Five Easy Pieces - Where To Start With Darren Hayman
This is Hefner’s very first music video, taken from the debut album Breaking God’s Heart. Although Hayman has at times said that he wasn’t a fan of the record, to mark the 20th anniversary of its release in 1998 he’s been playing songs from it at gigs, recently telling the NARC website that “My residing memory of it is that it’s an odd sounding record, I think it’s awkward and slightly embarrassing, but I do think it’s quite extraordinary, especially if you put it against the trends of the records of the time, in the sense that it’s very indebted to American indie rock.”
After suffering a serious head injury, Hayman needed quiet music to listen to as part of the recuperation process. As ever with his creative practice, this ended up becoming an entirely new project; songs played on an old 1930s piano that had once entertained passengers aboard a ship. Said Hayman of how the record came to be, “Mine was built in France in 1933 and folds away to resemble a sideboard. I wrote a song where I imagine its history.”
A song that shows off many of Hayman’s idiosyncrasies in one go. Firstly, this is just one in many wonderful collaborations throughout his discography. Secondly, it’s from another smart project - the album January Songs - made up of tracks recorded each day in January 2011. Thirdly, while his ‘historical’ records have taken the lead in recent years, it shows he does a bitter, funny love song as well as anyone.
One of the most striking aspects to Hayman’s The Violence album was how its songs about the paranoia of the 16th Century East Anglian witch trials had so many contemporary resonances. That’s perhaps most easy to pick up in this rather lovely, breezy track and accompanying animated video. As Hayman said at the time,“It’s about how violence frightens us and how fear just leads to greater violence.”
The three album Thankful Villages trilogy is arguably Hayman’s most ambitious project to date, sending him to each of the English settlements which lost no young men in the First World War. Every track he wrote features specific elements unique to each village; be that sound recordings, paintings made, or videos shot.
“All sorts of artists pick subjects, I started to consider that albums should be like short novels with different chapters. I just try and think what would be unlikely in a song. That puzzle intrigues me, and of course it has to be something that is interesting to me. Obviously I’m inspired by other records sonically and musically but subject matter often comes from conversations, friends…one idea often leads to another.”
“I would hope that I’m always writing about people but I am definitely quite focussed on location, and now time, as framing devices. I’m still singing about the same stuff though. Even the Witch Trials album will have songs about feeling out of place, which is what nearly all of my songs are about really. The way none of us feel as though we quite fit.”
“I don't write songs because of an all consuming passion and I don't write songs to reach people or to communicate or emote. I write songs because when I do so it's the only time I feel truly calm. Songs, to me, are puzzles. A little while ago I believe I cracked the puzzle of how to write a slightly witty though touching contemporary folk song. I wanted to create some harder puzzles, like doing the hard sudoku in the Guardian on Thursdays. This is one reason I find myself currently writing whole albums about New Towns, illegal dog fights and astronauts. How do you write a song about the building of a tower block and break somebody's heart at the same time?”
“If you are a songwriter and something bad happens to you, people say, ‘You can write a song about it at least.’ They mean well, but the big events in life have to seep out gradually with me and not in urgent, confessional bursts. The songs on this record are pleas for calm. As I get older I find I prefer small, quiet things.”