A conversation with Hayden James at Beyond The Valley 2019

How are you finding Beyond the Valley so far?

Good, I got here last night and played a couple of secret DJ sets. My show is tonight playing 9:30 on the mainstage and then it goes to Rüfüs into the New Year and then Dom Dolla; I’m fucking pumped! 

Are you going to be out there watching everyone else perform after you’re finished?

Yes! One hundred percent. We’ve unfortunately got to drive to Melbourne airport and stay the night then fly the next morning, so I’m going to regret everything I do tonight but I’m going to enjoy it.

So in saying that, how do you deal with touring around; do you find it really tiring?

It’s a balance, but yeh it’s hard. I’m honestly lucky enough to be able to choose some shows that I do and don’t do, so I kind of focus my time around my family to be honest, and my work. 

Touring is a great release, it’s a celebration I find, this is the really fun part of what we do. It’s funny because you get nervous and all that stuff, but this is why I do what I do, and this is why I write what I write in the studio by myself. 

To play in front of 15,000 – 20,000 people at a time, its epic. Sometimes if you do that a little bit and you’re travelling the world you kind of forget the magic and let go a bit. Even the last couple of days I’ve really been focussing on just enjoying the moment and being a part of it; it’s just so special to be here and enjoy it with everyone.

Do you ever get emotional when you’re writing and how do you go with performing when you’ve got an attachment to the song? And when you play those songs over and over, does it desensitise you from the emotions?

Great question, it does, especially the first time you play something. I’m playing a brand new song tonight and I’m very nervous because it’s quite different for me, it’s more of a dancing kind of banger, housey-thing, which I’m kind of going more into.

I think the record I brought out this year was very personal, it’s about relationships and people I’ve met in my past; friends and family and things. 

The first time you play it’s honestly all about the crowd, when you play and the crowd reacts to it; it’s that give and take that’s incredible. 

Because you don’t know how people will react, they could just be like ‘what’s going on?’

Exactly! I remember the first time I played Just Friends to a couple of my friends at a BBQ like ‘hey here’s a new song that I wrote what do you think?’ And someone said ‘too many words’. And I was like ‘oh’. 

Then I played Something About You to a bunch of friends when it was about to come out and they were like ‘ah it’s ok’. 

So that’s the thing, it’s about where and when you listen to it and that’s what I love about music; it’s super subjective. No one has really hated on my stuff which is amazing but each to their own. Don’t send hate, if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it, it’s pretty simple. But I don’t feel too much pressure about that stuff, I just do what I do and go from there. 

So in terms of pre-stage, you said you get a bit nervous; do you have any rituals? What do you do to get through it?

Yeh, about an hour before I go on stage I get super nervous and don’t talk to anyone. My wife Jen’s not here tonight, she’s in Sydney, but usually I kiss her right before I go on stage like ‘lets go, here we go.’ 

About an hour before I get kind of weird and just focus on the set and what I want to say and really get in the zone. I probably do a couple party-pumps, party push-ups, and yeah it’s just this weird awesome energy; if I didn’t feel that I think I’d be doing something wrong. 

I think it’s important to have that nervous energy, it’s even starting now as soon as you said that. It’s good, I’ve never skydived but it’s like I’m about to jump off something; I feel the adrenaline rush through my body. 

I’ve heard of performers going on stage and doing everything perfectly but they don’t remember a thing.  Do you ever zone out when you’re on stage?

I only did once; it was Splendour, because it was so important the gig was so big, it was the biggest show of my life. We had practiced and rehearsed so much and I hardly remember being on stage because I was so focused and there was so much mental energy. I just remember walking off stage and going ‘holy shit what just happened?’ That was one of my favourite shows and I was stone-cold sober, I just don’t remember it. 

To back track a bit, just to give people some context; how did you start out?

I played piano and guitar from a young age, singing a little bit, but yeh played a lot of jazz piano and stuff like that. My mum was a school teacher and played a lot of guitar as well, there was a lot of music in the house. Actually, my dad is tone deaf so he can’t sing for shit, but my brother who is older than me, listened to a lot of Pearl Jam and Nirvana and then he brought home Daft Punk one day. He brought home their single which was Around The world, and when I heard that I thought ‘oh shit what is this?’ Well, I was 14 at the time so I probably didn’t say ‘oh shit’, but it affected me, I was like ‘what is this music?’ 

From there I was like ‘I really like this, I want to do this.’ I was working from 14 and nine months, I had a part time job, it was a chicken shop or something and I earnt enough money over a year and a half to by a turntable. On my 16th birthday, my parents bought me the other turntable, so I had decks. I was playing weddings and 21st’s and I was 16 years old. I just played vinyl and had a tape player as well, so this was way back, it was pretty hectic.

Daft Punk was the pivotal moment?

Yeh Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers, it started from there and then I went to uni and studied finance. 

Finance, that’s quite different.

Well kind of and not. People think I don’t use it but I do because I run my own business, I run Hayden James touring. 

When I was at uni in Sydney, instead of working at a bar to earn money I would be DJing on weekends. I started DJing four to five nights a week, I’d listen to lots of music but had never really written anything for myself. Then I just started writing stuff and one of the first pieces I wrote was Permission To Love, it went from there.

Has your production process changed drastically since then?

Oh, massively. Definitely through technology and meeting people, like I have sessions with a lot of people this year from Dom Dolla to Golden Features, all these amazing artists. The great thing is that I learn something completely different every time. Everyone writes music differently, everyone uses the technology differently, like the Ableton sessions and Logic they use differently. 

So from when I started writing to now it is super different, but the actual idea behind writing and the musicality has stayed the same; simplicity for me is key, I always say that. 

As you said, everyone goes about production in a different way, is there ever creative conflict?

Not for me. It’s kind of like I’ve written it and I’m like ‘this is it, I feel this is right’. GRAACE and Running Touch and I wrote together and it was one hundred percent together; there was no conflict, we just thought ‘yep this is the right thing for the track’. 

It’s pretty lucky right? When that doesn’t happen for me it’s not really a conflict, it’s just like you don’t finish the song.

Are you fine with that? Can you just let the song go?

Yeh, it’s like don’t fight for something if it doesn’t come immediately and you’re working really hard to make it work; don’t force it.

It’s like when you’re reading a book and you really want to finish it but you’re not enjoying it.

Exactly! If it’s not a textbook for an exam then let it go.

What are you working on, what is 2020?

2020 is dance music. Between Us the record was about telling a story for me, and about creating an album where you could listen to the first song all the way through to the last song and it felt right all the way through. That was really important for me. 

But 2020 for me is releasing a lot of singles, one is coming soon that I’m playing tonight, I’m really pumped, it’s dance music. 

I’m playing all throughout Europe next year all through summer, like ten weeks in Europe, just on the weekends. In the downtime I’ll be writing somewhere in an Airbnb then go to these gigs, I’m very lucky.

Do you ever look back and it overwhelms you?

Yeh, it’s crazy. I don’t understand, it’s super weird.

Was there ever a moment when you were just like ‘yep, I’ve made it’? Or is it just a gradual thing that keeps going?

No, I still don’t think like that at all. It’s weird, I think I need to think a little more highly of myself. I don’t put myself down but I also don’t think I’m anybody. I’m just like you, we’re the same, I’m just a dude, I don’t care, it’s just like this is my job.

One last question, if you weren’t here playing, what would you be doing on a normal New Years Eve?

Hanging with my family. My folks have a really cool apartment in Sydney that looks over the harbour, it’s epic. You can see the fireworks and all that stuff. So I’d be there with them, that’s it.

This article was written by Tomasina Dimopoulos. When she’s not working in communications and PR, you can find her writing poetry and having a boogie. Follow her on Insta: @tomasinadim & @taste_these_words.

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