Until recently, Hailee Steinfeld was best known for her Oscar-nominated turn as thrifty youngster Mattie Ross in the Coen brother's 2010 opus True Grit. But unbeknownst to those outside the then-14-year-old's inner circle, she'd been quietly plotting her foray into the music industry since well before that. "It started to become a matter of when the right time was going to be," she recently told InStyle by phone. A serendipitous role finally manifested just over two years ago, when Steinfeld was cast as aca-newbie Emily in Pitch Perfect 2, the Elizabeth Banks-helmed follow-up to the 2012 film that propelled Anna Kendrick to musical fame.
It was just the push Steinfeld needed to begin contemplating her own sound—which she dubs "edgy pop"—and what she has to offer sonically. So far, she's off to a great start: Her debut single, "Love Myself," a pop-tinged self-empowerment anthem and unofficial end-of-summer song of 2015, quickly climbed to the No. 7 spot on Billboard's Top Pop Songs Chart and garnered Twitter praise from the likes of bestie Taylor Swift and fellow squad member Lena Dunham. Now, she's releasing her first-ever EP, Haiz (after the nickname bestowed on her by fans), with three additional songs that boast similarly infectious tempos.
Below, more about Steinfeld's musical past and what it was like riffing with the Bellas.
Growing up, did you want to be a singer or an actress, or both?
I didn't differentiate between the two. I've wanted to perform and entertain since I was eight years old—it just so happens that the acting picked up first.
What CDs were circulated in the Steinfeld household?
My mom played a lot of Mariah Carey, Boyz 2 Men, and Luther Vandross. My dad was more of a classic rock guy.
As your career progressed, did you strategically choose roles like Begin Again that would showcase your musical abilities?
With Begin Again, the storyline was what really captured my attention—the music was a bonus for me. My character played the guitar, so I drowned myself in guitar lessons for the duration of filming. At that point, everything came together. There was a slight chance that I was going to sing on that soundtrack, then for whatever reason it didn't happen.
And then you were cast in Pitch Perfect 2.
Exactly! I'm a firm believer in "everything happens for a reason." Pitch Perfect 2 was the perfect segue into releasing an album. I remember seeing the first one and thinking, "If there's another movie like this, I have to do it." I was never sure it would happen that way, but it was always part of the grand plan.
Did the Bellas give you any songwriting tips for Haiz?
I wasn't recording when we were filming the movie, but I learned so much by observing them sing and create music. Now we have a group chat set up. I always send them what I'm working on, and their feedback is always super helpful and supportive.
How about your buddy Taylor Swift?
I admire Taylor so much as a person and an artist. I've been to her shows, I've seen her do her thing, but being on set was truly incredible and by far one of the coolest things we've ever done as friends. She's been so instrumental and helpful in sharing her wisdom and experiences. Also, by offering up a hand and saying, "If you need me, I'm here."
What appeals to you about music versus movies?
When I go see a movie, I put my problems aside and immerse myself in another person's story. When I listen to music, I find that I constantly reflect on my personal experiences with another person's lyrics. There's an instant sense of connection that you have with the artist—you feel like you know them.
"Love Myself" sent Twitter into quite a tizzy. Were you surprised by the Internet reaction?
I wasn't expecting it at all. When you're working on something, you're excited to share it with people, but then you start to question everything about it. I went through so many emotions in such a short amount of time in advance of the release. Then I saw the excitement from fans over social media, and it was an amazing thing to see. When Sam Smith tweeted at me, I literally had to log on and make sure it wasn't a fake account.
What's the message you were hoping to get across with the song?
It's ultimately about taking care of yourself, whether that means physically, emotionally, or with material things. It shows how much power there is in providing for yourself.
Below, preview four songs from the Haiz EP (including "Love Myself") before it comes out Friday, Nov. 13.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.