Dan Haywood has released his materpiece in the guise of ‘Dan Haywood’s New Hawks’. His debut album chronicles his journey around Northern Scotland, his songs absorb the land, it’s people and wildlife and project it onto the most delicate of gauze screens. What may at first appear quirky becomes incredibly well rooted and natural over several listens. This album captured an essence that is hard to translate into words. It was a trip just listening to it! Beautiful! What took five years to create can never be done again. So we had to speak to him…
I’m English but I lived and worked in Caithness and Sutherland for awhile– up on top of the mainland…. and the project came out of that time. Trips to the islands too. A brilliant region.. Those places changed my life.
And when I finally returned to England I couldn’t stop thinking about them.. and things that transpired there haunted me somewhat.
So I was forced to write about it to try and restore my sanity. Feverishly writing and re-writing… for weeks on end. And when the visitations ended I had a lot of inter-related songs.
I’d never been the kind of musician who felt the need to record all of their songs. But in this case the inspiration was so prolonged that I reckoned I should tape them all. Present them together. Worth a try.
On one level just to get a safety recording of all of the new stuff. Get it out of my system.
I totted them up and was daunted to find that I’d just written thirty-two songs. But I promised myself that I’d follow it through. Just to be true to the original impulse.
On another level it struck me that in doing so I was documenting places and people and times, rather than the usual dreams and sob stories. A bigger reponsibility. Song can document them in a more complete fashion than one can with film or photography or textiles or mashed potato.
The earliest recordings of the songs were solo and quite lo-fi. A bit too stark, and possibly a bit too close to the writing period. Quite harrowing actually. And I thought instead that a sweeping pedal steel section here or some real live fiddlers there could bring out certain writing angles and facets a little more. Like hiring some expensive lighting and flashguns.
Also I reasoned that since some of the lyrics seemed freaked and experimental-sounding, I could afford to warm and humanise things a touch in delivery and arrangement. Because one side of me would like to be more like James Taylor and less like Mark E. Smith.
And for me it was finally time to do a record with a country and folk flavours. Felt it was a British country music and wanted it to sound like it somehow. Mostly acoustic instruments…. the material suited that.
The challenge of big arrangements and a wider variety of players and instrumentation was new for me and I wanted the record to reflect the changed me……….In the end the record sounds lush and expansive and varied…and- for something featuring me as a player remarkably slick! Because album is a long hairy ride thought I should put some good seats in at least.. for the vicissitudes. Because I wanted the album to be enjoyed and listened to.
But having said that airplay or sales were always tertiary considerations. Because the record business is dated and evil isn’t it?
The recording and mixing stage took almost exactly five years. Trying to get the right takes of thirty-two pieces ended up taking many sessions. And there was also a fair amount of overdoobing and mixing. Incorporating some Highland field recordings too.
The album sub-title was ‘Caithnesian Democracy’ because of the long gestation.
Well, first and foremost the recording necessitated meeting and playing with lots of great people.. a whole new social circle of largely anti-social characters who happen to be wild players. The project became a live band too, after a short while. Some great gigs…and more to come.
Experimenting with recording was an education .Fun. Finding large great-sounding rooms like a country C of E church. Using mic placement and space… rather than starting with digital effects and going downhill from there. The album has a unique sound.
Being found by Timbreland Recordings (a small independent label from Manchester) was a boost too. I knew they trusted me and would release the album.. assuming I ever finished it! Thanks people.
When I was living by Dounreay I loved the contours of the North coastline, particularly the stretch from Strathy Point in Sutherland, East to Dunnet Head in Caithness.
I loved the sweep, the beautiful deviations from a straight East-West line. If I wasn’t gazing at it from the bay down the road (with the Old Man of Hoy staring back from the NE) I was poring over over OS maps of it.
The label me and Jenny did for side five of the vinyl is an abstract of a nice old map of some crannies I knew near Melvich.
One of the musical sketches I did when I was there was to fit that stretch of coast– a musical model of it really. With Strathy Point up at E minor, lighthouse casting down to a cove in D and so on along to Dunnet Point which I felt was A minor. The chords had to ring true for that landscape.
And later the lyrics recalled watching sea-squalls brewing and running wild along it. A song called ‘Middle Nowhere’.
At the record mixing stages I still had a sort persistence of vision from that landscape guiding the textures, keeping an eye on the economy of the terrain. Stylistically, it had to sound right in Loch Strathy bothy.
I dig landscape, but it doesn’t have a bit of animation from wildlife.. like a harrier floating above it or a herd of reds in the distance, it’s not complete to me. I’m funny that way.
And as the music on the album tends to reflect the flows and the bogs and the hills and the lochs, (peaks and troughs and specific plateaus) the lyrics bring the live stuff and it moves in it.
I also wanted to reclaim birds in songs from anthropomorphism. Reinstate them as they really are! So instead of using an eagle say, and having it speak metaphors for us as people reading a poem, I’d much rather restore the dignity of its reality. Let it speak itself I suppose.
So there’s a bit of that through the album, and I think it works… Plenty of real, struggling creatures in it, not just mythical.
And not just big iconic species either. The eco-gamut. There’s a wheatear in there (albeit with an older folk name), mountain hares, sheep ticks, darter dragonflies, common kestrels. One song even mentions a Fea’s Petrel. An long overdue first for popular song I’m sure you’ll agree!