Interview: Hayden Thorpe

Emily Campbell

Emily Campbell caught up with Hayden Thorpe to discuss his Cumbrian roots, going solo, and his upcoming show at Nottingham’s Rough Trade on 1st April.

Hayden Thorpe’s dedication to his music and his connection with his Cumbrian roots became apparent from the start of our conversation. I began by asking him what had sparked this initial interest in music; he replied that while he “wasn’t really from a musical family,” one of his good friends’ parents were music teachers and they “took music very seriously” which seemed to encourage his passion for music from a young age.

Hayden had to venture into nearby cities like Manchester to go to gigs

Hayden also highlighted the music which surrounded him at the time when he was growing up; “I was a child during the nineties when music was big business. You know like Oasis, Blur, Britpop era. I was nine when Britpop was kicking off and it has a result on your consciousness, you think these things are important and have gravitas.”

However, because of Cumbria’s “simple” music environment to immerse himself in this modern music, Hayden had to venture into nearby cities like Manchester to go to gigs. Cumbria did, however, support the beginnings of his music education- there were “good teachers and the space and peace I guess to occupy myself when I was bored.” However, Hayden discussed that when he had ambitions of becoming a musician full time, it felt “like a moonshot. It felt like an impossible journey somehow to get some attention.”

In terms of his sound as an artist, Hayden described it as “weird soul… it’s kind of peculiar and quite inward. I think its soul music from Cumbria, I think I’m very much informed by the fells and the place where I live and where I’m from. That connection to nature informs my work a lot.” Whilst in the song writing process, he said the “song has to entirely govern the journey, it sometimes requires collaboration, and it sometimes requires hard, deep solitary time.”

As well as his Cumbrian roots he also cites other musicians as inspiring his sound. “Kate Bush, she’s a lighthouse for me. Also, Marvin Gaye as a singer and Leonard Cohen as a songwriter.” He points out that his inspirations do “move” and “change” depending on what “feels inspiring in that moment.”

His most recent album ‘Moondust For My Diamond’, a collection of 12 songs, was for Hayden “very much a journey of healing.” He says he “got interested in Buddhism and yoga and eastern practices that dissolved the ego. They’re all kind of an ancient technology to just detach a bit from possessions and jealousy and wants and all these sensations that are so crucial to coping in modern society. I felt there was a language there and a music and a sound that felt healing from all these quite toxic sensations that we are instructed to feel.”

It is very rare that you have these relationships with other human beings which are both professional but incredibly intimate

When talking about his recent album in comparison to his previous works, he says “in many ways its different in that it breaks down the fourth wall in a way. It’s trying not to be so much about self. I think it’s quite amazing how much of our music is about ourselves. It’s very of our time, we kind of have to really mythologise ourselves to get by. I guess I was part of that, part of the great storytelling of the mythology of our time which is love, aspiration, wealth and success. I guess this album I maybe started to question that a bit.”

I am a more whole person now as a solo artist

I asked how he felt about the transition from being in his previous band Wild Beasts to going solo. He pointed out that “it’s a lot more solitary, but you know bands fascinate me because there such an extraordinary arrangement of people. It is very rare that you have these relationships with other human beings which are both professional but incredibly intimate. It’s like it is a business arrangement but it’s a marriage, and it’s a friendship, but it’s also a collaboration. I mean I am more fascinated by them now that I am not in one because when you are in one it is so all consuming. I probably had a prolonged adolescence because I started the band at 16 and emerged from it at 32. There are things that survived that journey that would usually be burnt off in your early twenties. So, I would say I am a more whole person now as a solo artist.”

Thorpe points out that he has always seen bands as a temporary arrangement; a “finite thing that creates extraordinary results because of the unique connection between these people and that in itself is ephemeral. That is a non-permanent state. I think the requirements of business and careerism have co-opted bands to become like business institutions. Which I do not blame people for because every scrap of acknowledgement and airtime is hard won in music. I would never blame anyone for staying in lane and putting their foot down. That said the main fire and drive of doing this for me, requires a level of freedom and spontaneity that only being a solo artist can allow.”

Hayden is preparing for his upcoming tour around the UK, and he told me of his excitement at the anticipation of playing at Nottingham’s Rough Trade on 1st April. “Rough Trade is an important beacon for UK and wider independent music. Nottingham has always treated me very kindly; I’ve played many shows in Nottingham over the years and I think it’s really important to represent and I’m excited to bring these songs to people and to feed off their energy. I’m not married, I’ve never been married but going on tour is a bit like arranging a wedding. It brings together all the different components of your life, into one room. It’s strange it’s both very retrospective but also very present when you’re on stage, your only in that moment. I’m experiencing that transition from my normal state to my performative state, and it does something quite particular to my psyche. I can see it happening where I’m dredging up old feelings to sing songs in realistic ways.”

I think it’s a time to really assess what the value of music is in society

In reference to the pandemic and the ongoing presence of Covid-19 and its effect on musicians Hayden provided some insightful considerations. “It’s an extraordinarily difficult time, I think, for musicians. I think it’s a time to really assess what the value of music is in society. At the moment, musicians are so cut loose from the kind of real framework of how the economy of music works. Yet, in society personally people get so much value and quality of life from music. That should equate to a fairer way of distributing finance and I’m not someone who demands that artists should be extraordinarily paid. I just think they should be justly and fairly paid being a musician should be attainable for a moderate level of success. That is how it goes for any kind of functioning economy why shouldn’t it be for this one.”

Finally, I asked Hayden what his plans were for his future as a musician. He seemed to signal a return to focus on his Cumbrian birthplace and the nature that surrounds it as inspiration for his subsequent work. “I lived in cities for 15 years, London for 10 years also LA and elsewhere. It’s the first time I’ve lived amongst nature since I was a child and the more, I live in nature the more I come to think that the awe and the wonder of being in nature is in itself a huge source of inspiration. To somehow honour that or to capture just a tiny fraction of that it seems like that might be my onward work.”

Emily Campbell

Featured image courtesy of Jack Johnstone. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @haydennthorpe via @instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.

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