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A guitar in the hands of a talented, doe-eyed middle-schooler can be a dangerous thing. We're not necessarily opponents of musically inclined youngsters, it's just that when you're able to make preteen girls go crazy with summery guitar pop like South County crooner Gavyn Bailey, it's easy to lose control and accidentally create the fourth Jonas brother.
Luckily, it seems the 14-year-old singer/songwriter is building his grassroots fan base with a pop sensibility that strives to stay grounded and develop slowly. With countless local shows under his belt since age 10, Bailey's windswept brown hair and Boy Scout smile are pop-friendly vestiges that adorn a truly hard-working musician who's battled all his life to hone his craft.
From the time he was born, Bailey's struggled with kidney failure; he's been able to pull through after receiving a kidney transplant at age 3. About a year ago, he developed high blood pressure and suffered a brain hemorrhage when his body rejected the transplanted kidney. But for as long as Bailey has dealt with health issues, he says he's used music as an outlet. He even has some old VHS footage of him singing "God Bless America" like a champ at age 4 shamelessly posted on his website. With a new, as-yet-untitled EP on the way and his first headlining tour coming through music staples such as the Roxy, the Coach House and the OC Fair, the kid has taken his life-threatening illness in stride.
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"It's always a struggle when I want to do music because it takes a lot of work, and sometimes I'll get run-down or sick or something and I try to fight these health obstacles to do what I love," Bailey says.
The first time he took the stage at Muldoon's Irish Pub in his hometown of Newport Beach, it was clear the kid had skills despite having zero technical training. Normally trading in a sparse, acoustic mix of covers and originals, Bailey found an early groove in the wheel house of One Republic and Coldplay with a voice to back him up. It was enough to get him noticed by local musicians who hooked him up with gigs where they could. On Friday nights, he'd sing alongside Jimmy Hopper at Newport's Island Hotel, and he had a few early stints at the OC Fair.
"Every day growing up I had something involving music going on, trying to play guitar or piano or singing and going up and down the street singing for strangers," Bailey says. "It's always something I've wanted to do as a career."
Counting Ingrid Michaelson as one of his main influences, it's not hard to dig up one of Bailey's YouTube covers of her mature, poetic folk that's inspired his own approach to pop—flush with inspiration from teen life, battles with his health and, of course, girls.
"I have one song called 'Two Minutes' about a relationship gone wrong and it's about taking two minutes and saying all the things you wanna say." And while it's not exactly the most groundbreaking song you've heard in your life, Bailey definitely gets props for telling his supposed ex-lady how he feels without A) sounding egregiously corny and B) refraining from the grossness that comes from acting grown up before your time. But if there's one thing Bailey is, it's mature for his age. Though he's definitely looking to get picked up by a label at some point in his early years, he's smart enough to know that long-term credibility doesn't come with overnight success.
"I don't wanna be a teen star, get big now and then two years from now no one knows who I am. The goal is always to build things slowly, put the work in and just live that life for as long as I can."
This column appeared in print as "Growing Pains."