The daughter of a Florida horse trainer, Hayley Thompson-King rode from a young age in a place where cowboy hats and country music ruled. “That’s what you were around all the time,” she says, “when you’re at the barn, at the show, in my dad’s truck.”
However, Thompson-King owned a big voice full of vibrato and took the unlikely path to becoming an opera singer. She earned a master’s in opera performance from New England Conservatory—though she couldn’t even speak on her first day, the result of vocal nodes that led to surgery by Dr. Steven Zeitels, who later treated Adele and Steven Tyler. After NEC, she studied in New York with a private teacher from the hallowed Metropolitan Opera. “She’d be dressed as a Valkyrie, and we’d have our voice lesson,” Thompson-King says of her dressing room experiences. “We would sing for hours, and then I’d get to go sit in the back and watch her.”
Yet Thompson-King ultimately decided that opera wasn’t in her cards. “I can’t let my art and my life be in someone else’s hands,” she says. “I had to start writing.”
Returning to Boston, she hit the clubs, launching the garage-country combo Banditas, then joining psych-rock stalwarts Major Stars. But again, Thompson-King wanted to establish her own project, which comes to fruition with the Sept. 1 release of her solo debut, Psychotic Melancholia.
The album lurches from shriek-laced, ramshackle garage-rockers “No Room for Jesus” and “Lot’s Wife” (Thompson-King refers to the record as a “Sodom and Gomorrah concept album”) to the haunting, psychedelic “Melencolia I” and lush country weeper “Old Flames.” She’s joined by producer Pete Weiss on guitar and her usual live rhythm section of drummer Jonathan Ulman and Human Sexual Response bassist Chris Maclachlan, who helped rearrange Schumann’s “Wehmut” to close the album with a surprise inclusion of her pure opera voice.
“I know stylistically it’s not right and people may hate it,” she says. “[But] I’m being super honest and genuine, so why not?”