I remember hearing Hayden for the first time when I was 14 or 15. My then girlfriend made me a mix tape and on side B included all of Hayden’s debut LP Everything I Long For. I wasn’t sure what to make of Hayden. All I heard was some dude being all sappy over an acoustic guitar. She had told me that songs like “Skates” and “We Don’t Mind” were great songs, but at that age all I really cared about was Nirvana, Germs, and Sonic Youth.
Around 17 or so, I decided to revisit the record. I was way more open musically and starting to give people like Nick Drake, Red House Painters, and Neil Young a chance. I was going through a box of tapes one night and found the Hayden tape my ex made. I popped it in, not really remembering too much about the cassette. I found myself blown away at just how raw and direct the record is. Each song seems to tell a story that has no resolution or t wasn’t the resolution you expected. Hayden wasn’t just some mopey guy, he was a songwriter penning songs that would get me through my early adulthood.
I had no real idea where this Hayden was, I just knew I loved this tape. I had heard he signed to a major in the mid 90s, put out another LP and then just disappeared. There wasn’t that much about him on the Internet at the time (this was around 1999). Around 2001 I read he was about to release a new LP called Skyscraper National Park. For some reason these songs felt more direct, even if the lyrics aren’t as dark as something like “Skates.” The emotionally heavy “Street Car” opens Skyscraper National Park and a minute in Hayden sang quietly “It’s hard to explain except to say/we’re on our own in every way.” I knew right then this album was a keeper. The epic “Dynamite Walls” kicks in right after which seems to take Hayden from bedroom folk hero to anthem song writing like status. The album closes with “Lullaby” and Hayden leaves us singing “Close your eyes and think about, what you can’t live without” over and over.
As the years passed he released LPs, would tour a tiny bit in the states, then disappear for a few years. I always wondered why he never was bigger in the US, but there was something about his disappearance from time to time that always made his records and live shows special. This year Hayden released his 7th LP, Us Alone, on Canadian label Arts & Crafts (co-founded by Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene). Unlike his last few LPs, songs like “Old Dreams,” “Oh Memory,” and the intense closer “Instructions” continue the tradition of Hayden’s minimalist folk ways. Hayden took sometime to talk to me about the new LP, why Skyscraper National Park is an important record to him and advice his hero Neil Young once gave him.
You’ve been touring a good amount on Us Alone, how does it feel to be playing live more regularly? Is it something you enjoy?
I enjoy playing live when it’s in moderation. The same can be said about writing and recording. I found that this time around I was in the studio for too long and I was really excited to play live. The two worlds are extremely different for me.
A new Hayden record is always welcomed, what I thought was interesting was how much of a push the record got. How was it working with Arts and Crafts? How did it happen?
Well, thank you. I think the push came from all directions this time, especially me. Since having a family, I’ve become very aware of wasting time and energy.
Us Alone feels very minimal, take “Oh Memory” for example. Do you like recording more stripped down type LPs?
I love just writing a song and recording it as quickly as I can while the song is still a part of me. When I do that, how bare or full it is, just sort of dictates itself.
Could you tell me a bit about the first single, “Old Dreams,” how the song came about and what it’s about?
Old Dreams was the first song I wrote and recorded for the record. I actually thought it was going to become the blueprint for the record, but that’s not what ended up happening. I recorded something else and felt more drawn to its textures.
I know you recorded Us Alone here and there over the span of a few years. Are you always working on stuff?
Not always, but I do like the luxury of living with a recording for a while, and slowly making changes if something doesn’t seem right.
You just reissued Skyscraper National Park on vinyl. What made you decide to reissue that record? Could you tell me a bit about the history of that record? I had heard at first the CD version was limited.
SNP is a pretty special one for me. It was the beginning of a different direction for me. It was the first one recorded with my 16-track tape machine, and the first record I did at my studio, which is now called Skyscraper National Park.
I want to go back to the LP before this, The Place Where We Lived. It was interesting cause you put out this record then just kinda disappeared. What happened?
Well, that is a strange record because it was made up of songs that I wrote for the previous record, In Field & Town. I loved working with Howie Beck and I like some of it a lot, but I think it will always feel a bit like a B-side record for me. I didn’t tour it because I had just come off a year of touring and my daughter was just born. I didn’t talk about it because I had nothing to say about it at the time.
Looking back on your first LP, when you revisit songs like “Skates” and “In September” live, is it fun to do? Those songs seem so much more aggressive live than recorded.
I very rarely perform “Skates.” We’ve been having a lot of fun doing “In September” though. It actually feels like we’re performing a cover song….
A lot has been said in the press about the song “Almost Everything,” going through the whole signing to a major, then going back to an indie. Are there any regrets?
Funny enough, sometimes I regret not being open to the suggestions from Outpost (the major Hayden was on). I was coming off of doing everything myself and being obsessed with creative control that I really made it hard for them to do their jobs. So, in the end I think I may have sabotaged the whole major label thing but it didn’t matter because I made the records that I wanted to make and I’m very proud of them all.
Even though you’ve written songs about being happy, there always seems to be a sort of sadness in most of what you write which I’ve always thought made the songs better.
Generally when I’m sad, lonely, contemplative I feel like expressing myself creatively. It’s a real and effective way for me to deal with the heavy aspects of life.
Will we see anymore reissues?
Yes. I’m hoping to put The Closer I Get on vinyl for the first time.
The time you spent with Neil Young must have been great, could you tell me any interesting stories or anything he told you that you’ve held on to?
It was great. One thing he told me was to keep moving, not get comfortable and not record at the same place every record. I took his advice on some other things, but not that…
Favorite Neil Young LP?
That changes all the time. After The Goldrush, Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach are often circulating at the top.
Will we be waiting a long time for the next LP?
I hope not.
You wrote a song about your cat named Woody on your third LP Elk-Lake Serenade. How is Woody?
Still going strong. Although, his meow is getting really annoying.