They say success doesn’t happen overnight, but after meeting with global music sensation Hayden James in the lead up to his album launch, I beg to differ.
Hailing from the coastal metropolis of Sydney, singer, songwriter and music producer Hayden James has always been involved in music. While his family sparked his interest for the practice, it wasn’t until he left “conventional” school at the age of 16 to pursue his passion at the Australian Institute of Music. His studies took him across the globe and back to the University of Technology in Sydney where by chance, he sent in a demo to Future Classic.
“My first dabble in writing music was ‘Permission To Love’ and that was me on the record singing it,” James told ICON in a bustling suburban cafe. “I sent it to Future Classic and that afternoon I got a response back like, ‘Hey, we’d love to chat with you. Can you come in?’, and that was the start of it. I remember it coming out on Sound Cloud on a Friday and two hours later and Lewis McKirdy played it on Triple J for the first time that day.”
That was six years ago. Following chart topping singles featuring the likes of Boy Matthews, Running Touch and GRAACE, James is gearing up for the launch of his debut album. I asked James why it took so long to bring out his first album, and according to artist, “it’s taken that long to figure out what sort of message I want[ed] to send” – a testament to his dedication towards the art.
Perfecting his sound, Between Us is the perfect balance of melodic bass, catchy pop hooks and meaningful lyrics for an album that is far from standard ‘dance’. Across 11 tracks – three of which are platinum singles – the engaging vocals of Panama, the house fusion of NAATIONS and smooth harmony of Elderbrook feature and provide an addictive set of pop-infused tracks.
Following the release on June 14, James will take Between Us around Australian in August for what he describes as a “brand-new live show”.
ICON: How did you initially find your love and talent for music?
Hayden James: “It was when I was when I was a kid, my Mum played guitar. She’s a school teacher … My Grandad played piano as well … so I would listen to him when I was young. And then when I was in year six I started playing the guitar myself and also Jazz piano and saxophone. So quite musical as a kid. So that’s how it started.
I left conventional school at the end of year 10 and went to the Australian Institute of Music … I had to leave to go to the UK – my Dad’s job transferred the family. I finished school over there and then went to the School of Audio Engineering, so I learned more about production and live music recording. But still not any song writing at that point. From there, I went to UTS where I studied finance … I needed something to fall back on because the dream of earning a living and making a living off your dream itself is so difficult and never really happens.
I still can’t believe I do what I do for a living, I really am pinching myself everyday. When I was at university studying finance I would go out and DJ in Kings Cross and all around Australia really … I really enjoyed it and that was when I started getting into music production itself.”
ICON: Congratulations on your debut album. It has been six years since your first single, ‘Permission To Love’. Why has it taken so long to bring out your first album?
“…I’m definitely a perfectionist so it’s taken that long to figure out what sort of message I want to send.”
HJ: “It’s not knowing what to write and what is true to me. I’ve got a lot of musical friends around me and producers, a lot of Australian friends that have written stuff that doesn’t connect because they’re just trying to keep with the times at the moment … And for me I’m more of a songwriter than even a producer or a dance recording artist. The song is the most important thing for me and I need to get that right, I’m definitely a perfectionist so it’s taken that long to figure out what sort of message I want to send.”
ICON: You’ve toured with huge names such as Rüfüs Du Sol and Katy Perry. What have those sorts of collaborations taught you?
HJ: “Touring with Rüfüs – the actual live show – that was four years ago, that was all around Australia. Honestly, being on the road with those guys and seeing how professional they are and how good they are at their job outside of the creation of what they do musically in the studio really spurred me on … it made me feel like I want[ed] that one day and now I’ve got it which is great. Some of the guys that are on my crew, some of the tour managers have worked with the Rüfüs boys, so for me having the access to seeing them on the road and seeing how cool their crew is and everyone going for that one goal, that was a great spurring moment for me to go, ‘I want that’.”
ICON: What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
“I do know when I write them in the studio, I know they’re going to be good, I can feel it, and that’s such a special moment.”
HJ: “For me musically, this album is definitely. It’s not even out yet and I feel so good about it. But also, the success of ‘Just Friends’ and ‘Something About You’, all the singles, I can’t believe how well they’ve done, how much people like them to be honest. I do know when I write them in the studio, I know they’re going to be good, I can feel it, and that’s such a special moment. But it’s really cool to have people who always contact me on Instagram, all these different socials, telling me how it affects them … that’s the kind of stuff that I really love.”
ICON: In a recent interview you talked about the impact of streaming on the music industry. Do you believe it is a help or hindrance to lesser known artists?
HJ: “It’s just changed from what it is now. I think it’s really good because everyone has access to your music … Technology has changed the way that we record music, you no longer need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a record in a studio. You can have a laptop and a little mini keyboard and off you go, in fact I’ve written a lot of songs that way or at least the demos of them. I think it’s great, I don’t think it’s a hindrance.”
ICON: Can you explain your song writing process? What inspires your music?
HJ: “It’s always different. I listen to a lot of older music, older Daft Punk records, Beach Boys, David Bowie, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, lots of different stuff. I love just listening to that in the mornings and just going from there. I do one thing every morning as well – I have a little sand timer in my studio which is five minutes and I turn that and I start writing an idea, I’ll stop when that’s done. Everyday I’ve got at least one new idea and it just took me five minutes to do … I get a lot of creativity from sending stuff to people … like Elderbrook and NAATIONS, Boy Matthews, and they’ll come back with lyrics. And from there I can see the bigger picture now … There is so many different ways to do it.”
ICON: What do you look for when working with another artist? Do you have a favourite collaboration?
HJ: “I don’t really produce with people, it’s more featured artists and vocalists that I work with. So one, is their voice and how they sound – that’s the biggest thing for me. Two, is definitely their personality in terms of, ‘Can we work together?’, ‘How’s this going to go?’ and I’ve been lucky enough to work with just some incredible people…”
ICON: You’ve chosen ‘Between Us’ as the title track for the album. What is the decision process like when choosing the hero song? Why this one?
HJ: “I wanted a song that was going to create that vibe. I think ‘Between Us’ speaks about the whole record for me. It encompasses everything that I want the record to be in one song as well. It’s very emotional. Me and Jarrah from Panama started writing that two years ago, so it’s quite a sad song, it’s one of my favourites from the album… I wanted people to make sure they heard that one and it sort of encompasses the whole idea of the record. That connection – love, loss and hope.”
ICON: Your genre of music is best described as dance/electronic. Do you find it difficult to keep a level head in a high-octane party landscape?
HJ: “I don’t party that much. I treat my work like office hours. I’m make sure I’m not in the studio till four in the morning – I’m just not that creative then … I don’t really get into that lifestyle and that’s really good I find. But when I do like to have fun and party, it really means something and it’s special.”
ICON: How are you feeling in the lead up to the album release?
“So excited, so excited. I can’t believe it’s happening, I really can’t.”
HJ: “I’m not nervous. I’m really happy with the product and what I’ve done. It’s taken a long time obviously to get there. I wrote 30 or 40 demos that is whittled down to 11 tracks. It was really important for me to have that first track play and be able to play it through. I find that my favourite records have been ones that you don’t really skip, there’s no fillers in there. I could have put more tracks on [the album] but it was important to keep it really tight. So excited, so excited. I can’t believe it’s happening, I really can’t.”
ICON: Lastly, what are you looking forward to the most about touring in your home country, come August?
HJ: “Bringing a brand-new live show. We’ve been working on this with the team for a long time. I’m really proud of it… I’ve been doing a lot of tours around Australia in the last couple of years and I’ve only had a couple of songs so it’s been difficult to show people what I’ve been working on because I haven’t been able to yet … I’ve got a lot of featured artists from the record actually coming on tour with me to sing. So Nat Dunn from NAATIONS, Romeo … I’m really proud of the show and the team…”
For more information on Hayden James’ Australian tour, visit here. His debut album Between Us releases on June 14.