AUSTIN, TEXAS -- By the time she was just 17 years old, Aubrey Hays of Gulfport had had enough of the devastation. First it was 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Three years later, the United States was on the brink of another recession. And in 2010, a platform explosion spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico -- a devastating blow to the Coast's seafood industry.
"I felt like the Coast was suffering -- the animals, the people, the businesses here," she said. But she was too young to legally volunteer to do physical cleanup, so she did what came naturally to her -- she wrote a song, titled "The Song of the Sea."
"This wasn't just a song for the oil spill, though," she said. "It was a song of suffering for what we'd been through as a Coastal region amongst all these setbacks."
Hays moved to Austin, Texas, in May 2015 after graduating from Vassar College in New York. She said another "crisis" happening on the Coast -- the passing of House Bill 1523 -- caused her to pick up her pen and write about home.
"I could not believe that Mississippi, my home state, would allow this to pass," she said. "To discriminate against someone for something that makes up who they are is wrong.
"(HB 1523) seems like the last attempt from an old way of thinking about things. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the United States, I'd hoped that we'd finally make out of that school of thought."
Label Twenty-Three Records, owned by Gulfport native Julian Wilkey and friend Jay Wheeler, helped produce and record "Choose Love," Hays' response to the "religious freedom" bill.
Wilkey, who moved to Austin after earning a bachelor's degree in music production from Full Sail University, said he's known Hays since high school.
"We found out that after college each of us relocated to Austin," he said.
Hays sent Wilkey a link to "Choose Love," and he said he jumped at the chance to help produce, record and market the single. She recorded the vocals and harmonies in the studio, and Wilkey and Wheeler mixed and mastered the song -- all in about two days, Wilkey said.
"Aubrey is a seasoned musician and the detail of emotion she depicts through her music was the deciding factor of the label wanting to work with her," he said. Hays said she's been writing music since she was 8 years old. She performed her first original song at her sixth-grade graduation at St. James Elementary School.
Wilkey said Label Twenty-Three Records is giving away Hays' single, but he hopes people will donate to the "Choose Love" movement that contributes money to organizations that support equality.
He said they plan to donate funds from Choose Love United to the Human Rights Campaign and the Gulf Coast branch of the No Hate In Our State campaign.