Hayden. Just try and find a late-twenty-something woman who doesn’t swoon, hand-to-forehead, at the mere mention of that name.
Back in 1995, Paul Hayden Dresser, aka Hayden, recorded an album of gruffly-voiced songs about ill-fated flowers and ill-fated loves, and why things were as bad as they seemed. Since then, he’s quietly released five more albums, typically spacing them out by three or four years. With his record label, Hardwood Records, he also released Basia Bulat’s Oh, My Darling, which got her on the Polaris Prize shortlist, and two albums by Cuff The Duke, who will be his back-up band when he comes back to St. John’s to open for Feist at Mile One on November 9th.
His latest album, In Field & Town, which manages to be less gruff and more rockin’ while still maintaining his signature intense, honest reverence for the pulses and throbs of the human heart, made the Polaris longlist this year, proving that all of that gooey-hearted teenage infatuation was warranted: Hayden is, like, totally wicked.
Sarah Smellie caught up with Hayden to talk about Northern Ontario, folk rock abandonment and economic catastrophes.
So, you’re back! And after a three year hiatus. Where have you been?
Well, I was touring for almost a year of those three and otherwise I was just living… and writing songs, and recording.
Does coming back after a good while feel kind of like starting all over again?
It kind of is. Generally when I finish so-called promoting a record and a tour cycle, I’ve usually had it [laughs] with running around, with getting on airplanes, and changing bands… and I’m also usually sick and tired of the details of trying to you know, just having the kind of quality control of you know anything from putting out the record to begin with to the ads that show up and how you’re being represented. It just wears me out. I know a lot of people who it doesn’t affect as much as it does me, but by the time I’m done, I’m happy to be done.[laughs] And I’m usually excited about doing what I love the most; creating and writing music.
So you just need to stop and take a break and maybe re-focus yourself?
Yeah. So that’s a major reason why I tend to take a while in between records. I usually don’t start writing and recording right away after I get home, I like to take a bit of time away from music.
You spend a lot of time in Northern Ontario and you really seem to take a lot from that environment.
Yeah, well, I used to take a lot from wanting to be in that environment and now I’m able to actually be here and take from that, if that makes any sense. [laughs]
It’s a really neat place. Not a lot of people in the rest of Canada think of Ontario as a place with a huge area of wilderness like that.
Yeah, and right now I’m not even that super far from the city, actually. I’m just far enough that I’m not coughing as soon as I walk out the door.
Congratulations on making the long list for the Polaris Prize this year. Who were you rooting for at the end?
Oh, I was totally rooting for Basia [Bulat]. I love what she does so much. I mean, I love that record so much that I put it out on my label.
You really fleshed out your songs on this record, with full instrumentation, whereas typically you’re known for a more you-and-your-guitar style. What inspired you take that route?
When I had some time after touring, I really wanted to get away from the folk rock kind of asthetic that I fall into so much. And I fall into it because I’m obsessed by records like [Neil Young’s] Harvest and that sound and that kind of instrumentation, I can’t get enough of it. But I was just excited to hear more guitar, to hear different types of drum beats and rhythms and percussion. So, I don’t know, it was just sort of this thing I had my head where I just really wanted to hear things a bit differently this time around.
You’ve been a pretty significant presence on the Canadian music scene for over ten years. Do you think Canadian music is headed in a good direction? Are you pleased with the changes you’ve seen?
Yeah! I never know if it’s just because I live here, I think that there’s so many extraordinary artists… you know, for someone living in Australia, do they feel that same way about what’s going on in their country? But I definitely think there’s a substantial amount of people – both that we’ve heard of in Canada and who are completely off the radar — who are unbelievably talented y’know?. And it’s not always the people that are getting the exposure either… which is nothing new.
And I’m not saying that about myself… I get plenty of exposure… I am talking about other people.
Speaking of exposure, when did you start your record label?
I kinda started it with the release of my first record in ’95. But back then it was a time when people would have a name and they would put out their record on it. I mean, I also released through Sonic Unyon at that time, so it sort of said Hardwood Records and Sonic Unyon, but they were the label. Then I just kept the name for my next four records, and then Cuff the Duke kind of happened, and I put their [self-titled] record out, and that was a sort of expansion… a limited expansion.
Do you enjoy that side of things? I.e. the record label side… I guess you could say the administrative side?
Yeah, it’s something I do with the guy I’ve worked with for 14 years, my manager named ‘Skinny’. We do it together, so he’s definitely the day to day, business-y side of it, moreso than I am. It’s mostly because when I’m in the middle of recording a record, or doing something where I am trying to stay focussed, it’s really hard to talk about certain things, and be interrupted. We’ve been working for so long together, and that’s the only way I would really be able to do it. That being said, every week I consider not doing it anymore…
Because it’s never been anything about making money, it’s actually a money losing thing. The other weird part of it is that every year there’s probably six albums by people that I know, and don’t know, in Canada that I would love to put out and be able to do something to help expose them to more people, but it’s always such a hard call…. So it’s just this complicated thing called Hardwood Records…
Giant labour of love, so to speak…
…or labour of not-love…just a labour..
[laughs] Where do you think Canadian indie rock is headed? What do you think we can expect in the future?
Well, I think because of the economy, you can expect a drastic decline in ticket sales and album sales, of bands from all over the world, not just Canada…
I was just listening to the CBC, and Gian Gomeshi had a guest that was saying that, usually, music gets really interesting when the economy goes in the toilet. So I guess the creative side of it gets really good, but people don’t have much money to spend on it…
Yeah… there will be a lot of great music that nobody gets to hear.. [laughs]
Exactly. Well, thanks so much for talking to me! Looking forward to your show… are you excited to come back? t;/strong>
Yeah! I’m super excited. This tour is such a treat for me. It’s amazing… I can’t believe it…
Well… I think I’ve spent too many months in the US this year, and, you know, it was a struggle at times. There are obviously great people there, and there are great places to play, it’s just that this tour has brought me back to life… people’s reactions, and how great Feist and her band are… It’s good vibes all around. So it has picked me up after my United States experience.
The US bummer…
Well, we’re excited to have you back!
Wait… one last question: Your first album, Everything I Long For, pretty much created the prototypical indie-rock-boyfriend image for most Canadian women my age. How do you live up to that now? Are you bloody well sick of it or are you okay with being all of our secret high school fantasy boyfriends?
I’m okay with it as long as it’s not causing problems in your current relationship.
Catch Hayden as he opens for Feist on November 9th at Mile One Centre. $39.50+, Mile One Centre 576-7657