Hayden: Back Among The Living

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By all accounts, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Hayden had until recently maintained a relatively consistent album release schedule.

The man born Paul Hayden Desser found success early in his career with his 1995 debut record Everything I Long For. Bridging the rather different musical worlds of Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, the record became an underground hit in Canada thanks to the significant video airplay that his song Bad As They Seem received.

From his 1995 debut through to 2009’s The Place Where We Lived, Hayden fans could count on new music from him every two to three years. And then the music stopped.

By his own admission, he did no interviews and no concerts to promote The Place Where We Lived. You can’t really blame some fans for panicking when no new music was coming down the pipe.

But then one fan kindly alerted Hayden that his Wikipedia page on had him listed as deceased.

‘I was dead six months before anyone noticed,’ the songwriter muses.

It was then that Hayden decided it was as good a time as any to return to his craft. Despite the four-year gap since his last album, Hayden’s newest release, Us Alone , reinstates the songwriter as one of Canada’s best, the release being hailed by influential Toronto weekly Now Magazine as a ‘stunning, understated collection of songs.’

‘I have definitely been around over the past four to five years,’ Hayden says. ‘I have just been slowly making this record. I’m not one that does a lot of musician type of things when I am in the midst of recording. It is merely a pattern I’ve gotten myself into.’

Asked why he chose not to promote The Place Where We Lived with the typical barrage of press and accompanying tours, Hayden boils it down to a very simple reason: He didn’t have a whole lot to say at the time.

‘I just didn’t have anything to say about the record. My wife and I had just had a baby, and touring behind the album wasn’t something that was going to make sense at the time for a few reasons. Looking back, I suppose I could have just as easily not put that record out.’

As with earlier releases, Us Alone walks a fine line between what Hayden describes as ‘hopelessness and despair to thinking that everything will be alright.’ He admits that with the record taking more than a few years to finalize, it is only somewhat natural that a flood of different emotions would find their way into the music and lyrics.

After years of calling the shots via his own Hardwood Records label, Hayden decided to align himself with the acclaimed Arts & Crafts label (also home to Broken Social Scene and Feist) for the release of Us Alone. By his own account, Hayden says that working with Universal Music Canada for distribution of his earlier albums was a great relationship. He simply felt it would be a good time to try something a little different.

‘Going into this record, I just had the sense that I was interested in trying a new scenario. I had been doing the same thing for so many years that I wanted to see what would happen if I shook up my world a little bit,’ he says.

‘Arts & Crafts just seemed like the most logical choice for me. They have shown that they know how to get records into people’s hands in this bizarre world we live in these days. For years, I have known a lot of the people who are already signed to the label and really respect the people behind the label itself. It felt like a pretty natural decision to go with Arts & Crafts in the end.’ These days, being out of the spotlight or off people’s lips for four years is the industry equivalent of an eternity. More than ever, every minute of someone’s 15 minutes of fame is so closely monitored. People fall off the radar as quickly as they arrive on it. But Hayden’s musical integrity has remained intact for the past 18 years.

He has never been a passing fancy for music fans nor has he been concerned with musical fads that can dominate people’s tastes from time to time.

Hayden expresses some genuine excitement and amazement at the fact that he has been able to retain many of his fans despite there being a four-year gap between releases.

‘It has felt nice to have people respond to the record in the way they have because I take my time putting myself out there. I think because of that, I almost forget what I do for a living and as such, lose perspective about my place in the Canadian music scene,’ he says.

‘When I am making a record, I don’t really think about what anyone is going to think of the music I am making. Nor do I worry about what is current on the radio. I just fall into my own little world of building new sounds. When it’s done, it is really nice to have it appreciated by people. I never really imagined having such longevity to my career. I am not one to really dwell on the past or think about the future. It is a weird kind of tic in my personality,’ he laughs.

Article published in the June 3 edition of the Times & Transcript