much sense to me.
You underwent vocal surgery back in May, and you said that it was a very difficult process for you, both physically and emotionally. How has recovery been?
Hard! I’m not going to lie. I’ve been struggling a lot with it. It’s not that it’s painful. It’s just that there’s not a clarity within my voice, even when I’m talking. The frustrating part is, it wasn’t singing that hurt my voice — it was talking. And it wasn’t until I had this issue and got the surgery that I realized there are so many people who aren’t singers or musicians that have vocal issues. Anyone can have this problem! I want to tell people: if you have vocal problems you’re not alone. I felt very alone in it. Because it’s really hard, and there’s always that thing looming over you that’s like, will I get even better? Or is it always going to be like this now?
It fully affects your communication with people. It affects your social life. You can’t go out and do the things you want to do because you’re not going to be able to talk or strain your voice. So, it’s so much deeper than just, “oh my throat hurts.” You can’t go out and live your life like you did before.
And even though there are people out there that get the surgery, but no one is talking about it. You have singers like Adele and Meghan Trainor who have the surgery, but it’s seen as almost shameful. So they just hide. And I’m like “no, we need to talk about this!”
When can we expect to hear the full EP you’ve been working on, or is it on hold while your voice heals?
I am on pause with the EP because of my voice. It’s not going to be an EP, but I’ll probably be releasing new singles every month or so. It’s hard because I was going to record all summer, but then I had surgery so that went down the drain. It’s all about healing now. And then hopefully I’ll be able to jump on the train again and get some music out soon.
Let’s talk Goldbergs. How does it feel to portray Erica, a character with dreams of hitting it big in music? You’ve been working nearly your entire life towards the same dream. Do you bring some of your own experiences into the role?
Yes! Erica was not originally supposed to be a singer or a musician. It was something where I put in a word with the producers. I didn’t think it would be part of the character. I was asking, like “is there an opportunity for me to make the background music during the closing of the show or something?” But then it transitioned into part of my character, which I’m so thankful for. It shows people watching the show that I do music. So it’s cool to be able to bring both together.
There are a lot of times where my parents say that I am Erica. At the end of the day, the character is a lot like me.
You’ve said that you now love acting as much as you love making music. Does that mean we can still expect to see you on-screen, even if your music career takes off in a bigger way?
Yeah, I would love to stick with acting. It’s hard because I don’t audition for a lot. Most of the year is taken up with The Goldbergs, and when it’s not I’m doing music. So I haven’t been pushing to do other projects yet. When the show is over — whenever that happens — I’ll really start focusing then. And if something comes along in the interim, I won’t pass up the opportunity.
I’d love to do more comedy and movies. I’d also love to do drama roles too. But I’m not picky at this point! This is my first gig so I can’t ask too much. The only thing I did before The Goldbergs was an indie movie and then a Sprint commercial that was in movie theaters. I hope that the show helps me transition into more acting opportunities.
If you could give any piece of advice to your younger, adolescent self, what would it be?
Patience. That is the biggest thing that I have had to deal with. I’m the most impatient person ever. And as someone who works hard, you get to a point where you’re like, “ok why is it not happening?” Especially in the entertainment industry. To me, it’s always been like, “ok I have all the pieces together. Why is it not creating the puzzle that I want?” Ultimately, it comes down to a lot more than just you being ready. That’s something I’ve been forced to learn. Because there are so many other people trying to get the same opportunities. So it’s not that you’re not talented or you’re not working hard enough. It’s that it’s not your time yet. But that doesn’t mean that it’s never going to be your time. So if it’s something you’re good at and something you’re passionate about, then you just have to keep pushing.