Australian singer-songwriter and producer Hayden Calnin has a gift for leaving us wanting more. Throughout the last few years, he’s released a few gorgeous EPs and a debut record, all of which operate with intricacies designed to stun the senses. Now, Hayden is back with his latest EP, Dirt, six tracks of deep, slinking instrumentation led by Hayden’s aching voice.
Dirt opens with “Collision,” a gurgling horn-based track. Here, Hayden begins the record with his strong vocals singing intense inquiries that bravely explore mental illness. Among distant vocal cries and ticking percussion, Hayden tackles a tough subject with beguiling grace and low, brooding tones. Next comes “Waves,” the EP’s big single dropped a few months prior. “Waves” begins with a dancing piano rhythm before reverb-laden vocal loops kick in. When the last verse hits, Hayden’s voice builds with emotion, singing some of the most poignant lines of the whole EP: “So our body is the wave and it crashes into hate / I can see the tide pull back but our bones will always ache.” Marking the middle of the album is the creeping, sparse “Visible.” A light, repetitive sparkle of piano hums for nearly a minute before breathy vocals begin to swirl, so soft and drawn-out that you can hear every sonic detail from letter enunciation to the quiet smack of words on lips. Next, Hayden offers a vibrant, theatrical arrangement on “Slow Decay.” Clocking in at just under two minutes, the song buzzes and warbles with electric choir-like harmony. On “Life Simple I & II,” a gentle but melancholic piano moves beneath Hayden’s defeated voice expressing empathy for feelings of sadness. At times, the arrangement grows with a slight pulse. At other times, Hayden’s voice blends with electronic elements, becoming otherworldly. Dirt ends with its title track, a sprawling seven-minute success. Here, Hayden’s voice goes to new lengths, moving from clear falsetto to soulful growls. A shimmering classical piano swells as haunting harmony and ethereal wisps of production seem to float around his impassioned vocal performance, howling with insistent emotion “You don’t know yourself / Until you’ve crawled through Hell.”
Dirt is a brave, poetic foray into the minds of the hurt. Hayden Calnin gives the gift of solace in the form of his serene voice, sweeping melodies, and profound songwriting. With just six tracks, he has given a voice to sorrow by recognizing it, naming it, and accepting it. Lush instrumentation plays out like a complex film score as Hayden narrates truth in its rawest, most sincere form. Hayden Calnin is a sonic wonder, unearthing intimacy through creative, meticulous efforts and hurling himself into a fury of swirling rhythm.
Listen to Dirt here and read on for an exclusive Buzz Artist Q&A with Hayden Calnin:
Buzz Artist: First, can you tell Buzz Artist a little about yourself and your music?
Hayden Calnin: Around 14 is when I first picked up an instrument and had no idea what to do with it. I used to just sit there and put my fingers in random positions on the guitar and hope for the best. Then came practice, lessons, and a love for it. I never saw it turning into a career path initially — that sort of just happened by accident. I studied film at university and was pretty sure that was where I would end up, but as uni went on, I got heavily into sound design and recording sounds and I got hooked on production and sound engineering; the rest is history. My music is often placed in TV shows, films and that whole world of synchronization, and I think that all stems from my university days and being involved in the world of film and music. Nowadays, I’m releasing a lot of my own music, as well as producing and mixing a lot of other artists’ work as well. It’s pretty great.
BA: What is the music scene like where you’re from in Australia and how has it influenced your work at all?
HC: Melbourne is the best place for the arts in Australia, in my opinion. We are all so supportive of each other and there seems to be less competitiveness between artists here. We all love to just go out, watch each other play, and be involved in a pretty special community. I haven’t really found that anywhere else in Australia yet. Sydney has taken a turn for the worse due to their ridiculous lock-out laws and noise restrictions, unfortunately. Melbourne is spoiled for musicians, venues, and industry, so I’ll definitely stay put for now.
BA: You majored in sound design at film school. How did your studies contribute to your future as a singer-songwriter?
HC: University is what got me into sound production and the love of sound design. Some of my favourite musicians are film composers and they inspire me so much to stay on that road. I write with a visual narrative in my head. My time studying film has really helped shape who I am as a musician and I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to do that course.
BA: I read in another interview that you’re inspired by Frightened Rabbit — one of my all time favorite bands too. Can you talk a little about how they inspire and influence your music?
HC: They are the best. I’ve been listening to them for about 10 years and I still remember the first time I heard them, cruising down a big hill with my mate in the car and having to pull over because I was just losing my shit over it. I’ve been to all of their gigs whenever they’re in Melbourne. I’ve also been lucky enough to hang out with them a couple of times as my housemate used to date one of them. Small world. Legendary dudes and brilliant and inspiring writers. Glad you are a fan too, they are so great.
BA: What was the production process like for your new EP, Dirt?
HC: This EP is more of a group of sketches put together. It’s all songs that I wrote, recorded without too much structure, and just wanted to release. I did think about re-recording the whole thing but I knew that it would change its mood. It’s a conceptual release, focusing on mental health and its place in our society. All the songs are about my own personal experiences with my own challenges and those around me who have been challenged by mental health issues. I think it’s important to have a focus for any release you do. I feel somewhat responsible as an artist to represent myself and my thoughts in an honest and relatable manner and I feel this EP is a good representation of that.
BA: How has your music evolved since releasing your debut EP, City, back in 2013?
HC: OMFG. A lot. I look back now and I cringe a little about some lyrics and production choices but people still seem to resonate with it. I guess you are always going to be your worst critic. At the same time, going through the discography of everything I’ve released is a nice reminder of my development and where I’ve come from, so I wouldn’t change it for the world.
BA: Which is your favorite track on Dirt?
HC: “Slow Decay” is probably my favourite — no idea why. It’s the shortest, simplest, and most chill song I think I’ve ever done but it just sits really nicely with the rest of the EP.
BA: If you could collaborate with 5 bands/musicians, living or dead, who would they be?
HC: Jeff Buckley, S. Carey, Imogen Heap, Taylor Swift and M83. Just because.
BA: What has been your most memorable musical moment so far?
HC: Playing a bunch of shows over in Europe and selling out shows in London and Paris was pretty great. It’s a nice feeling to have people know and sing back your music on the other side of the globe. It’s a good reminder that you are on the right path. But, really, just being a part of the global music community is great and I’m stoked to be doing it. Me and the ol’ classic 9 to 5 just don’t get along all that well.
Buzz Artist: Finally, what’s next for Hayden Calnin?
Hayden Calnin: I’m just starting to prepare for getting back into the studio and beginning the next album. It’s non-stop, and I’m currently feeling very inspired to write, so I might go away for a week or two and spend some time with a piano and write some new songs, bring it back home, and lay them down. Thanks for the chat.