For someone who has just released his debut album, Hayden James has already put together a mightily impressive CV. Since his self-titled EP, the Sydney native has toured with Disclosure, graced the stages of major local festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Groovin’ the Moo, and picked up a couple of ARIA award nominations along the way.
Now, James is set to continue his expansion into global territories following the release of Between Us. We chatted with him about his home studio and explored his creative process – which involved teaming up with a huge list of vocal talents – and examined how he’ll recreate the atmosphere of his record on the big stage.
Ahead of his massive headline tour, Hayden James took five to discuss his approach to collaboration, favourite toys and above all, keeping it simple.
So you’ve got a new home base for your productions. Tell us what you love about it?
I’ve always worked from home. It’s hard at the beginning to make part of your home your workplace but over the years I’ve managed to figure out what works for me.
What got you started on your journey?
You’ve just released your debut album – Between Us – so what are you working on right now? Or are you just taking a breath for a minute?
No time for a breath, hah! I’m finishing off all the preparation for my world tour. I make sure to take a long time developing the live show musically and also what you see – the production elements. I look at building a live show as theatre. It needs to be as polished and exciting as possible for the audience. Once I’ve finished this… back to writing more music!
Collaborations with vocalists feature heavily on the record. Do you have any icebreakers to kick off the process?
It’s kinda weird this industry we’re in with regards to how we work with people. We almost expect everything to go well all the time and for there to be this instant connection, but we know full well that it’s not always the case. Before I jump in the studio with someone I love going to grab a coffee or lunch first – get to know the artist, learn who they are and talk about stuff that’s not music related.
Of course, getting the best vocal performance possible is key. But I feel like the way you paint sounds with vocal samples means that recording vocals is just the beginning. Is that true for you? And what are your favourite ways to work with vocal sounds in production?
So many times I’ve gone to re-record a vocal that I felt was just a demo vocal because it was recorded in the moment, or not using my best mics. But when I have re-recorded it’s just not the same – it doesn’t have that first take magic. A lot of what you hear on my album are first takes because we’ve managed to capture that vibe/feeling straight away. It’s hard to recreate that. I love manipulating vocals and treating them like samples too – it’s definitely in my production DNA.
What are some pieces of gear that have become essential to your workflow?
I work on Ableton Live. It’s quick and so intuitive. I know the program very well which allows me to focus on the idea and not the process of how to get something done. The other piece of gear I use everyday is my DSI Prophet 6.
What are some of your techniques for getting through a creative roadblock?
Spending time away from the studio. I’ve found if you stay in there and you’re not in the right frame of mind, it’s just a waste of time. Take time away from your demos and equipment and go do something else!
What is the cheapest piece of gear that you feel like you gotten to most out of?
I bought an OP-1 a couple years ago that I use every time I travel. It’s great for getting random ideas down on the go. I use it on planes a lot.
What do you find always challenges you in the studio? How do you overcome it?
What challenges me most is the production of the song. What do I want it to sound like, what synths should I use, how should they be processed. This is where my No. 1 rule comes in handy – keep it simple!
Do you have any producer heroes? What is it about them that you love?
Pharrell Williams – I remember starting out and watching a whole bunch of YouTube clips of him in the studio recording the N.E.R.D albums. His process and creativity is really inspiring. He breaks rules all the time and continues to question his process which I feel really opens you up to new and interesting ideas.
You’re hitting the road soon. How much prep work goes into bringing these new tracks to life on stage?
A massive amount of work for me and my team. I work closely with my musical director (Joel Farland) to figure out the “how are we going to play this song and what are we going to play it on?” side of things.
I also work very closely with my production team at Colourblind figuring out what the show looks like and how it runs. There are a lot of moving parts but my favourite time building a show is figuring out the set itself and creating new live versions of songs that you’ll only hear at the shows. That, I do on my own.
Getting to the stage of your career when you can release a debut album is a huge achievement. Did you have a particular moment when you thought, ” I can do this”?
It’s been quite a journey to get here and I’m so proud and happy with what I’ve finally released. It’s amazing to receive all the positive feedback about the album. People all over the world are reaching out and letting me know they love it. It’s an incredible feeling.
Do you find yourself narrowly focussed on details when you’re building a track? Or do you feel like you can always see the big picture?
For me it’s always about writing the song first before I do anything else. I don’t focus on production, sounds or anything. I just write. I feel this allows me to see the big picture.
What are some of your goals for the future?
Release more and more music, continue to build my live show to be something very special and enjoy playing music to people all over the world.
Between Us is out now via Future Classic.