INTERVIEW: Hayden James

It’s no secret that we all need some light in our lives right now. The last two years have been rough for everyone, that is one thing we can all agree on. And through this period we have all had a different relationship with music, and have seen the ways we consume music change. Some people may have found themselves listening to music for different reasons, and connecting with lyrics in a completely different vein. For Hayden James he discovered that his music needed a joyous energy that could be celebrated by audiences globally in a sweaty mosh pit where they are euphorically screaming the lyrics out. He realised that was his happy place, and that was why he made music.

From there the Australian producer built his sophomore studio album ‘LIFTED’ around this love for euphoric energy that equally celebrated pop hooks in dance music, as well as what Hayden describes as “journey music” which is more about the story behind the production. The magnetic nine track collection is an engaging listen from start to finish that  transports you to a place of freedom. It’s all about letting go and being present in the moment, which is something he’s excited to embrace as he premieres the accompanying live show this weekend at Coachella before later touring it in Australia in August and September. 

I recently chatted with Hayden James about finding the right energy to build his sophomore album ‘LIFTED’ around, explored the creative process behind songs like ‘Fade’ and ‘Free’, and he explained how his two year old son became an important soundboard for this record. Check out the full chat BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your sophomore studio album ‘LIFTED’ is a joyous collection of tracks that celebrates the concept of unity. So looking back on the creative process of your 2019 debut ‘Between Us’ and touring it, what did that teach you about where you wanted this next record to go sonically and aesthetically? 

HAYDEN JAMES: A lot of what ‘Lifted’ is came from touring ‘Between Us’ and figuring out what I wanted to do next. This was pre-pandemic. I knew I wanted to create an album with a bit more energy, a bit more of a dance feel, and a bit faster. Touring something around the world for a long time is great, but you kinda get used to songs, so I was just really excited to finish that tour so I could dive into new music. And that tour wrapped up just as the pandemic started, so I was straight into my room and started experimenting with these songs. 

I definitely think I’ve grown not only from a musical and production standpoint, but also songwriting as well. This album feels really strong to me. I love ‘Between Us’ but there are definitely some tracks on that record that are really different and slower, whereas I think this one really holds the energy well and takes you on a journey. 

TB: ‘Free’ featuring Boo Seeka is a song that immediately stands out on the album with its pulsating and brooding production. It feels very atmospheric. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?

HJ: The very beginnings of that track started on my Prophet-6, and I was just playing around with sequencing, which is notes that move around each other in a scale. I came up with the beat that you hear at the start of the track, and I had just started speaking with Boo Seeka about doing something together and he sent me a couple of acapellas of his, so I started putting some lines on top of what I had made. And I immediately was like “Oh my god, there’s something here, and there’s something in the way his voice reacts to what I’m doing on this synth”. 

Honestly I probably have 30 versions of that song. There is the album version, which is around 5 minutes long. And then I have versions that were 3 minutes long that were being considered as the “single version”, but I realised that it really needed to be 5 minutes long. It’s a skill and art form in itself to structure a song. You want people to flow with the song itself, and not have to make any decisions while listening. I love doing that, so that took a while to map out with this song. 

TB: ‘Fade’ is another strong highlight on the album for the opposite reasoning as it’s bouncy, bright and playful. I feel like every song has a visual identity for you, so what visuals do you see when you hear this track?

HJ: You know what, I was thinking about this the other day. The Chemical Brothers have this LED wall behind them when they perform live and they’ve got crazy graphics like clowns etc. But it’s also all about movement. This song is quite simple. There is just bass, drums, synth and vocals, that is it. But that is what I love doing. It reminds me of ‘Something About You’. Super simple and to the point. But in my head I see marching for this song, with this constant movement of people flowing past. 

TB: You mentioned before that ‘Free’ took a while to get it to where it is now on the album, but what song actually went through the most versions from the demo stage to album masters? 

HJ: I think it was ‘Hold Tight’ actually. I worked with this group of vocalists from the UK at the end of 2019 where we came up with ‘Hold Tight’. But I would say that there are more than 30 versions of that song that exist. The early versions of that song were less of a piano house song, and had more of a drop with a bigger dance vibe. It just didn’t feel like me, and there was a big internal torture to get it right *laughs*. A big part of my process is to actually have a break from the song and to stop listening to it. So that is what I did for like 6 months, and then I came back to it and questioned myself why I gravitated back to it. And immediately I could pinpoint that the vocals were the hero of that song, so we workshopped it from there. 

TB: What were the first and last songs you finished for this record? 

HJ: I would say the first song I wrote for this record was ‘Lifted’. I came up with those chords, and immediately had tingles. I took it to Tudor and explained to him that I wanted to make something that felt uplifting, had more energy, and was something that would make me want to get out of this pandemic and play it to people. So that is where we came up with the lyrics for that song. I really love the line “lifting my feet off the ground”, it’s so euphoric. 

The last song I wrote for the album was “I Won’t Let You Down’, and I actually wrote that in quarantine. I was in the states in October 2021. I got Covid, missed my flight home, eventually got back, but was one of the last people to spend 2 weeks in hotel quarantine. On day 10 it was announced by the government that they weren’t going to do it anymore, and I was like … “awesome” *laughs*. 

TB: When you look at those two songs side by side do you see any parallels or growth from the journey in-between? 

HJ: I do! They are both kind of out layers for me. I usually write songs that are structured like; verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, etc..  Like more of a pop song structure. Whereas these two songs are kinda similar where they’re more of a vibe and journey than anything else. They’re kinda bookends I guess in my mental world of starting the record with ‘Lifted’, writing a bunch of pop songs in between, and then ending it with another journey. 

TB: You wrote this album from the yearning of being able to bring people together again, dance again, and perform again. How did your process of editing alter as you weren’t able to play songs live and see how they fit/react like you have been able to in the past?

HJ: It was honestly tough not being able to play stuff. But I also feel that with my stuff because it’s more song based the power is when people know the songs and can shout it back to you, and you can see them with your friends enjoying it. I remember when I dropped ‘Something About You’ for the first time while I was DJ-ing and being like “I’m writing some house music at the moment, and this is the first song” and it was literally as if it was a bummer. *Laughs*. I was like “Oh, I don’t know about this song”. So I try not to rely on testing songs out, as it doesn’t always work. So it’s more about my feelings and my gut. But in saying that I do usually have friends over for a bbq and get them to listen to a demo or two and get some feedback, but I wasn’t able to do that this time around. 

You’ve mentioned to me that you’ve also played this album a bit for your two year old son, who’s favourite tracks are ‘On Your Own’ and ‘Fade’. So first of all, he has taste. And second of all, that must have been an interesting sounding board. 

HJ: *Laughs* yeah! Whenever we would go in the car I would be like “sorry buddy we are going to listen to some of daddy’s demos now” *laughs*, and then I would tell him the different song names as I was playing them. Anyways, one day he asked randomly for me to play ‘Fade… daddy’s song”. So I gave him what he wanted *laughs*. 

TB: The stream I have of the album goes straight into the instrumentals after the album finishes, and it was so cool to see everything stripped back to that sentiment and see how they are still so engaging, and had me connecting completely differently to some songs. Do you find that you have different relationships with some of the instrumentals than the full versions? 

HJ: You know what, I haven’t purposely listened to the instrumentals of the album because I start by writing the music, and then the lyrics have such a strong relationship of how I build the instrumental.  So I haven’t purposely sat down and listened to this album instrumentally, but I definitely should do that. Thinking about it,‘Free’ would be epic instrumentally, I’m keen to have an actual listen like that now.  

TB: You are heading out on a huge run of dates in August and September. So with this show all about bringing everyone together again and creating a safe and fun space, I feel like the visual identity of the show is going to play a major part. How are you planning this show to bridge that interactive gap?

HJ: It’s a whole new live show! The first time I’m playing it is at Coachella, so beginning really light obviously *laughs*. We’ve been building the show for about five months now and really breaking down what the show is audio wise, and then what people see visually. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanna do on stage, and what I wanna hear instead of thinking about what other people want. I really wanna enjoy myself, and have fun on the stage, and manipulate the live show so that every show is uniquely different. I want people to be able to come to multiple shows if they want, and experience a different show every time. 

TB: Let’s play a rapid fire of questions about the album. Are you ready?

HJ: Let’s go!

TB: The emoji that best describes my new album ‘LIFTED’ is…

HJ: The party guy.

TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…

HJ: ‘Down On Me’.

TB: The song I’m looking most forward to performing live would be…

HJ: ‘Lifted’.

TB: Another name for the album I played with was…

HJ: It was always ‘Lifted’. I never had anything else for it to be honest. 

TB: If your friend hadn’t heard any of my new music, the first track I would play them off the album would be…

HJ: ‘On Your Own’!

‘LIFTED’ is out now!

Hayden James Australian Tour

Friday, 12 August – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane

Friday, 19 August – John Cain Arena, Melbourne 

Saturday, 20 August- Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide 

Saturday, 27 August – Red Hill Auditorium, Perth 

Saturday, 3 September – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney