Singer/songwriter Hayden Calnin is just about to finish touring around Australia. Recently releasing his two part album Cut Love, Calnin has shown his talent for compositions filled with ambient texture and spine tingling vocals. Inherently garnering comparisons to Bon Iver and James Blake throughout his career, Calnin delivers a collection of intimate songs of languish, self-loathing, conflict and ultimately assurance that are completely his own. The Wandering Lamb were lucky enough to sit down with Hayden Calnin to get a bit of insight into his recent album and touring accomplishments.
So you’ve been touring around Australia, you’ve just finished up in Perth as I understand and you’re making your way up to the milk bar in Brisbane this Saturday, what’s been the highlight so far?
The highlight has probably been the Melbourne show, which was the first of the tour so far. Just because it’s home turf and the Howler (bar) is such a great venue. So that’s probably been the best so far but I was also really impressed with Perth. I hadn’t really done a headline show in Perth before, I’d just been there to support. That was really nice to do a show there and the crowd went ape and the supports were great.
Yeah, I could imagine it would be exciting to play in front of your home crowd. Now onto the album mate. So for Cut Love, you essentially divide the album into two parts, Cut Love Pt. 1 and Cut Love Pt. 2. Are you just brimming with too many ideas or is there a calculated reason behind the split?
So I never intended for it to be two. For the second part of the album, part 2, I recorded everything in Sydney with a producer up there called Tim Carr At 301 Studios. I was kind of going back and forth a lot, doing a big stint at a time, then coming home for a week and then going back. Whenever I went home (Melbourne) I felt really creative, so yeah, I ended up with two albums of material and then all the stuff I did at home and all the stuff I did in Sydney.
So now I’ve sort of got a fresh palette as I’ve recorded all the songs I wanted to record. It’s nice to have a clean slate.
So whenever you go home to Melbourne you feel that creative spark? The video for ‘Cut Love’, the title track, that was filmed around Melbourne wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was done out in the Otways which is about an hour and a half out of Melbourne, on your way out to Apollo Bay, past Lorne. It’s a beautiful part of the world. The DOP (Director of Photography) I was working with suggested it. We were looking for a forest that didn’t look too cheesy, nicer than your average trees. This place has California Redwoods that are just huge. So we went and filmed out there and it was such a great day.
It makes for an absolutely beautiful, emotional video that is very strong with narrative. How important is it that your videos narrative compliment a song such as ‘Cut Love’, and of course, the rest of the album as well?
Yeah, it’s pretty important, I feel like a lot of my music is suited for visuals. So when it’s in your hands and you have to create that visual, it’s a lot of pressure and I just wanted to get it right. I fortunately had such a good team working on it and some brilliant dancers so I was confident it would work out. I also used a bit of my film knowledge to help work it out as well.
Do you get pretty involved in the artistic direction? Or do you have to rely on those other people a lot?
I do get super involved. I do try and step back as much as possible seeing as I’ve employed these people because I love their work, I love what they’ve done and I know they’ll do a stellar job. So, yeah you do your thing and if there’s anything I don’t like I’ll step in and tell them but apart from that I’ll try and stand back. In saying that I enjoy it and want to be involved.
Of course, when you’ve got dancers like Lukas McFarlene and your sister Daisy Calnin, who really compliment the song in a visual way, it’s easier to take a step back.
Yeah, they’re both brilliant dancers. My sister Daisy was keen to jump on board, seeing as she’s family, but to have Lukas on board was really wonderful, It was great.
Brilliant! So like you’ve said your songs are suited for those visuals, I know they’ve been used for a fair few American television shows which is exciting. What’s the go? Do you have a connection over there giving your music all these tv spots?
I’ve been very lucky in that sense. I’ve got a big representation in North America, which I’ve been working with ever since Big Sound (2014). So that’s when I first started working with a guy who thought my music would compliment visuals, so we started working together and he got me a whole lot of syncs. I have been pigeonholed a little bit, but of course I’m still stoked on it, with me being a huge tv and film buff.
It’s excellent that you’ve extended your fan-base past Australia. We’ll jump back to the album for a bit now Hayden. On Cut Love pt.1 you start off with the song Introduction; Nothingness, which has the sample from philosopher Alan Watts. Now he is a man that knows how to make you feel huge and small at the same time, he’s quite a poignant character. How important is the sample for setting up the listener’s experience for the rest of the album?
He does have that effect; I was a bit worried at the start though. I wanted to make a kooky introduction to put the listeners into a frame of mind I guess. I made the track before I made sure I could get the license. I made it with the hope of using it instead. So I had to get in contact with his relatives seeing as he’s passed away. Luckily enough I got the rights for it and they were really stoked that I used this particular seminar in my music. So hopefully it puts you in a mood. I’m so used to it that I’m very numb to it now, I don’t know the effect it has on people, so it’s interesting to see.
On pt.2 you’ve decided to cover Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’, giving it your own brooding folk spin. With a 2-part album overflowing with original content, what’s the purpose of putting this cover in? Was it a point of call for you?
Yeah, it’s really interesting. It’s one of those songs that when I was first starting out, I would cover a lot when I was playing around and didn’t have many of my own songs. I love that song, my rendition is broody and all that. I don’t know, I suppose it’s just one of those songs that stuck with me and if I had to pick any it would be that song. It kind of just fit in as well with the second part of the album.
Well, we’re glad you put it in. Your music tends to evoke a lot of emotion from listeners and rightfully so. Is music the outlet for your own emotions or is it more of an outside looking in perspective?
It’s a bit of both, a lot of it is very personal but I try and make it as not obvious as possible. I don’t want to offend any friends and family….. or past girlfriends. I do make it as personal as possible, but I want’ people to relate to it in their own way. It is an outburst of my own emotion but it’s really the only way I know how. As a pretty shy and awkward person, music is the outlet for me just like sport or painting is for someone else.
So the tour wraps up in Brisbane this Saturday, surely you’ve earned yourself a rest after hitting 19 songs out of the park. What’s next?
I don’t really have a solid plan. I’m heading overseas in December to do some shows and give that a crack. There are a few people who wanted me to go over there, some bookers who want me to do shows and a couple of festivals, which I’m really excited about. So there is a bit of travel on the cards. I also want to get back into production and record some artists. I haven’t really done that for a while. I’m really missing that and haven’t really gotten a chance to do it over the last year and a half. So I’ve just started recording a couple of songs for local artists here in Melbourne. Yeah, I just want to stay creative and get some more life experience and have some more stuff to write about. I don’t have the creative juices I had before because I’ve pumped out all these songs, so I need some life experience before I start recording again.
Like you said those 19 songs you’ve put out have given you a clean slate so you can start from scratch and go in any direction you want to go. We’ll just finish it off Hayden by asking you what you’ve been listening to lately? We like to keep the fields lush and green with new music here at The Lamb so if you could give us some insight into the music you enjoy, that’d be great.
I’m pumping through the new James Blake album which I think is genius, his best work yet. I’ve also been exploring a heap of Hip Hop over the past year which has been interesting. I’m currently doing youth work in a juvenile prison with kids who are really into Hip Hop. So it’s a whole new world, it’s certainly opened up my eyes to the world of Hip Hop and a whole lot of other artists that I normally wouldn’t have listened to before. People like Joey Bada$$, and of course everyone’s on the Kendrick circuit now, which is great. Anything out of Compton is awesome.
I’ve also been listening to local artists from around Australia, I had this beautiful musician Riley Pearce support me across in Perth. I’ve been following his music for a little bit now, it was great to have him on board for the show and see him live because I’ve wanted to for some time now.