Hayden wants to be alone together. After several years, he returns to Halifax with his latest album Us Alone.
"So much has changed in my life, but as a musician, not a ton," says Hayden Desser. "I still go weeks or months not playing at all, I leave the room when people at a party pass around a guitar and I almost always put out campfires."
Seven albums later, Desser, at 42 years old (and not dead, though for awhile his Wikipedia entry declared him so), now a father and husband, is still one of the most authentic, heartfelt Canadian musicians.
Almost mythic in his reclusiveness, Desser was never one to soak in the limelight. He preferred to let the music speak for itself. Soft-spoken and pensive, he's working at coming out of his shell. Recording and touring "take up such different parts of me," says Desser. "A good mix of the two is probably healthy. I was definitely on the creative insular side for too long this time."
For a career that started with Everything I Long For, a bedroom recording from his parents' Thornhill, Ontario house, Desser grew into his own studio and label Hardwood Records in Toronto, where he's fostered artists like Basia Bulat, Cuff the Duke and his latest musical darling, Lou Canon. Despite the past 18 years in the music industry, he believes his own creative process hasn't changed much.
"It's a lot of setting up, moving things several times, sharpening pencils," he says. "Resting my head on my recording console, coming up with 100 ideas and liking one of them for 10 minutes. That sort of thing."
Us Alone is an album of quiet confidence. The opener "Motel" is a slow-building road tune that could have been a B-side to 2001's Skyscraper National Park. "Almost Everything" pays tribute to his early years with weighty piano notes, a trademark harmonica solo and even gives nod to Halifax's music scene. Desser's music soothes with subtlety, enveloping listeners and offering a reflective view.
Desser's always written from a place of longing. Longtime fans will appreciate Us Alone's solid collection of songs rooted in wonder and memory. With a gentle dose of nostalgia, he pays respect to the years that shape us, and moments of change. The album's pinnacle is a duet with Canon, "Blurry Nights," depicting a short-lived one-night romance.
A few Christmases ago, Desser gifted his sister-in-law Canon, a schoolteacher, with some recording time. Together they recorded after school, shared pots of tea, ideas and bottles of red wine. Canon released her self-titled debut on Hardwood Records in 2011, on which the two sing another duet together, "In Fall."
"That man is so ridiculously talented," says Canon. "He's everything bundled up into one---multi-instrumentalist, producer, killer tea and steamed milk-maker, engineer and a really funny guy. He's the kindest man I know. I can't imagine anyone else I would have rather started this with."
Canon currently finds herself in Montreal writing for her next album. During the day she flips through Leonard Cohen' Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, and at night she puts herself to sleep reading Marti Olsen Laney's self-help book The Introvert Advantage.
"Events in my life drive me to write---the good ones and the ugly ones. Although mostly the latter," says Canon. "I need a little push from my family. They tell me to keep moving forward when I'm stagnant. These days I look to unfamiliar places and spaces. I like to isolate myself."
The Marquee Ballroom, 2037 Gottingen Street
Saturday, June 1, 9pm, $25/$30
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