Tuesday, June 2, 2009
It’s no secret that the music industry has changed significantly in the last ten years. There are so many contributing factors – piracy, blogs and myspace being the biggest instruments of change – but the end result is simple. Music lacks icons. No longer do talented musicians tower above us, living the lives we only dream of. As musicians trade emails with overzealous bloggers, any sense of mystique is removed and we all realize that most musicians are just awkward people and more like us than we'd like to admit.
It’s hard to imagine a rock star from the 70’s/80’s taking the time to talk to the biggest publication, let alone a small run magazine with little understanding of music history, but in today’s music scene that is exactly what happens on a daily basis. A few years ago, if you tried to tell someone that Elvis Costello would sit down for phoners with a high school or university aged hobbyist hoping to move units for the Momofuku release or that bands that hadn't even released an EP would have PR firms behind them and play huge European festivals, well you’d be laughed out of the bar. But this is 2009 and now that’s how the music industry works.
The success of an artist is determined by the opinion of the untrained ear and inaccurate pen. Musicians are forced to pander to people that exist without accountability, and forging friendships often goes farther than the strength of the music they write. Stepping off the pulpit and into the congregation has made it virtually impossible for musicians to remain interesting. Trite remarks and attitude no longer make front page news, and arrogance is regarded as a fault. Musicians are forced to sit through pointless interviews, hoping not to offend a fickle interviewer that doesn’t care if the questions have been asked countless time by countless journalists.
It’s the way we operate now. Everyone knows everything about everyone. An incessant amount of social commentary from self-proclaimed experts has made the adage, “everyone has a voice”, a destructive premise instead of a positive one. Sound bites and popular opinion have replaced critical thinking in everything as serious as politics to as relatively insignificant as music. Gone are the days that any press is good press. In fact, in most cases press is negative and we become so over saturated with artists that we want to see them at best fail, or at least go away.
Whether Paul Hayden Desser knows it or not, his promotional approach is helping solidify his image. Sure, he has some major label support behind his own imprint, but instead of falling victim to the game he essentially has removed himself from it. Rather than endless self-promotion, Desser retreats from the public eye and manages to stay somewhat of a mystery to his fans. His new record, The Place Where We Lived, dropped May 26th on Hardwood Records and I'm not sure anyone even knew it was coming, but other than the surprise of another Hayden record being released only 15 months or so after the last, the songs aren't that much different than his other records and strangely that makes it more appealing to me.
With each critically acclaimed but relatively uncelebrated release, you start to think of Hayden as an honest, small town song writer unconcerned with the success of his songs or the audience that will hear it. Unquestionably, you also start to think of him in better regard. His unique vocals and familiar strums are reassuring, and so is the fact we really don't know much about the man. He lives in a small town, is supremely talented and everything else is up for grabs.
Make no mistake, Hayden tries new things on The Place Where We Lived. First, he worked with Howie Beck and undoubtedly there are moments where the electric work falls into the realm of beautiful folk pop. He recorded it live off the floor with Cuff the Duke backing him up and the comfort level they have really shines through. Basically, he tried things he wanted to try and the quick hitting disc is stacked with somber and stark AND spontaneity. The horns that creep into the background of the beautiful, tender piano ballad When The Night Came And Took Us, the electric blasts that break the serenity of the record on Dilapidated Heart, the steel and banjo instrumental that comes out of nowhere or the country swing he throws into the fantastic single, Let's Break Up show him stretching his legs. You can see that Hayden's grown, that he's changed, but not enough for you to feel like you are different now.
No, you listen and smile knowing this sad sack is still writing the type of depressing songs we love and somehow make us smile, he just keep getting better at writing them. From the opening moments of this record, Hayden delivers ear pleasing melancholy - including the terrific song (Message From London) he offered up for the fantastic YerBird comp a few years back - that float buy unassumingly. Like your favorite shirt or an old book, Hayden's records are something you can reach for whenever you need him and in today's world of disposable heroes, that is something not to be taken lightly.
MP3:: Hayden - Let's Break Up