by Rob Van Alstyne
Hayden Desser turned his back on music towards the close of the ‘90s. After five years of constant touring and recording, a period which saw him grow from a Canadian home-recording troubadour in his early 20s still living with his parents into an artist hand-picked to perform at Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit and signed to a major label in the U.S. with the Spin press clippings to prove it, Hayden had had enough.
Download an mp3 of Hayden’s song Home by Saturday.
The constant touring and pressures to make an ever-bigger splash had taken the fun out of making music. Hayden was taking his startlingly intimate down-tuned folk songs and weary croak off the world stage and into his basement—it was anyone’s guess whether he would resurface.
three years completely AWOL from the national music scene, Hayden did return,
on his own terms. Early 2002 saw the release of Skyscraper National Park,
released on respected, albeit tiny, indie label Bad Man Recording Co., a home
that wouldn’t force him to live on the road for a year and a half supporting the
release. The wait for a follow-up this time around has been only slightly less
lengthy but the latest installment in Hayden’s series of life snapshots, Elk-Lake
Serenade, is worth the wait. A set of 16 songs that examines issues of the
world both large (infidelity, mortality) and small (a cat’s tendency to run away
in springtime), the widely varying subject matter allows Hayden to dabble in both
wide-eyed naivety and embittered regret—it’s a clever gambit by a remarkably talented
songwriter, or so I thought.
“In general I have trouble thinking ahead or making any sort of plans at all,”
claims Hayden via telephone, shattering my visions of carefully planned narrative
contrasts and grand lyrical schemes as the driving force of Elk-Lake Serenade.
“So whenever I start writing a record I never have a grand scheme of how the thing
will unfold, it just kind of happens. Whatever’s going on in my life that has
finally led me to the point where I feel like picking up a guitar again and writing
songs ends up becoming the record most of the time. In the end the record usually
makes sense and all works together, at least to me anyway. I don’t go in trying
to create that though.”
Regardless of the intent (or lack thereof) behind Elk-Lake, Hayden’s fourth
album, the record wound up being a career defining statement.
the occasional aid of fellow Canuck indie-music luminaries like Julie Dorion and
Howie Beck, the record veers between downcast orchestral piano ballads, jaunty
folk-rock and wistful melancholia, with Hayden’s quavery voice working almost
exclusively in his fragile upper range and occasionally sliding into a heartbreaking
falsetto (a move he had mostly only hinted at on earlier releases). Imagine a
less slick Harvest updated with the emotional neuroses of the 21st-century-man
and you’re beginning to get a vague idea of the waters in which Elk-Lake Serenade
Since the album’s mid-year release Hayden’s been living on the road yet again—I’m
chatting with him on a friend’s low-battery powered cell phone in Brighton, England—and
admits he’s still not completely reconciled to the musician lifestyle he finally
decided to stop fighting against when he resurfaced with Skyscraper National Park.
“You know it’s a tricky thing because half the time I feel grateful and honored
to be able to make a living being creative but then there are moments when I’m
halfway through a three month tour and I’m playing an old song and I’m just bored
out of my skull and all I want to do is leave and go home and be creative. For
me I find that being on the road isn’t really a very creative thing—it’s more
like regurgitation. On good nights, like 75 percent of the time, I’m inspired
by playing live—but it’s still not a creative thing.”
issue of what it means to make music for a living, and the havoc it can wreak
on one’s personal life provides fodder for some of Elk-Lake Serenade’s
most compelling tracks. Whether describing the pain of separation from a loved
one while on tour—and its accompanying temptations (“Home By Saturday”); or telling
the story of a sleaze-bag touring musician who stops by an old flame’s home clearly
envious of her settled down life with husband and child (“My Wife”), it’s clear
that Hayden still has qualms about the path he’s chosen at this point.
“I definitely still have those moments where I’m like, ‘Can
I keep doing this?’ Luckily what’s sort of kept me going is finishing
a cycle of touring and then immediately making a new record and being excited
about the new songs. The whole cyclical nature of it is nice, going out on tour
and being very sociable balances out taking the time to work on a record alone
and being a different kind of person. Then after a year of that I’m kind
of ready to head out and see some cities and friends again. As long as either
period doesn’t last too long I’m OK.” ||
Hayden plays on Sat.,
Oct. 16, at the Cedar Cultural Center with Cuff the Duke opening and performing
as his backing band. 8 p.m. All Ages. $10 adv/$12 door/$8 student rush. 416
Cedar Ave. S., Mpls. 612-338-2674.
Check out Hayden
on his official website.
an mp3 of Hayden’s song Home