Interview: Hayden James @ Smirnoff Sound Collective House Party
Sydney producer HAYDEN JAMES (purveyor of dreamy, finely produced, synth-laden electronica and a member of the notoriously talented Future Classic family) played a massive set at Smirnoff’s Sound Collective House Party.
The lineup saw him playing alongside Steve Aoki and Uberjack’d – not bad considering, the last time we spoke to James (only a year ago), he’d only just begun to garner attention for his unique, genre-blending sound and dropped his first EP on the Future Classic label. Now, he’s considered a highlight on even the best of carefully-curated lineups.
He took some time out afterward to talk about his upcoming EP, his trademark high octane, sensory live show and touring with ODESZA.
That was a great set.
Thank you very much!
How did it compare to Stereosonic?
It was good. [Stereosonic] was interesting – it’s not entirely my vibe, but I really enjoyed it. When I first started playing there was, like, maybe five people there and then it filled out completely. There was a few hundred there ten minutes in, so I really enjoyed it!
On that note, how important do you think the symbiotic relationship between audience and DJ is?
Huge. It’s quintessential; it’s the main thing. You’ve gotta write music that…it’s got to translate. I don’t write music for an audience to be like ‘I’m gonna write a dance track and I want people to dance to this one’. I write what I want to write and it’s great that people enjoy that, too.
It’s kind of reciprocal.
We last spoke to you around the time you were about to drop your eponymous EP. It’s been a little over a year and everyone’s still talking about your incredible sound. How have you personally received all of this positive acclaim?
It’s been awesome because I’ve been able to tour with it for so long. It’s really weird because it’s just like, five tracks and that was out August last year, and to be able to do huge supports this year, including RUFUS [which was] sixteen dates in Australia, a few with Alison Wonderland, and a big ODESZA tour around the states to sold out shows was amazing. It’s really cool to be able to do that off an EP. It’s been incredible.
Yeah! So the boys from ODESZA must be like brothers to you now? Can you give us an insight into what it’s like to be out on tour with them?
It was cool. I actually didn’t know them or their music until a few months before they asked me to go out on tour with them. Ah, they have blown up so much in the states since they dropped their album. They were pretty big, they had two EP’s out, but in Australia they hadn’t really been heard before. Actually Falcona, the group that manages me, brought them down for a few shows with Circofrom Perth. But yeah, it was incredible to tour with them. Again, sold out shows and it was a great introduction for me to be in the states.
When did you get back?
About a month ago.
Okay, so a nice little recovery period and then back to it.
So I love how you’ve crafted the EP to be more of a concept than a collection of just songs. What was it like creating a story that flows so definitely from start to finish?
That’s really important to me. My favorite albums are the ones that make sense, I guess; the ones that have a dialogue, or a kind of story. Not so much a novel but a concept. Like the latest Caribou album, SBTRKT, even ODESZA – stuff that you can listen to from track one until the end of the album and it takes you on a good adventure. That’s really important for me, and that’s why I did my EP like that.
And simultaneously making sure that individually they also make sense…?
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
How do your visuals tie in with that journey?
It all kind of started from the EP artwork. From a guy named Jack Vanzet who is also an artist on Future Classic called Thrupence. Yeah, it kind of bloomed I guess, from all the flowers on my EP artwork and I’ve been working with a few guys – Jim Medcraft and Morph, along with Falconer and Muzz ‘n’ Gaff – helping me out with the idea of becoming visual about my music and what it means to me. That’s the visual art of when I perform.
You contributed your own vocals for the EP too. Was that a new experience for you?
It was. I did all the vocals on the EP except for one track, ‘No Time’. They were meant to be just demos but my management and the label really liked them, so we went for them. And the funny thing is most of those vocal takes were the first take that I did, and I just enjoyed them and that’s how they came out, and that was it. And I just said ‘nah, that’s the feel and go from there’. Yeah, it was good. Now I’m doing a lot more vocal stuff because I’m more confident.
Music wise, you’ve got ‘Permission to Love’, which is this knock out disco track with a tinge of funk flirting with the central sound of the song. You’ve then got tracks like the Flume-esque ‘Lay Down’… would you agree that it’s a Flume-esque vibe?
I’d say it’s more James Blake to be honest. But yeah, I’ve got a lot of different kinds of stuff. I never sit down like, ‘I’m going to write a disco track’, it just comes out and that’s what it is. I never sit down and like… ‘this is going to be upbeat, this is going to be down’ or whatever.
It’s just subconscious inspiration.
Yeah. And then you’ve got these blissful ascending tones in ‘Beginnings’. What does it mean to you to have a body of work with diversity?
I guess, again, that’s the story I’m trying to tell. There are a lot of dance records out there that sit at one level and you can see that in their live shows. I like to have quite a range of, I guess, emotions in my music, which is why it’s so diverse. And there are ups and downs.
And that I think kind of ties back to symbiosis. You can draw on different things depending on what the audience’s vibe is.
Absolutely. There’s so many people who Tweet me, and there’s a huge age range and like, so many different styles of music. So there’s some people who like one track and don’t like the other tracks, and vice versa. So yeah, that’s cool.
Keeping in mind the stunning arrangement of your tracks, what did it take for you to put together your live show?
Quite a lot! Actually the guy who helped me with my live show is sitting right there, his name is Joel Farland, and he helped me a lot. I didn’t know too much about setting up a live show, but I knew what I wanted to do. He was the one that helped me sort all that out, and I could pretty much go ‘this is what I need’ and he was like ‘this is how you do it’ and it was really fun to perform the tracks. Not in their original state, but versions of them for live [performances]. You learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t with a live audience, especially touring with RUFUS and ODESZA, seeing when people react to certain things and, yeah I’ve changed the live show a lot. It’s all about progression.
You’ve hit over 20K followers on SoundCloud. What an incredibly huge milestone for an artist who’s come into his own over the past year. What does it mean to you to be connected to so many people across the globe?
It’s amazing. It’s cool. It’s really weird because on Soundcloud you just see numbers – like this song has half a million hits or a hundred thousand hits or whatever, and it doesn’t really equate. Like, it’s kind of weird, it’s just a number and I’m on my computer at home looking at it. But, when you really stop and think about it and think about how many people support you and all the listeners, it’s bloody amazing. It’s so cool. And it’s so great to have something like that other than Facebook that kind of filter down how many people can follow you, can see your post, whereas Soundcloud is out there and the people that follow you will get it on their stream straight away, so yeah it’s amazing. It’s really cool.
Has the support of people in all corners of the world affected the way you approach your music?
No it hasn’t. At all. I still make what I want to make. But touring with certain acts has influenced me quite a lot in my two next releases, and the kind of way I want to go. But the people that support me don’t change the way I want to go, no.
I saw on Facebook that you’re hard at work on your next EP. Are there a few words you can give us to describe what you’ve been creating?
Um, no. [Laughs]. I’ve got a track coming out in about a week and a half on Future Classic, and it’s a single called ‘Something About You’. Um, just wait to hear it.
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Words by Cheryl Billman