After an intense bidding war that found executives from a host of major labels including Geffen, Epic, Interscope, Warner Bros. and Dreamworks one-upping each other for several months in an attempt to sign the brilliant folk-rock singer Hayden Desser, Hayden, 24, and his managers--William "Skinny" Tenn and Sandy Pandya--finally settled on the newly formed (by R.E.M. producer Scott Litt and his two partners, former Smashing Pumpkins manager Andy Gershon, and former Virgin Records A&R exec Mark Williams, ) Outpost Records this past Friday (Feb. 23). "It was hard to make the decision," said Hayden, calling from his managers' office in Toronto. "It was really hard. Hours and hours of deliberation and conversation. Over-analyzing and under-analyzing. It's cool we had so many good choices."
"We're kind of over the moon about signing him," said Litt. "We're still kind of pinching ourselves,
One of the most difficult offers for Hayden to turn down was from one of his idols, Neil Young, and Young's manager, Elliot Roberts. They wanted to sign him to their new label, Vapor Records. Hayden even got to visit Young at Young's ranch during the "courting" process. And how did Outpost manage to lure Hayden away from Young and company? "We had him down to Athens," laughed Litt, who has produced the last five R.E.M albums, during a phone interview. We imagine a big smile on his face as he delivered that line. (Athens is, of course, where the four members of R.E.M live.)
Hayden is one of the freshest artists to come along in some time. He could be described as a slacker Neil Young, or Beck with songs, or the latest in a long line of "new Dylans." But comparing him to other artists is really beside the point. Yes he plays an acoustic guitar. Yes he sings. And yes, he works in a genre that can, loosely, be described as folk-rock. But as with all real artists, what's interesting about Hayden is, of course, where the comparisons end, and where all the unique, idiosyncratic qualities begin. The way he stretches and drawls his words; the bassy. buzzy strum of his rhythm guitar; the off-hand conversational nature of his lyrics; the way he rhymes "warm in the sack" with "share with me my midnight snack." Check out "Bad As They Seem" RealAudio 28.8k from Everthing I Long For.
Outpost plans to re-release a remastered version of Hayden's mesmerizing self-produced debut album, Everything I Long For, sometime in May. The Outpost version of the original 16 song album will be two songs shorter. "Bunkbed" and "I Almost Cried" won't be on it, according to Tenn, "because Hayden's was never completely happy with those two." (So if you want to hear all 16 songs, now is the time to get yourself a copy of the album, released on Hayden's own Hardwood Records.) "We really don't want to rush it, even though a lot of people would expect that to happen," said Litt. "Now that all the bidding wars are over, we're trying to focus on what this really is. And what this is is a really cool artist who wants to grow and develop. Aside from the 1000 industry people that know all about Hayden, there are a lot of people that don't. So doing the right kind of press, and playing the right venues, and working it at a smaller, ground level.
Hayden's already recorded about half of his second album; he plans to upgrade his home studio (ten of the songs on Everything I Long For were recorded in Hayden's bedroom on a four-track cassette recorder), but in a relatively moderate way. "Hayden's going keep working the way he's been working," Tenn said.
For Hayden, a guy who until a few months ago had never met a major label executive, suddenly being wined and dined by his idols, superstar producers (Litt), superstar managers/label heads (Roberts) and mega-record executives (Mo Ostin of Dreamworks) was a heady experience. "It's strange and kept me away from what I like to do the most and that's been a bit of a drag," admitted Hayden. "The only bonus is I was able to get a really artistically friendly deal because of the competition of it.
"I've known a lot of Canadian bands who made American deals and not much attention was paid to them," he continued. "Not to say that won't happen to me. It took way too long to do something that doesn't interest me that much. Kept me away from my music. And it's created a stupid thing about expectations and what people hear about me before my album is even out. I hate that thing. I like to discover things. Not have 80 people talking about it. I don't buy things if there are big Rolling Stone or Spin articles about someone I'm hearing about for the first time. That's a negative thing."
The phone went silent.
After a long pause, Hayden said with some finality, "I'm just a fucking guy
playing songs from Toronto."