The Goldbergs Actress Likes Her Music Like She Likes Her Tea
by Jay S. Jacobs
On television, Hayley Orrantia is known as Erica Goldberg, the brainy and tough only daughter of a Jewish family in the Philadelphia suburban town of Jenkintown back in the 1980s. In real life, Orrantia is brainy and tough, but she hails from deep in the heart of Texas, and she’s completely a modern woman.
One more thing that Orrantia does have in common with her character is the fact that she is a budding singer-songwriter, though while Erica tends to do pop, new wave and balladry, Hayley is more into country or country rock. She opens her new single “Strong, Sweet and Southern” with the line, “I like my men like I like my tea.” And her music as well.
Orrantia is currently on her first cross-country music tour, which stops closest to her fictional town of Jenkintown, PA in Wilmington, Delaware on April 26. We caught up with Orrantia as her tour was starting to chat with her about her music and her show.
Most people know you mostly as an actress, but you were singing even before you got into acting. When people see you singing, do they seem surprised by your talent because they know you from The Goldbergs, even though you do singing on the show as well?
Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve done a couple tour dates so far. Of course, a lot of people who watch The Goldbergs come out, because that’s kind of where my draw is coming from for the tour. It’s really funny how many people are at the show that I’ve advertised where I am performing music and they’re like ‘I had no idea that you sang.’ It’s like well, if you watched The Goldbergs that is me singing, but a lot of people don’t know. So, I am excited to be on the road and introducing myself in that way.
I was listening to your Spotify channel over the last few days and of course there are some Goldberg songs on there as well but there were some of your singles. One cool thing I like about your music is that you do tend to play in a lot of different styles: country, pop, balladry, hip hop, rock and roll. Of course, some were from The Goldbergs, I don’t know how much choice you have in that. But, do you like to perform in different styles when recording, or does that just sort of come naturally to you?
It’s been a journey trying to figure out what kind of genre to settle in. It wasn’t until about four or five years ago, right after I started the show, I started writing with some people in Nashville. Everything I wrote came out country/country-pop, so that’s more the direction I lean now. But, there are still moments when I write it can come out however it comes out. I firmly am a strong believer of artists not having to stay between the lines within a genre. I have a couple of friends in Nashville who create different personas to release different music that doesn’t fit what they’ve already put out. In an ideal world, I’d love to be able to do every kind of genre for every song on one album, but I mostly am sticking to country-pop now.
I must admit, before the song ‘Strong, Sweet, and Southern,’ I didn’t realize you were from Texas. I guess for some reason, because you have a different accent on the show, I assumed that you were more of a Northerner. Why did you decide you wanted to record a song that celebrates your roots like that?
Well, a lot of different reasons. I grew up my whole life in Texas and went to public school, and just lived the very normal American kid life. So, when I moved to Los Angeles, as excited as I was to experience something new, I really missed some things about the South and my hometown. A city just smaller than LA, I guess. I was inspired to talk about that, because you don’t really appreciate where you come from until you’re not there anymore.
In the new world of Spotify, we don’t really get things like writer notes and song credits, so I’m not sure how many of your songs have you written. What is your writing process like?
The Goldbergs album aside, because I definitely had no say in that, when it comes to my own personal music, I am a huge advocate for being in the room. Being a huge part of the songwriting process. I’ll usually come into a songwriting session with a writer or two in the room. I’ll come in with a concept that I have, maybe some lines, and then usually someone who plays guitar a lot better than me will come and play around. We’ll find a melody, we’ll find a sound, and then we’ll roll with it. Eventually, we’ll form a song around something that happened to me. To me, that’s the best way to release and perform a song. When you’ve actually experienced it, you can portray it in such a more authentic way than if you were singing someone else’s song. With that being said, I do have a new song that I am coming out with. It’s the only song on tour that I didn’t write, that a couple of friends wrote on my behalf for something that I went through, and I didn’t really know how to put it into words.
I really thought “Give Me Back Sunday” was a lovely song. It was a tribute to family. Was that also inspired by your younger life?
Yeah, absolutely. That was the one I wrote pretty much right after I went to LA and started getting homesick.
Of the covers that I heard on Spotify, I really liked your version of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” I assume it was probably a Goldbergs choice, but are you a Pat Benatar fan or were you just singing it?
I definitely grew up knowing the song, but it was a Goldbergs decisions that’s for sure.
The “Strong, Sweet and Southern Tour,” is that your first tour around the country? How has it been going so far? Is it fun?
It is my first tour! It’s been good. It’s been such a good learning process for me, because I play smaller clubs and venues, and again, a lot of Goldbergs fans are coming out. I am using it as a way to introduce myself informally into music to the people who’ve been watching me for five years on TV. It’s been a really good time. I’ve been getting to travel in the very typical bus tour type thing, so it’s a lot but it’s a lot of fun.
You’ve done a lot of covers on the Goldbergs and you just said you’re doing all your own music. Did you consider doing some covers on the tour as well, or did you just want to focus on your stuff?
I actually do have two covers that I do during my set. One of which is just a Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton song (“Drink You Away”). Then I finish the set off with Brennley Brown, who is opening for me. She comes back on stage and we do a cover of Cam’s new song called “Diane.” That’s probably one of my favorite moments of the night, we all just come together on stage.
Oh, that’s cool, I’m a little sorry you’re not going to do “Love Ninja,” but it’s okay.
Oh, I know! I’ve been having so many requests for it!
You’ve got a pretty demanding day job, but how has it been juggling your acting career with your music?
It can be hard, because with The Goldbergs, we film three weeks every month for seven months, or something like that. It can be very difficult to make time for music while we’re filming, but I try to just balance it as much I can. I stay busy, and in any off moments I have, I try to fly back to Nashville and continue to write, record, and plan for what’s next. It’s a learning as I go process. I’m excited that I get to do both though, while on the show. Cannot complain.
Do you feel as though some of the skills you’ve learned as an actress make it easier for you to go on stage and just be comfortable performing for people?
Absolutely. When I lived in Texas and I was singing at first, I had a lot of experience performing at local festivals around town. Honestly, doing that helped me with acting more than anything. I noticed I have this way about me that not a lot of singers do. I end up getting so invested in the lyrics of my songs when performing that I can tell on my face. If I’m singing an angry song, then I’m looking like I’m singing at the person I’m angry at. In that way it probably makes me unique as a performer on stage, because I do tie in my acting a lot and performing in general when it comes to being on stage.
Well speaking of tying things in, Erica is also a frustrated singer/songwriter. As the show has gone on and the writers have gotten to know more about your talents as a person and an actress, do you think that they’ve started taking more advantage of your musical skill for the story lines?
They definitely have. There’s a lot of times, a few years especially where Adam kept writing it in that I had to play guitar in a scene and I did not know, and still kind of don’t know, how to play guitar. I kept telling him I could play piano and if he could switch it up it’d be fantastic, but he was so adamant about me playing guitar in certain scenes and for certain songs that eventually I started taking lessons. It carried over into my own personal life and my own music. So, in a way, they really just tied it all in together when it was originally supposed to be a musical character, but I’m happy they did.
Your costar AJ Michalka was also a pop star before getting on the show, in fact you two have sung together for The Goldbergs. Do you two ever just swap music stories and ideas during downtimes and on set?
Yeah, I definitely like to pick her brains, because I grew up watching her and her sister (they recorded as Aly & AJ) on Disney Channel and seeing them in concert. So, it’s crazy now to consider her one of my closest friends and be working with her all the time on set. It’s nice to not only be able to ask her for advice and what it’s like, but her and her sister are actually coming out on tour this summer as well.
I saw that.
Yeah, after 10 years of not putting out any music, they’re finally releasing more music. I could not be more excited. It’s really cool to be able to do this side by side in a way. To see her grow in music again is so exciting.
I interviewed Adam about a year or so ago, and he was telling me that he doesn’t actually have a sister and the character in real life is a brother named Eric, who they turned to Erica. He said his brother was a little bummed about that at the time, but how happy are you that Adam changed the brother to a sister for the show?
Very happy, because it kept me in a job. Besides that, I really do love working on the show and getting to meet the actual people in real life, including Eric and his wife and kids. It’s just a really cool experience because we’re telling this family story. As goofy and ridiculous as it may seem sometimes, it’s really cool because so many people can relate and connect to this family on so many levels.
Adam also told me you made your original audition for the show on your iPhone and just sent it in, and they could see your comedic talent from that. What was it like to find out you got the role? What’s it been like to be on the show?
I remember originally auditioning and then getting a callback or two and getting a screentest. I had never done a screentest before, so it was down to me and two other girls and I wanted the part so bad. I had done so many other auditions and nothing struck a chord with me the same way. I remember being in this house that we were renting to be there for pilot season in Los Angeles and getting the phone call. My dad was there, my dad’s really good friend was there, and they both just started crying and hugging each other. I was just in shock and so excited and had no idea what to expect. Well, also knowing that we were just going to be shooting the pilot. I had no idea it was even going to get greenlit, if it was going to go a season, two seasons. It’s really incredible to look back five years later and just see it completely grow from just that one episode to be the incredibly fun show that people watch today.
You and your two brothers on the show were pretty unknown when you were cast, but there are some really big names on the show. What was it like working with well-known actors like George Segal, Jeff Garlin, and Wendi McLendon-Covey?
It’s so cool, because when I first found out the show was a thing that I could audition for, Wendi had already been cast. I love her so much, for her roles in Reno: 911! and Bridesmaids. I was so very excited. Then I later find out that George Segal, who is such a legend, is going to be playing my grandpa! I honestly didn’t know how I was going to be able to act on set, because I had never done anything at this level before. I was really hoping I could go in there and not embarrass myself and be a professional. It was very exciting for me to find out I was working with such great talent.
Before The Goldbergs, your first big national TV exposure was when you were on the first season of The X-Factor. What was that experience like?
I would say it was positive and negative. I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about what it takes to make reality television. What people in the music industry are really interested in and looking for. At the same time, there is a lot of negativity around shows like that. It’s not just X-Factor, I know it that it’s shows like Idol and The Voice. Ultimately, there’s a lot that you don’t see behind the scenes. Unfortunately, a lot of it is being made up to be TV, which as a fan of those shows myself, was disappointing to hear. It’s a difficult thing because I always want to talk highly of it, but I feel like a lot of people come away from those shows having negative experiences.
At this point do you consider yourself more an actress or a singer? Or do you not want to put labels on anything or put one above the other?
I really don’t know. It honestly depends on the scenario I’m in where I’ll pick one. A lot of the time I try to just say both, even though people are like “oh, you act and sing, whatever.” It’s hard because I have such a big love for both of them.
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 23, 2018.
Photos © 2018. Courtesy of TRUE Public Relations and ABC Television.