Interview: Hayden Lee About ‘Crazy Little Secrets’, Working with Jason Manns, and More! [EXCLUSIVE]


Image courtesy of Staff Photographer Mandi.

It is finally (almost) here. The highly anticipated Crazy Little Secrets from Charlotte’s own Hayden Lee is set to drop on October 30, and we couldn’t be more excited! We had a chance to sit down with Lee on the last day of the successful summer PBJ Tour to get his thoughts about the new album, the Kickstarter process, and working with one of your oldest friends as your producer.

Nerds and Beyond: First question — for those people who don’t know you that well — a little bit of background?

Hayden Lee: So … Hayden Lee. I’m a Capricorn. I love having fun. I’m out of Charlotte. I’m a singer/songwriter, and I really like socks? Is that good?

Nerds and Beyond: That’s good, and it’s a true statement too! (laughs) How long have you been performing?

Hayden Lee: In some way, shape, or form I’ve been performing probably for about 25 years, so I started performing in high school. Some of my best friends had a band, and I didn’t know how to play guitar at that time, but I could sing, so I was going to be the “front man.” This was back in the 9os grunge era. And I realized my best friend in the band was also a really good singer and he wrote songs. I was like “I’m not adding any value, I don’t have a guitar or anything” so I played drums and I would watch their hands while they played and that’s how I taught myself.

Nerds and Beyond: So you are self-taught?

Hayden Lee: (nods) That’s why I should be better, but I’m not.

Nerds and Beyond: And as far as the Supernatural Family, your connection is through Jason Manns?

Hayden Lee: Yes.

Nerds and Beyond: You guys met in college, correct?

Hayden Lee: We met at William & Mary. I basically owe everything to Jason. He was in the same dorm as my wife (then-girlfriend.) I was trying to court her at the time. And he found out I played music, and he played music, and so we played together a couple times just out in the dorm common area, and he was like “Hey man (typical Jason, he hasn’t changed) what do you think about coming out for this a cappella group, it’s called The Stairwells?” and I was like that’s not me, I’m not an a cappella person, don’t like doo-wop, and he was like “It’s not like that, we do modern music, we sort of break the mold.” So I went out and saw them do their final performance of the year, and was like “I can do this.” So I tried out and made it. Lesson one why I got into music? Jason. And then I was about to quit music after I released “House of the Lonely Souls” (2012). It just wasn’t taking off as much, I had a small child and a 3-month-old as well, and Jason sent me a text saying “Hey man. How you doing buddy? Listen, I know you have a 3-month-old, but I’m going to go over to Germany and Emo is coming (another college friend Emad Alaeddin), and if you can find your way over here, I’ve got you covered.” So we toured four or five cities, and it was life-changing.

Nerds and Beyond: Brought the love back?

Hayden Lee: Oh, yeah. And the Supernatural family was all connected to that. In the US… especially Charlotte, it is a big cover band town. They want to hear Hayden Lee play Billy Joel, not Hayden Lee play Hayden Lee. So it was very weird for me, over there, they want to hear you play you. And like Eddie’s Attic, they are all listening rooms, very quiet, and it was amazing. The SPN family is just amazing.

Image courtesy of Hayden Lee

Nerds and Beyond: So, we are preparing for the release of your 4th album, and this is the first album you have not produced yourself, you actually went back to Jason… was that your choice or his? Or a combination?

Hayden Lee: It was mine. It was fully mine. I kind of looked at this as a I’ve produced, like you said, in the past, and I’ve done a lot of my albums like at buddies’ places that were just creating a studio out of their house, and good quality, and I liked them, but they weren’t radio quality or LA quality, and I wanted to make sure I did something big. And Manns has been doing a great job producing these albums over the past few years, and I know he loves producing. I wasn’t really even thinking about the production side cause he has so many — we counted out in LA and he had 10 or 11 projects going at once. So I told him, “All I really wanted was the connection to the musicians, cause I know you’re busy. I’d love for you to produce it, but I’d love to have Cooper (Apelt), Billy (Moran), Rob Humphreys if available, or Kiel (Feher) and I know you’re busy,” and he’s like “No, I wouldn’t say that. Let’s do it.” He doesn’t do a lot of alternative rock, you know, he does a lot of folk/Americana, but I was very interested to hear what his ear would do, and I was honest with him, also nervous because our styles are different, and it’s interesting when you have a friend that’s doing that. I hadn’t had a producer outside of my own control-freak mind, and some buddies doing it with me on the first three albums, but he was awesome. He pushed stuff out of me that I didn’t think was possible. One take on one song, he told me, “I want you to sing this different. You’re singing it pretty. Don’t sing it pretty. Your lyrics aren’t pretty. It’s about struggle. I almost want you to sing this so it’s unusable.” Which I would have never thought of, ever. And I did it, and that was the take.

Nerds and Beyond: This is your first experience with Kickstarter also, right?

Hayden Lee: Yes.

Nerds and Beyond: And how has that experience been?

Hayden Lee: Awesome. Daunting I would say at first, because with Kickstarter you never know if you’re going to make the funding, so it’s an interesting mix. You may want a certain amount more, but you may not get that. Again, Jason was the reason I said okay, because I wanted to make sure I could do this right. He’s done them a ton. I had fun setting up the levels — I took a glass of red wine and sat there one night going “Yes, that’s good, we can do that, gotta have socks, poster, sure.” And then with everybody funding. It was amazing. It was fun to watch, and scary, and just kind of humbling.

Nerds and Beyond: So, the album itself, is it a departure for you? Or is it along the same lines as House of Lonely Souls? What has your growth process been up to this point… cause you’ve been writing, but not recording for a while. Has it changed your writing style? You’re writing with a partner now, with Mike (Savin), that’s gotta be different for you as well.

Hayden Lee: Yes, I would say it’s a lot different than House of Lonely Souls. House of Lonely Souls, my producer on that one, the guy I was recording with and producing with, his roots were in R&B, and so it was fun cause the fusion between it. You’ll hear a lot of synthesizers and stuff like that, where I would never put that on. And I would say that album was a little more produced, over-produced, than I wanted. “House of Lonely Souls” (the song) has 90 tracks on it. That’s a TON for a song. Just Beyond the Shadows I wanted it more like “I’m with the band, this is what it sounds like.” Not as produced, a little more cut and raw. This one is very similar. It’s me with the band and that’s it. There will probably be some incidental parts here and there but I put that in Jason’s hands. I’d say writing style — roots of grunge — and there are a couple of songs on there I’m really excited to hear how they come out. Did I answer that?

Nerd and Beyond: Yes. Yes you did. (laughs) You and I have talked in the past about the difference between hearing something live and something that’s recorded, and for those of us who see you guys live relatively often, the recorded stuff doesn’t sound “right” anymore. It’s because it’s that stripped down version, not the 90-tracks on a single. So I was wondering, from a layering perspective, if you had pared it back down for this one.

Hayden Lee: Yeah, it’s going to be a little more produced than Just Beyond the Shadows and also like you brought up, writing with Mike Savin. He is my next door neighbor and he loves The Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead is his favorite band. It’s very jam-bandy. I am not very jam-bandy. I can’t jam. I’m like “What chords do you want me to play?” I really started writing with him because he lives next door. He was playing something at my house, and I was like “That’s cool man, you have any lyrics for that?” And he’s like “I’m not a singer, that’s not what I do” so I was like “Do you mind if I write lyrics to it and maybe sing to it?” So we kind of came together with his style and my style, and came out with a very interesting alternative rock twist on something that is a little more Grateful Dead-y. Some of his licks, he could tell you the musical terms behind it, cause he’s a music person, but it has -iggio at the end of it. I don’t know.

Nerds and Beyond: That’s all you need, really.

Hayden Lee: So it’ll be a little more produced than Just Beyond the Shadows. It’s called Crazy Little Secrets. So don’t tell anybody about it (fingers to lips). Then tell everybody. (laughs) I don’t know how many tracks will be on it yet. I recorded 10, but it’s not going to be 10. So that process is kind of interesting with Jason, because I would’ve said “Let’s put them all on there” but some of them don’t fit, some may fit on something else, so I’ve recorded them and put them in my pockets.

Nerds and Beyond: Another SPN-adjacent friend is involved as well — Billy Moran. Did he write on any of the songs or just play?

Hayden Lee: He just played, but he will add the “Billy touches” to these, which I can’t wait to hear. That process, we still need to get on the phone and be like, “Hey, I hear this,” “Can you play this?” And Billy can. That whole recording process was unbelievable. What I did in four days took me four years with my first album. I just sat at the recording studio where No Doubt recorded Tragic Kingdom, so that was kind of cool. There is this huge 180 degree window, kind of concave, and they’re all in the studio, and I play while they are playing and setting down the tracks. So we play it over and over, and I’m thinking I’m gonna be hoarse and this is going to take forever, but no, they had it on the second or third take and it was perfect, Manns would be on his phone like “Cool, we need to do that one more time” and it’d be right on. Just amazing. I was like a little kid. You have that moment where you are looking out, and this is my dream.

Nerds and Beyond: We are looking at an October release date?

Hayden Lee: (nods emphatically)

Nerds and Beyond: Fabulous. So, we will have it for Rockwood (Germany) 2019?

Hayden Lee: Yes. Absolutely.

Nerds and Beyond: Anything else you want to send out to the greater Nerds & Beyond Family?

Hayden Lee: Keep being awesome. Appreciate yourself and have fun every day. Don’t sweat the small shit. Keep listening to music. Keep being you.

Nerds and Beyond: Thanks for your time Hayden.

Hayden Lee: Thank you!

Hayden Lee PBJ Tour Featured
Image courtesy of Staff Photographer Mandi.

Fast forward a couple whirlwind months from that chat, and we had a little follow-up now that the tracks have been chosen, the date has been set, and the nerves are really kicking in! From the Kickstarter start date of mid-May, it’s been a crazy five months indeed. There will be eight tracks on the album, and they will showcase Lee’s grunge/rock style.  When asked about his “moments” from the whole process, Lee stated that his favorite part of any recording is the receipt of those first raw tracks from the studio session, and then added that working with Manns ranked right up there as well. Lee & Manns have very differing styles of music, but they were very in sync throughout this project, and it helped to have a different set of ears on occasion. Lee says the LA studio session was a dream come true, and what they were able to accomplish in four days still blows his mind.

Lee says he is nervous, excited, anxious, & happy about Crazy Little Secrets dropping, and says there are lots of ear worms on the album — lots of songs that will get stuck in our heads. We have gotten to hear a preview of one of the songs, and it really is fantastic! Not over-produced but smooth, and speaks to its indie rock writer’s inspiration. Lee’s trademark harmonic verses and thought provoking lyrics are on full display. There will be a release part in Charlotte at The Evening Muse (one of our favorite venues), and a VIP option as well with a signed copy of the CD — so if you are anywhere near Charlotte on October 30, you really should attend! We will be there with (proverbial) bells on, because we can’t wait to hear the rest of the album! Tickets can be purchased here.

You can hear Hayden’s music on all major streaming outlets and visit his online record store here!

Nancy has been a Nerd since before it was cool. Thankfully, the world has caught up with what she always knew - the more it makes you think, the better it is. In her real life, Nancy is a regional manager for a nationwide healthcare company, and a photographer who is much happier behind the camera than in front of it (hence the awkward selfie). She is always on the lookout for an adultier adult, and still can't believe that she is allowed out without supervision.

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