SHAINA HAYES interview – “Farming taught me how to enjoy creating”

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Credit: Lawrence Fafard

On the day I connect with Shaina Hayes via a Zoom call she’s on the road with Zouz. “They’re a noise-rock band, and I’m doing backup vocals for the next couple of shows,” she says. “So they’re doing the soundcheck and I am in our hotel room.”

Noise-rock is not her usual genre. After studying jazz voice at Montreal’s Vanier College, Hayes proceeded to build a musical career performing and recording with multiple groups, most notably Montreal’s Thanya Iyer. She has also been an active and integral player both musically and in the organization of the annual Shigawake Agricultural Fair and Music Festival since its inception in 2009. Alongside her musical career, she has maintained her roots in farming, spearheading horticultural projects both in Shigawake and near Montréal, where she now resides.

Born in a small farming and fishing village called Shigawake, Quebec, Hayes’ intrinsic ties to her homeland and distinctive heritage have forged an earnest and glimmering framework onto which her music takes shape. I ask how growing up in Shigawake may have affected the songs she writes.

“I’ll spend the rest of my life sort of really understanding exactly what impact it’s had but I think what I came to realize recently is just that it is such a beautiful place. And I lived there for the first 17 years of my life and we recorded the album there, but even if I’m not drawing any kind of direct inspiration from that place, I think with it having been so beautiful, it definitely is what I would say is like the reference point for my taste in what I find beautiful most simply, you know what I mean? It’s like being sort of steeped in an environment like that, there’s something to be said for it being my reference point for what is beautiful which is to say like, it definitely informs every creative decision I make to some degree because it’s the fundamentals of how my aesthetic tastes built and my taste for what is beautiful.”

The album in question is titled to coax a waltz and it beautifully encapsulates her imaginative and polished country/folk musicality.  Shaina will launch the album with a show in Montreal on May 25th at URSA.

It’s unusual for an artist releasing new music to also be totally focused on life on the farm, but Shaina believes her farming has completely informed her work as a musician.

“I come from such a small place where there really wasn’t any live music. There weren’t even really record stores or places you could buy music and I didn’t have TV. It was a pretty isolated upbringing, like kind of moving to the city and starting to study jazz was a real kind of kick in the gut in some ways, just in terms of it being competitive and there being a lot of kids who had a lot of skills that I didn’t have starting out and I really was coming there with no musical training whatsoever. And obviously, I like enjoyed studying music and enjoyed getting my degree and met a lot of wonderful people, but the kind of competitive nature was really something I didn’t know how to navigate. And so I certainly wasn’t creating at that point. I was performing doing interpretive stuff and had a good time, but ultimately it really had taken a toll on my ability to trust myself, to be able to create music. And then I ended up just burning out on doing music in general and then turned towards farming and have been farming for the last six or seven years, I guess and had really gone towards farming wanting to very consciously move away from the creative world. I was like, I can’t navigate this. This is something I know because I grew up on a farm. I went into farming, really wanting to get away from creativity. But in the end, after a couple of years of running my own farm, it became very clear to me that the things that I love about farming – and I’m going to continue to farm through doing my music now, for sure – the things that I really love about farming, the things that draw me to it, I think are inherently creative things as well. Just creating a beautiful landscape out of nothing, growing these beautiful vegetables, giving them to people. I know it’s not the case for all farmers, but for me, through farming I was able to really nurture my desire to be creating and on account of my growing vegetables, being very much a seasonal thing that leaves me my winters, I was inspired enough to then use my winters to go back to music and to start writing and to record this album. So they kind of go hand in hand.”

In February 2021, Shaina brought a small team of Montreal-based artists to Shigawake to arrange and record to coax a waltz. The team comprised of Shaina (vocalist/guitarist), recording engineer and drummer, Francis Ledoux (drummer for Helena DelandzouzJesse Mac Cormack), guitarist, and David Marchand (guitarist/vocalist for zouzMon Doux SaigneurAlex BurgerLaurence Anne).

Recently Shaina shared a beautifully filmed live session featuring three songs from the record.

“It’s just myself and David Marchand playing and Francis who had recorded it, he did the audio, and this incredible videographer Marc-André Dupaull filmed it and he is a genius. I was so happy to work with him. I don’t know if you’ve seen the live session yet, but it’s incredible. I won’t spoil it, but the first video is one shot, him, camera, live and it’s cool. It’s one sequence. And he captured some really great stuff.”

Watch the live session below:

Despite growing up in a remote environment, Shaina Hayes tells her parents listened to a lot of music. They bought mail-order CDs. “My first one was Shania Twain, obviously,” she says, “but it was a lot of kind of classic stuff, lots of Fleetwood Mac, lots of the Beatles. My family really loved David Francey.” But Shaina also has a connection to another much-loved Montreal band.

“The Barr Brothers are family members of mine. So my sister’s married to Andrew from the Barr Brothers. They’ve been in my family for a long time, so definitely I’ve been exposed to that kind of side of things. And it definitely inspired me to study music because a lot of them had studied music in Montreal so it exposed me to that being an option for me.”

You can catch Shaina at URSA in Montreal on May 25th. TICKETS HERE

Watch the full interview below:

to coax a waltz is out now

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