logo

Name: Hayden James
Occupation: Producer, DJ, songwriter
Nationality: Australian  
Current release: Hayden James's LIFTED is out via Future Classic. In may, Hayden will embark on a North American tour in support of the album. For more information, check out his tour dates.
Gear recommendations: Microcosm Pedal by Hologram Electronics - this is just so epic. I play my hardware synths through this and it create a whole new world and I feel there’s an immediate vibe in the studio.
Prophet 6 by Dave Smith - It’s my go to synth. I feel so comfortable with it because I can create on it so quickly. There’s no crazy menu diving. All the important stuff is right in front of you. I can’t recommend it enough.

If you enjoyed this interview with Hayden James and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, Instagran, twitter, and Soundcloud.



For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualization' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

Great question.

For me there has to be a spark. It’s like a first date. There's gotta be something there that makes you think, feel and vibe with. That can be as simple as a sound I've designed or a chord progression but it’s just gotta make me feel something.

There’s not a lot of ‘chance’ in my song writing process to be honest. I am always planning and thinking about a record pretty intently.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

I really wish I paid more attention to myself and my mood when I ‘get in the zone’ and write music I love. I think it’s super important in the songwriting process. There are a couple things I do / have noticed that help me finish a record and get me in that right mindset.

First one is time. If I write a demo and try to finish it that day I'll usually fall out of love with it pretty quickly. The best thing I can do when I know I have something is get the main parts / structure down and then leave it for a week or so. This kind of resets my brain and the way I think about the song and gives me a fresh perspective I need to either finish the song or change it up to a point where I'm happy with it.

The other ritual I have is putting on a favorite video clip or nature clip on YouTube. I then mute that audio and write to that visual.. Kind of like I'm scoring the clip. That helps me alot from a creative perspective.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

95% of the time I just start with a simple pad or piano patch and just start playing keys. From there it’s a process of building the blocks up. That other 5% of the time it’ll be a vocal / lyric I wrote or theme I'm thinking about.

I usually have something like that in my head for a couple weeks before I attack it in the studio.

When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?

It’s different for me everytime. I write a lot of the lyrics of course. They need to make sense to me and come from the same feeling as other tracks I'm writing. I also love working with my collaborators and molding what they’ve written to an instrumental of mine.

My wife, Jennifer, is also an amazing lyricist. We co-wrote ‘Better Together’ a couple of years ago with Running Touch.

How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?

I’ll be the first to say I'm not the biggest nerd when it comes to producing. My heart for all of this comes from the song writing process first and foremost. That being said, I do have a lot of gear in my studio! I get lost in my analogue world which is so fun.

The latest piece of gear I bought that ended up on the record multiple times is a series of pedals (verbs, delays, fx etc) that really help shape and effect the sounds I'm working with. It’s a little inspiration machine that I feel is quite unique and helps me creatively if I'm stuck on a song.

What was your first studio like?

I had one piece of equipment - Roland MC-303 Groovebox. That was it and it blew my mind. I never wrote anything great on it but it taught me a whole lot.

Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

Short answer, not really. There’s always new and crazy synths, plugs etc that come out but I feel sometimes it can become a hindrance to the writing process. Too much choice is not always a great thing.

On the production and mixing side of things I'm always looking for new and interesting processing tools but I try to keep it simple when I'm actually writing the demo.

A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?

For me it depends on your writing situation. I currently have a studio which is just one room and a whole lot of synths which I love. When I'm on the road, nothing beats a laptop with a great set of headphones (Phonons) for ease. I find I write a lot of demo ideas on the road with a simple setup and then bring them back into the main studio when I'm home.

Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.

Yes, it’s possible. Do I do that? Not really hah.

I absolutely have a massive ‘lost demos’ folder where there’s a bunch of songs that didn’t make the album but that’s usually because I felt they weren’t good enough. Everything I work on I genuinely believe in and feel they could be released. All the others just sit there really.

I would rather write something new than sift through older ideas I didn’t want to pursue in the first place.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process?

When my manager shouts at me, it marks the end of the process. I am joking, Luke you’re an incredible man.

I always feel when something is done because I can’t stop listening to the record and am really excited about it. It’s actually really hard to describe that moment because as the songwriter / producer, you just know.

How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?

It’s everything. One of the most important things to me at the end of the day is that it needs to sound like a ‘Hayden James’ record. Everytime.

It’s in the way the vocal is processed, the structure of the song or the specific elements and instruments I've used to build the song.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?

This is one of the hardest questions for an artist I believe. How long is a piece of string.

I think it ultimately comes down to you as the artist and how you feel about the song. Does it give you everything you want it to, does it sound like you intended?

For me, usually the more time I have to write and finish a song the harder it is to do so. If there’s a tight deadline on something it forces me to make decisions and focus on what’s important in the song.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

It’s the opposite for me. When I've worked on a song for a long time and it’s mastered and ready to be released I actually won’t listen to it until the day of release. Not by design, but because I'm kind of sick of the song hah.

But when a song is released it feels like it’s born again to me. The feeling I get when I know people can search for that song and play it in their car, in their homes, at a house party is the wildest feeling ... I made this song in my studio and now it’s yours forever … I love that.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

Wow, that's a really great question. You have me thinking about my life and what I do outside of music.

I feel creating music is in its own world. Yes photography, writing, painting and even cooking come very close and even overlap with regards to creative processes but I do believe writing music is truly unique.

I don’t believe (in my eyes) I’m expressing emotions / feels through music that I can’t in other aspects of my life.