Piano Man

Hayden's newest album is original, interesting ... and government-funded

It's true: Canada is better--for musicians, anyway.

Part of the reason we're seeing so many talented Canadian bands these days has to do with the fact that they can actually get government funding for making music. Take it from Canadian musician Hayden, whose latest album, In Field and Town, is an elegant and sparse expression of sad breakup songs.

"You can apply for tour support," he said. "It helps stimulate a music industry that's not based on commerciality, but is based on art, and I think that is a main reason why the bands that are being noticed are interesting. They all have their own qualities; they've all been able to grow in a really natural way without trying to get on the radio and be a product."

Hayden is himself a case in point: He's been making music for a long time (15 years, to be exact), starting out on 4-track, and while his recording equipment has modernized, his music has maintained that minimal earnestness of 4-track recordings. His music has grown in a natural way, remaining original and interesting, without much radio play or attention, because of this kind of recognition of his music as art.

"This record is the first one that I was funded (for)," Hayden said. "I was given a grant to help pay for the recording costs, which was extremely helpful. It sort of frees you up. ... It's interesting that the agencies aren't really so focused on how commercial the product is going to be--they're interested in it being an artistic expression. And that, I think, is a big key to the whole thing working."

In Field and Town is an artistic expression about lost love, sure, but on a deeper level, it's a natural progression in Hayden's own recording and songwriting process.

"I always go back to the basic things I learned in the 4-track world and just expand it out to every album," he said.

For Hayden, sound quality and getting the right feel for a song are the most important things, regardless of the number of tracks. But limits can teach you how to be more creative, something that In Field and Town represents well. The record begins with fleshed-out piano pop and ends with breezy country, but each song, no matter how stripped-down or done up, pulls out a beautifully simple, provocative melody.

"It's just a process of adding things and taking them away until I feel that it's the right feel and the right representation," said Hayden. "There were some songs on this record where I added 25 things, and in the end, decided that a late-night take where I was singing and playing the piano, that was the one, that was the song for me."

Many of the songs on In Field and Town, added Hayden, were written on piano, which gives them an entirely different feel than if they were written on guitar.

"The piano just writes different songs for me," said Hayden. "I just really loved playing. I'd spend hours there, so more opportunities came out of just sitting at this piano that I loved to be in front of."

The physical nature of playing the songs on piano is also what makes some songs on In Field and Town feel more fleshed out than they may actually be.

"The rhythm and feel of the songs is different, because it's not a strum--there's more of a bounce in some of those songs because of the physical nature of hammering down the keys, instead of strumming," explained Hayden.

"Lonely Security Guard" is a perfect example--all that contributes to the enhancement of Hayden's voice and piano is minimal drums, a guitar and vocal harmonies, but the piano itself fills up the song, makes it bounce.

In Field and Town's artistic expression is in many ways about the act of sitting down alone and writing sad songs about loneliness on the piano: All of the songs have an element of sad piano lament, even if there's no piano on them, which is an artistic feat in and of itself--and definitely worth monetary support.