Right before he heads out on his latest tour, Hayden took the time to talk with QRO.In the conversation, Paul Hayden Dresser discussed his new record, In Field & Town (QRO review), the upcoming tour (his first with a band since the release of the new record), his previous tour with Feist, why he takes so much time off between records, record labels, all the things he’s gotten from Canada, and more…
QRO: Are you looking forward to your upcoming tour?
Paul Hayden Dresser: I actually am, ‘cause I’ve done three tours on this record so far, and they were all solo. It was actually a tough call this time, starting out playing again, after three years, to do it solo, because the album is pretty dense, as far as my records go, in terms of instruments. So I’m quite excited about playing with the band, and hearing those parts, for the first time live.
QRO: How was your most recent tour, with Feist (QRO Feist photos)?
PHD: It was really great. It was inspiring, because she’s so good, her band is so good, and the venues we played were some of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been inside of, let alone played. It was really great on many levels.
QRO: Do you prefer being the headliner at smaller clubs, like you’re going to be at Knitting Factory (QRO venue review) or Southpaw (QRO venue review), or opening at bigger places like Hammerstein Ballroom (QRO venue review)?
PHD: Generally, I like doing my own shows. I get more comfortable, up on stage. I have a better rapport with the audience.
But sometimes I think a bit of that is a laziness of not wanting to have to try to win people over, in a way. There’s different challenges with opening up.
I’m actually going to do another tour with Feist, but this time I’ll be with my band, and that will be comfortable.
QRO: That’s in fall, in Canada. Do you notice any differences between American and Canadian audiences?
PHD: Well, just for specific reasons, for me, Canadian audiences have a longer, more detailed history with what I’ve put out, what I’ve done for the past fifteen years. There’s some people in America who have followed me from my first record, but there’s just ‘less of a history’, I guess, is a way to put it.
QRO: As opener, you played solo, but as headliner, you’re touring with a band. Do you prefer one, or are they just very different?
PHD: Yeah, they’re different. Some nights, playing solo you can get into the actual essence of the song, in an undistracted way, and you can come up with a version of it that’s kind of meaningful. But some nights, you’re missing the interaction with musicians, and, like I said, you’re missing some of the sounds that went into creating that song, or the vibe of a certain song.
So there’s good and bad things about both scenarios.
QRO: At the second Hammerstein show in New York, you mentioned the chattering crowd on the first night (QRO Feist live review). When you were on tour with Feist, did you experience tough crowds of people who were only there because of the iPod commercial?
PHD: I think there’s an element of people that are there because of that, but the great thing about Feist is that anyone who goes to her show because of that, I think leaves as a fan of what she is, as a whole. People generally weren’t leaving after she played that song (“1 2 3 4”) – the whole set was so good.
Some nights, when it was a standing room only place, and I was up there with an acoustic guitar, and most of the people didn’t know who I was, there was talking. I guess that is frustrating, but, sadly, I’ve gone to see a band and talked through the opener or two. Everyone’s done it – it’s difficult to get mad at it.
QRO: Your shows last November were your first in three years. Why the long break?
PHD: It’s kind of a pattern I’ve gotten into. I’ll generally tour a record for up to a year, and then it takes me… I sort of like to ‘shut everything down’ and not be available to do any shows, to do anything, except to work on new material and start recording it. I kind of don’t start up again until I have a finished record, and I’m ready to do that cycle of playing it live.
It’s not a cycle that I think is incredible, or the best for everyone; it’s just kind of works for me. The only downside is that I end up going away for long periods of time – if that’s a bad thing; I don’t necessarily think it’s so bad.
QRO: You seemingly have been on tour ever since. What’s it like, being back on the road?
PHD: It’s been good. Being on the road, just so many things determine whether it’s a positive experience. If I’m playing solo, and there’s still people on the road with me, be it a sound person, or a road manager, or someone helping with merch, that kind of thing… it’s who you’re opening with, it’s who the people are around you, and then what head space you’re in.
So far, it’s definitely been quite positive. And I can compare it to some negative tour cycles that I’ve had. It’s gone quite smoothly so far.
QRO: Do you sort of feel you have to be on the road a lot, to make up for when you’re away for three years?
PHD: Only if I start getting the sense that I have to get another job. I’ve had the luxury of the last number of years of being able to go off the road when I didn’t feel good about it anymore, or when I was getting the itch to start recording or writing.
Because I have trouble writing songs while I’m touring – I have to finish up to be creative, basically.
I haven’t felt pressure to get myself out there, or make up for lost time, or ‘build an audience’, or that kind of thing. Luckily. I’ve been lucky in that way.
QRO: You’re playing a bunch of Canadian festivals this summer (QRO Festival Guide). Do you do anything differently, when you play outdoors?
PHD: Sometimes I wear t-shirts…
I don’t know. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I played outdoors. I kind of forget. I’ll have to get back to you on that after we do those festivals.
QRO: How did making In Field & Town compare with making your previous records?
PHD: It was similar, in that I was alone most of the time, overdubbing on top of myself, with the odd talented person coming in to lend a hand, every once in a while.
I just had so much fun doing that, screwing with the structures of songs. So that was a bigger difference: I sort of delved into what I could get out of the arrangement on some of the songs more than I’ve ever done.
QRO: Why did Hardwood Records, the label you run, start releasing other bands’ material in the past few years, after only releasing your own stuff?
PHD: There were two different opportunities that came up.
The first one were Cuff the Duke, who are good friends of mine. Two of them were my band in 2004, and all four of the members, two of the older members and two of the new guys, they’re in my band now. We’re very interconnected; they’re incredible people.
When it came time to put their last record out, I don’t know… I was spending time with them, I had an opportunity, I could get their record out in Canada with my relationships over here. And their album, I thought was worthy of people hearing. So I decided to do it.
That’s how it started; I don’t really have any huge aspirations in the record field. It’s a big of a scary thing right now. It’s not something I take too seriously.
QRO: What drew you to Fat Possum (Dinosaur Jr., Andrew Bird), your new U.S. label?
PHD: The two guys there, they’re serious, they’re fans of my music, they’re passionate about this record and what they want to try to do with it. They expressed interest, I met with them, we got along really well, and I feel pretty good about it.
QRO: Have you written any material since In Field & Town?
PHD: No, I have not.
QRO: As a Canadian musician, do you get support from the state?
PHD: Yes, I do. I get a lot of support. There’s some incredible granting avenues, both from private radio stations to the video stations to the government of Canada, for videos, for record budgets, for tour support. It’s incredible – it’s helping many, many Canadian artists right now.
QRO: Where did the idea for the video for “Where and When” come from?
PHD: Umm… the director, I don’t know. You’d have to ask her.
QRO: Where did you get those reaction shots?
PHD: Oh, all those people watching at their computer? That’s something the CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] that was sort of a spoof about the video. So we put a link to that, with the video, ‘cause we thought it was pretty funny.
QRO: I liked that – especially putting the reaction shots before you see the video.
PHD: Yeah, kinda funny…
QRO: Are there any new songs that you particularly like to play live?
PHD: We’re actually rehearsing right now, working out the band arrangement of the songs. One song we just finished playing, the first song on In Field & Town (“In Field & Town”), is sounding really good. I’m excited about that one.
QRO: What about older songs?
PHD: That changes a lot.
Generally, there’s a few songs that I’ve written that I tend to play most nights, because, I’m proud of them, I like the lyrics, or I think they’re better songs than others.
Two that I feel really good about almost all the time are “Dynamite Walls” and “Bass Song”, from Skyscraper [National Park], the 2001 album.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, don’t like to play live, or just don’t play anymore?
PHD: Some songs from my first record I don’t play anymore [Everything I Long For], mostly because they’re like screaming songs.
QRO: What cities have you really liked playing at?
PHD: The tour with The National in November, my favorite city of all was Barcelona. Loved it; walked around for hours, got lost, and didn’t mind.
It’s always fun going to New York, going to Los Angeles. Those are always fun places to go to.
But that changes too. Sometimes I’ll go to a city, because it was a nice, sunny day, it becomes my favorite city.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
PHD: Not yet – we’ll have to talk after this American tour.