Photo by Vanessa Heins
Paul Hayden Desser has a quiet confidence about him. The Canadian singer has been performing under the name of Hayden for close to two decades now, but he’s somewhat hesitant talking about his own music. Just a few years ago, several media outlets (as well as his Wikipedia page) wrongly reported that he was dead. In fact, he released his sixth album in 2009, but declined to give interviews or tour, and his pervasive silence led to speculation. “I think I realized that you need to let people know you have a record out,” Hayden joked. So for album number seven, he opted to sign to Arts & Crafts, the venerated Canadian indie label home to Broken Social Scene, Stars, and Feist. “I felt like it was a particular moment for me, maybe ’cause I’d been away for so long, and I felt like I was re-launching my career in some ways,” he told Canada’s Times Colonist. “I mean, this kind of happens, truthfully, between every album. I take so long that I don’t know what kind of shows to book off the top, because I think no one’s going to show up.”
But fans keep showing up–and some unlikely ones at that. Following his 1995 debut, Hayden found himself in a major-label bidding war, and the suitors included Neil Young himself. He ultimately signed a $1 million contract with Outpost Records, a subsidiary of Geffen and wound up performing with Young at his annual Bridge School Benefit. Even with all this adulation, Hayden kept doing things at his own pace, taking time to patiently build his records even as labels breathed down his neck. Each record is a study in contrasts, hinting at the care and skill he imparts during the lengthy writing and recording processes.
His new record, Us Alone, is another stylistic left-turn. Whereas past efforts were often dense, Hayden wanted to capture the feel of a five-person live band, though that band is actually Hayden himself. He played nearly every instrument himself, but just like his personality, there’s no sense of showiness. One of the highlights from the record is “Rainy Saturday,” a song that manages to marry a propulsive folk-rock beat with buzzing synthesizers. The track–and the accompanying video–shows Hayden as he truly is: an everyday guy dealing with everyday problems, but one with a great deal of skill that anybody can see.