The Closer He Gets

Singer-songwriter Hayden brings his music out of the basement.

Every minute of every day, an introspective bedroom strummer somewhere on earth takes a break from penning maudlin tunes about his ex-girlfriend long enough to fantasize about his own vindication writ large. But only a few of the crooners who envision major-label scouts discovering the Next Big Thing in the plaintive passages of their fingerprint-smudged demo cross the threshold of their dreams. Canada's uni-monikered Hayden, then, is a genuine rarity--a singer-songwriter who was still living in his parents' basement when behemoth American labels (including Geffen, with whom he eventually signed) began bidding for his talents. Moreover, he's survived this ordeal without losing any of his homey appeal.

"Some days I feel lucky about it and thankful and that whole 'I can't believe that happened to me' kind of deal," he muses. "But the truth is, most days I just kind of deal with whatever is going on in that day. Because things happen in small steps, some things don't seem so unbelievable after a while."

Though his living arrangements during the 1994 period mentioned above lent him a slacker veneer, Hayden was hardly idle. Within a year of purchasing a four-track, he had self-released a twelve-song cassette on his own Hardwood imprint, initiated a regular solo acoustic showcase at the Rivoli in Toronto, and begun touring his homeland. Another year hence, he launched Everything I Long For, a critically acclaimed debut CD that quickly dominated the Canadian indie charts and precipitated keen interest south of the border. "It's that scenario where if someone told me three years ago what would happen in those four months, I would have said, 'No way, that's crazy,'" he says. "But as it was happening, it was just the next step in the craziness that was going on at the time, so I never really freaked out about it or anything."

The freaking out came later, following a marathon of solo dates. "I remember at the tail end of when I was touring Everything I Long For, when it was just me every night," he notes. "And at the odd show, I actually ended up feeling like I didn't want to go on stage. At that time, I had toured the record for two and a half years in Canada, and then it was released in America and the rest of the world. Basically, three years after I had written and recorded the record, I was still playing it live--the same songs with one acoustic guitar and vocals and harmonica. I'd burnt out on the same songs and just me all the time." As a result, Hayden bailed on numerous dates, including an entire tour of Europe. In explaining his decision, he says, "Once I came to the realization that I wasn't into it, I couldn't fake it, because I'm not a good faker."

Hayden's inability to falsify is confirmed by the yarns he spun on Everything, as well as by those that appear on his latest long-player, The Closer I Get. "I would say that 95 percent of the lyrics are based on something true, whether it's something that happened to me or something that happened to a friend of mine," he reveals. "But I often change things around and make up endings and change little facts here and there, because I have fun doing that and it doesn't incriminate the people I know." Such subtle twists have abated any backlash, as has the convenience of absolute breakups. The reason former objects of his affection have never asked that he cease and desist rehashing their shared heartache is because "the people I write songs about never want to talk to me again," he speculates with a laugh.

The distant past no longer figures as prominently on Hayden's latest CD as it did in his previous work. "There aren't any songs that reflect back on my childhood, and that was a bit of a theme I explored in Everything I Long For," he remarks. "There are always those family stories that get repeated whenever you get together about funny things or embarrassing things that happen when you're kids, and I ended up writing three or four songs about those particular stories on my last record."

A more obvious shift pertains to Hayden's lazy barfly baritone. On his earlier offerings, he frequently veered into Tom Waits territory, busting out a gravelly caterwaul on tunes like "Skates." Now, however, he says that he's "in a different kind of space, where I don't think that I would want to sit and listen to someone screaming. So I don't really feel like doing that right now. And there are other, smaller reasons--like, it hurts my throat."

Aside from lessening his pain, Hayden's goal on The Closer I Get was to raise the intensity via the music as opposed to the vocals. To accomplish this, he ventured from his bedroom to utilize a number of recording studios, where he was able to fiddle around with twenty tracks rather than four and employ the odd instrument, like a Mellotron. In addition, the songwriter secured the services of revered producers Steve Fisk (Screaming Trees, Geraldine Fibbers), John Hanlon (Neil Young) and Scott Litt (Nirvana, R.E.M.). Rubbing shoulders with these studio luminaries didn't cause Hayden's head to either swell or deflate unnecessarily. In fact, the trio left him largely unfazed.

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