It’s a few hours before Hayden takes the stage in his hometown for the first time in four years. But for the time being, the 42-year-old troubadour has other things on his mind.
“I just finished getting my emissions test done on my Volvo,” says Hayden slowly. You’d be forgiven for thinking everything that comes out of his mouth is dripping with sarcasm. But on this afternoon, Hayden’s concerns are genuine.
“I couldn’t get my license plates otherwise,” he confirms.
Later that evening Hayden will take to the stage at Toronto’s legendary Dakota Tavern for the first of three nights at three different venues to celebrate the release of Us Alone, his first full-length in almost four years. He’s not overcome with nerves because, as he attests, a recent run of shows throughout Europe found him unable to shake off the cobwebs.
“I felt bad for the Europeans. They got the worst of me,” he admits sheepishly from his Toronto home.
“Apart from playing one song at a wedding and three songs at a rally against a mega-quarry in four and a half years, that was it for me being onstage. I’ve mostly been a studio weirdo for the past few years,” he concedes.
Now, with Us Alone, his first release on Arts & Crafts, the oft-reclusive Hayden has found his music thrust back into the limelight. He’s chosen to build on his three Toronto release shows with a touring schedule that doesn’t feature typical venues. Movie cinemas, schools and churches; every venue was fair game.
“It’s definitely fun to do,” he says of stepping away from generic venues.
“There are a handful of typical rock venues that you can make a bit more money on because they pack people in, but you do end up feeling a bit guilty towards the audience by the end of the set.”
It’s tough to think of many stages across Canada that Hayden hasn’t taken to throughout his almost twenty year career. His plaintive but endearing aesthetic has become a reliable one. Still, Hayden hasn’t opened up at length about his career until “Almost Everything,” one of the more potent cuts on Us Alone.
It’s Hayden reflecting on his career, sure. He just didn’t stay in that frame of mind for too long.
“I do a remarkable job at not thinking too much about the past and not thinking too much about the future. It’s odd, but as long as I can keep that going, I think the healthier I’ll be. (”Almost Everything”) came out of one hour of me just thinking about the past. I seem to recall the next day wondering if I’d have trouble with those words being in the song.”
Reflecting on his past meant acknowledging how his devotion towards writing and performing music has waned in recent years.
“There’s no doubt that when we’re between 12 and 21 there’s that ability to get so heavily into something you’re involved in that it does become everything. The older you get though, the more your brain gets filled with different information and you have different responsibilities. You have a different reality,” he says without any trace of shame.
Us Alone certainly isn’t the sound of a new Hayden. It’s merely him remembering the industry he stepped away from and how lucky he is to have gotten into music in the first place.
“At the end of the long day, if I organize my time and I have some time to write and reflect that’s still a huge payoff for me. That song is about that realization: how lucky I am that I can treat music as more than just a hobby. And the older I get, the more thankful I am that that’s a reality.”
Hayden plays the Rio Theatre on Saturday, March 23.
By Joshua KlokeBC, British Columbia