Hayden’s Not Dead | A Rare Chat About Music, Touring, and Fatherhood

prof hayden_75Funny thing is, I can’t remember a single Hayden song that makes him sound brave.


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Throughout Hayden Desser’s career, fame’s remained a reluctant friend. His mix of carefully-arranged folk tunes can seem to be a reflection of the man himself: pensive, deliberate, funny, and sometimes sheepish. The Canandian multi-instrumentalist has a reputation for being somewhat of a hermit, recording in his home studio, only sporadically touring, and avoiding the press.

Ever since his debut, a collection of simple heartfelt songs called Everything I Long For, Hayden’s amassed both critical and commercial success—despite his best efforts to remain a shadow on the wall. Hayden even jokes about his once-deliberate obscurity on his website, claiming he “was inspired to return to writing and take things more seriously after being informed by a fan that his Wikipedia page listed him as deceased.”

Apparently, the always-factually accurate Wikipedia coincidentally forgot about Hayden around the same time he decided skip out on any promotion or interviews for the 2009 record The Place Where We Lived. Thankfully, the internet gods’ factual misstep gave him a kick in the right direction.

Now, it’s been a few years, and we’ve been graced with a new addition to the catalog and a new attitude, as Hayden jokingly explains: “I think I realized that you need to let people know you have a record out.” Amid the commotion of SXSW, he sat down to answer a few of our questions about his latest record Us Alone, and reflect on what it means to be a touring musician and a new father.

Hayden’s a little famous for his self-reliance, recording most of his songs at home and usually playing all of the instruments. I wondered what his recording process is. As he explained, “For this record, I had most of my instruments mic’d and ready to go with sounds that I knew I liked. Whenever I came up with a new song, I’d start layering it together, starting with piano and building it up from there. I’d take my time, adding, subtracting, hiring a drummer to go over my drums, then erase his drums and go back to mine, love the song for a few days, then despise it, leave it for a month and start another song, come back to it and love it again, hire a Korean Bassoonist… You get the idea.”

This meticulous process has likely been the reason each offering sounds a bit more polished than the last. His first few albums sounded more like an invitation to be a fly on the wall and listen to a man with a guitar sitting in a shag-carpeted basement somewhere. The gritty sound quality accompanied a simpler song structure and sparse instrumentation. Each subsequent album has seemed to add refinement, complexity, and instrumentation. “That’s an interesting one,” Hayden said, “because my most successful record, and arguably the one that people were the most moved by, was my debut. You know, the one that was made in the first two years of me writing songs, the one I recorded in my parents’ basement, a cassette four-track, and the one where I hadn’t really learned to edit myself yet.“

Us Alone continues in Hayden’s subdued style, rolling through songs that largely feel like they take him as the central figure. Hayden has a knack for culling deep observations and clever witticisms from his personal experiences.

I wondered, how many of his songs are about himself? “It depends on what’s going on in my life and if I feel like writing about it. Some of my songs could not be further from the truth. Usually the ones that make me sound cool or brave, that sort of thing.”

Funny thing is, I can’t remember a single Hayden song that makes him sound brave. In fact, in my favorite song he hides upstairs while being robbed, only to be knocked unconscious by a perpetrator and wake up days later. I’d like to believe that really happened.

Us Alone doesn’t feature any harrowing robberies, or late nights out on the town on tour. Instead, Hayden focuses on family. Since he’s a new father, I asked him if his family life had any effect on his songwriting for Us Alone. He responded, “The driving force behind this record is fatherhood.”

He mentioned a particularly catchy song called “Almost Everything,” saying, “[It] is very clearly about my life in music. In a way, it’s a thank-you note to the nice folks that have stayed with me over the years, as well as a rare-for-me nostalgic moment.”

Hayden’s made it easy to “stay along with him” as a fan throughout his career, and this latest offering is no different. Us Alone is catchy, whimsical, and heartfelt. Hayden is currently on tour promoting the album throughout the continent. | Glen Elkins

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