Songwriter Hayden Travels 'Field and Town' Toronto musician Hayden is known for his quirky sad songs and his latest album, In Field and Town, is full of them. The intimacy of the record extends to the liner notes, which are a reproduction of Hayden's own handwritten notebook.
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Songwriter Hayden Travels 'Field and Town'

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Songwriter Hayden Travels 'Field and Town'

Songwriter Hayden Travels 'Field and Town'

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The Toronto singer-songwriter Hayden has made five records over the last 12 years. He admits that's not exactly a speedy pace. In that time he's watched the Canadian music scene grow into an indie-rock mecca. Not that he wants to talk about it, though. Before I interviewed him, I asked Hayden, what questions that he hates being asked during his interviews, and that was one of the big ones. Then I told him that if I asked him anything he thought was a particularly inane question, that he just tell me. Sure enough, that one came back to bite me.

In the last year Hayden has toured with Feist and The National, and while his music overlaps with each of those buzz acts, it's also easy to view Hayden as something of a loner. As we found out when he visited the BPP studios for chat and some songs, Hayden comes armed with a few surprises, but he says his new record is called "In Field & Town," for a very simple reason.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

Mr. HAYDEN DESSER (Singer-Songwriter, Hayden): I wrote most of it up north. Yeah, and I recorded half of it in the country and half of it in the city, laid down sort of the basic tracks, whether it be solo piano or acoustic guitar and vocals. And then, I had the sounds of frogs and crickets and flies hitting the window, and they were all on - you know, if you listen carefully you can hear all those sounds. And then, I moved everything back to the city, to do the sort of overdubs and extra things, and getting other musicians involved. And on those tracks, there's sirens and pigeons and screams.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What do you do when you don't make music?

Mr. DESSER: Extreme sports...?

MARTIN: You do?



(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESSER: Yeah, I'm not sure.

MARTIN: I mean, do you have another - do you have a day job that you go back to? Do you just hang out with friends?

Mr. DESSER: Luckily, I do not have a day job.

MARTIN: Was that always your intention? I mean, I saw some quotes from you, where you said things, like you didn't have it in you to do what it takes to be a big star. Has that changed?

Mr. DESSER: Well, I learned that at a certain point, four or five years into what I was doing, that I had to have certain limits to what I was going to do and how long I would be touring for. And I don't know. I'm just - I'm sort of a bad actor and if I'm not feeling it, or if I'm touring and I'm sick of the songs, and I really want to be recording or writing, I'm not good at pretending that I'm into it. So, that's been a bit to my detriment as far as...

MARTIN: Have you bailed before?

Mr. DESSER: Yeah, I'm a bailer. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESSER: But I think it's been good for my music in the long run. It hasn't been good for keeping up any kind of profile or, you know...

MARTIN: Momentum.

Mr. DESSER: Yeah, momentum is not a word that relates to my musical career.

MARTIN: Let's get to some music. What do you want to play for us first?

Mr. DESSER: This is a song about a difficult woman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I don't know any of those.

Mr. DESSER: There's something funny happened last night, though, that's kind of reminding me of this song for some reason.

MARTIN: What happened?

Mr. DESSER: A guy came up to me, and said that he was dating a girl from Canada who was a fan of mine, and that she told him early in their relationship that she tended to break up with her boyfriends every time I released an album. And so, he - she had done this, like, three times in her past, and he was kind of worried about the next...

MARTIN: Weirded out about it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESSER: Yeah, he was worried - it was just like a timing thing. It was, like, a coincidence, I think.

MARTIN: Oh, he was worried of - he was waiting for the next album.

Mr. DESSER: Yes. So, he was waiting for the next album, terrified.

MARTIN: For the other shoe to drop.

Mr. DESSER: Yes. So...

MARTIN: So, what happened with them? They're still together?

Mr. DESSER: No. They're over.

MARTIN: Are you serious?

Mr. DESSER: Yeah, according to him.

MARTIN: That's a lot of - do you feel any guilt?

Mr. DESSER: Well, I told him that he's lucky it takes me so long between records. He had some good years there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESSER: But a pretty - that's a pretty funny story, I thought. I got a kick out of it. So anyway, this song kind of reminds me of his girlfriend, who I've never met.

MARTIN: What's it called?

Mr. DESSER: Worthy of Your Esteem.

MARTIN: OK. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of song "Worthy of Your Esteem")

HAYDEN: (Singing) Lately you've been so mean it's guaranteed. Your life's a Sweet 16 at 33. You've had it up to here with both hemispheres, With no one to left to revere you, my dear.

A scientist on TV Said aliens will be the big discovery of this century. And you must be very pleased, This finally could mean There's someone you can deem worthy of your esteem.

I've blamed myself for years, but it appears There's nothing I could cheer to stop your tears.

A scientist on TV Said aliens will be the big discovery of this century. And you must be very pleased, This finally could mean There's someone you can deem worthy of your esteem.

La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

MARTIN: That was lovely. That was the song called "Worthy of Your Esteem." It's off the new album by Hayden. The album is called "In Field & Town." If you were forced to describe it to someone, how do you describe your voice?

Mr. DESSER: Ah, that's a bad question. Oh, is that what I'm supposed to say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You're doing what I told you you're supposed to say. Bad question, don't want to answer it. Really? Come on! Try.

Mr. DESSER: Well, one thing I can say about voices is that I'm always attracted to voices that some people love, and some people hate, you know, like the Bob Dylans...


Mr. DESSER: The Neil Youngs and the Leonard Cohens are great examples of that. So, you know, I don't - I'd like to think that I have a voice that's sort of different, as opposed to, like, a perfect jingle-type voice. You know, my voice kind of cracks a lot of times. I'll be in a middle of a show, and it sounds like I'm singing my bar mitzvah - see, there you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DESSER: My bar mitzvah part. Yeah, so, you know, the 13-year-old coming out.

MARTIN: Did you think of it as - did you think of your voice as something that you had to do like, oh, I have to be a singer-songwriter, I've got to sing, so I might as well just do this? Or did you really think of it as an instrument that you wanted to learn how to use?

Mr. DESSER: Well, my first six months of shows, I had friends, different friends who were singers sing my songs and I just played guitar. So, it was a really slow sort of building up of confidence to even sing my own songs. And then, different singers just started not showing up, and I actually had to sing, and then, you know, my friend in the audience would say, hey, that doesn't sound terrible, and I slowly became a singer. So it's nothing I ever, you know, dreamed of. That's for sure.

MARTIN: I'll ask you to do one more song, if you could, for us. What do you want to play for us?

Mr. DESSER: This is an unusual song from my record before this one, and it's a romantic, bear-attack story.

MARTIN: This is from "Elk-Lake Serenade," right?

Mr. DESSER: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: And the song is called "Killbear."

Mr. DESSER: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Killbear")

Mr. DESSER: (Singing) The afternoon light Was reaching down to the site, As my old love stared Into the fire with her new love there, Camping up north, the same place we shared.

Behind the van, They heard the crashing of land. And they looked to see A grizzly bear lurking amongst the trees, Searching their ground for something to eat.

From what I'm told, My old love just froze, But her man got scared. He started to run, thinking she had begun, But he left her there, alone in the woods with the bear.

So the bear, all surprised, Looked right into her eyes, And decided that She was its prey or some kind of threat. So it followed its instincts to deal with it.

It charged up towards her, and stopped just before her, And stood up high. Swiped at her shoulder and dragged her by the torso Around the site. And that's how my old love died.

If I'd been there, I wouldn't have run from the bear. That's the worst mistake. I would've yelled and banged pots, And made sure that my love wasn't taken that way.

MARTIN: That was the song called "Killbear." It's off the album called "Elk-Lake Serenade." The new album is called "In Field & Town." Hayden, thank you very much for coming in to the BPP studios and playing songs for us. We appreciate it. Good luck with this year and the tour.

Mr. DESSER: Thanks. My pleasure. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: If you want to see more Hayden, go to our website. Check out video of his BPP in-studio performance. You know where it is,


And that is it for this hour of the BPP. We are always online at the place she just said. I'm Mike Pesca.

MARTIN: And I'm Rachel Martin. And this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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