Shannon Hayden: “I wanted to create my own notes.” Interview by Ruth Bailey


If you happen to be travelling through middle America this autumn (spring in the Northern Hemisphere) you could be lucky to stumble upon the refreshingly original performance of musician, Shannon Hayden.

“As far as music is concerned – for me, it’s mostly about the live performance, because then I can be working on expressing an idea and I can get immediate feedback (not just feedback), [the audience are]also involved with the whole evening. If the vibe’s not right in the whole venue then, you know, I don’t feel like the performance will be quite the same. It’s really a collaboration between the audience and the performer.”

Who exactly is this powerhouse of a performer though and where does she hail from? Well, she’s an Illinois-born and bred 25-year-old cellist who is rocking her way across the United States, into Canada and further abroad with her unique electronic-fused cello compositions accompanied by her own soulful vocals. From a young school girl playing lead guitar in rock bands she has grown an appreciation for the electrical pairing of pedal and synth to weave in and out of the organic sounds of the cello.

When Cyclic caught up with Hayden she had just returned from a stint battling icy roads throughout the north-east, an occupational hazard of the unseasonably cold winter America was experiencing. Her latest album You See the World is an apt title for this self-confessed gyp-setter, more than accustomed to living life on the road.

“I’ve been living the gypsy lifestyle and, you know, you make a lot of friends on the road – sleeping on new friend’s couches. I love that I get to meet so many people and I get to do what I want to do, which is music, and also performing – my favourite thing. Definitely a gypsy lifestyle. I’m very glad that I’m able to live that way.”

Born on an organic vegetable farm four hours south of Chicago, Hayden recollects her first inclinations towards the cello came after falling in love with the composers broadcast on NPR’s The Romantic Hours.

“I had always admired the sound of the instrument. When I was three, I think, that is when I was first exposed to it. The Romantic Hours was just the most gorgeous music from all time periods. It was string-heavy and the themes were very haunting.”

Despite being of an age when people don’t usually fall in love with cello, Hayden persevered until her parents granted her wish. She was, in her own words, “a little bit of a freak” begging for a cello from age three. Hayden believes she knew from age 10 the path she wanted to follow.

“I wanted to create my own notes, I wanted to create my own sounds and my own pieces and I just loved the instrument so much. I wanted to draw most of my inspiration from the sound of the instrument and what it was capable of.”

Her formative music schooling took place near to the farm at Indiana University’s preparatory program and from there a fortunate pairing with a music professor paved the way for special entrance to the Yale School’s music program.

Yet another chance encounter came a year after graduation, this time with the studio producer for Asthmatic Kitty’s (Sufjan Steven’s own label signing) Lily and Madeleine . This saw Shannon’s musical direction take a turn from the strictly traditional classical music program to one that was more reflective of her heart’s desire.

“I’d already had an album out. I wanted to get another one out that represented what I was doing at that time and so I was just sort of getting back into that and starting out on my own tours and shows for that that year, and probably a few months (the following year) of doing my own album and touring, I started touring with Lily and Madeleine all over the country and also in Europe. Which was great.”

Five years on and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Lily and Madeleine released an album (featuring Hayden) only a week following Shannon’s own album release. Shannon is joined by Lily and Madeleine on some of her shows in this current tour as well.

“It wasn’t planned like that, by any kind of means, but it’s turning out to be a bit of fun. We’re at the same point for promotion for the album and we’re on the same tour for a while – so it’s fun.”

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Shannon as she juggles the many aspects of her career, her tour schedule, release dates and even the printing of vinyl (which she’s most excited by). And while they take her away from the instrument and playing she feels it has been an important rite of passage, furthering her understanding of the industry she works and allowing her to find the right balance to be able to maintain her creative process.

“Creativity never really works for me when you put it under a deadline basis, or it’s got to be done by this time. It’s got to be in the moment and you’ve got to be in the present, and at the same time you’ve got to be business-minded, and you’ve got to do this today, this has got to happen, but it’s very difficult now. Artists have got to do both those things very well. And I can definitely assure you, I’m not nearly as good as I should be at the entrepreneurial aspect of the whole thing.”

For now though, Hayden seems to be managing the balancing act just fine.

“For me I’ve always thought that the cello is such a versatile instrument if I just combine that with a few of the pedals that I use for my guitar then it will be just a whole world of music that I’ll probably be able to explore for the rest of my life.

Shannon Hayden’s album You See The World is out now via Bandcamp


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