It wasn’t until she went to an ayahuasca ceremony five years ago that Haley Harkin felt brave enough to share her songs publicly. Before that, fear superseded the folk singer-songwriter's passion for music.
“My whole life, I was really afraid to play my music in front of others,” says Harkin. “I didn’t consider myself a writer, ever. As a child, I would tell myself that if I want to be a singer, I’ll just have to do cover songs. Even playing guitar in front of people was physically debilitating. I would sweat and shake.”
Harkin, who lives in Fort Collins, says the trajectory of her life changed after attending a psychedelic retreat in Brazil in 2016, where she participated in a plant medicine ceremony. She drank ayahuasca, a traditional Amazonian psychotropic brew that is said to be rapidly effective and therapeutic for depression, post-traumatic disorders, anxiety and more. Harkin was asked to perform during the ceremony, and she says the fear she carried with her for years began lifting from her shoulders. From that point on, the former hair stylist started to pursue music again.
“The experience had a domino effect," she says. "It opened up all the songwriting and music for me.”
The 26-year-old musician, who plays the guitar, Native American flute, African harp, keyboards and banjo, started penning more and more songs. She also began paying to attend ayahuasca ceremonies
, cacao ceremonies
and yoga classes in her hometown of Austin, Texas, eager to further her knowledge of plant medicine and continue on her journey of self-discovery. Harkin says it was in these ceremonial settings that she felt safe and inspired to share her music — specifically, songs about healing.
Plant medicine helped Harkin overcome stage fright.
“When I would perform, emotions would come up, and I would have to move through them in real time in front of everyone, which was hard,” says Harkin, who attributes some of her fear to having a difficult childhood and being bullied in school. “Yet having this community of like-minded people allowed me to expose my authentic self, nurture my craft and really let myself receive attention — something I had never felt sure I was worthy of before.”
On her newest body of work, To Heal Her
, Harkin chronicles her inward journey. The seven-track heartfelt EP, which is now available to stream, celebrates her self-discovery and empowerment from the past three to four years. Full of grounding lyrics, the folk-meets-tribal songs shed insight on the highs and lows of the vocalist getting reacquainted with her true nature while examining herself through honest eyes.
“We have to go inward and look inside before we can really be there for others externally,” says Harkin. “I’ve also learned that when fear comes up, do what you’re afraid of anyway.”
With themes of nature, love and humanity, To Heal Her
is texturally layered with soothing acoustic guitar, banjo, saxophone, flute and orchestral strings, with each composition fluidly nestling into the next.
“When writing this EP, the songs came in full form. I would get an inclination to grab my journal and let the songs pour out, which came with full lyrics," Harkin recalls. “I tried not to meddle with the process, and if there were some minor tweaks, I did them later and kept it minimal.”
Harkin best describes her style as folk-medicine music, while others have referred to it as “bare feet on grass.”
“I took my time to make this project. I really listened and went over the songs meticulously,” says Harkin. “It can take twenty times of listening to a recording for an idea to surface, like adding a harmony layer, a shaker or another instrument. I was trying to fine-tune these little subtleties to texture my songs and add noticeable flavor, which made them vibrant and full of life.”
In the opening cut, “All Things Grow,” Harkin added an 'Oooh' and put some delays and reverb into the song to create a bigger ambience. “With ‘I Saw Myself,’ I enhanced it with some xylophone, banjo and tambourines," she says, "and on ‘My Love for You,’ I played a calabash — a squash drum made from a hollowed-out gourd.”
The Austin, Texas-born Harkin, who moved to Fort Collins to be closer to the mountains, looks forward to more live shows in Denver and Boulder.
The songwriter released her debut full-length album, Rooted
, in 2019, which she followed with Gift of Innocence
, a four-track EP that came out in 2020.
Harkin says one of the main reasons that she and her partner moved to Colorado last May was to be closer to nature and the mountains. “Living in this state is a good hub for what I’m doing, because it’s more progressive than Austin,” she adds.
She says her wish is to continue to cultivate live music in Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder and beyond. “Before COVID, I did play some coffee shops and breweries back in Austin, but now I’m particular about playing those types of venues and prefer to concentrate on ceremonial performances specifically, which is still a live-music setting," Harkin says. "It’s just a different approach to a traditional concert; it’s reframing what that music experience looks like and bringing forth more connection.”
To Heal Her is available now on all streaming platforms. For more information on Haley Harkin, visit haleyharkin.com/music.