We got seriously deep into meaning of Calnin's latest work.
Words by Lachlan MacPherson
Earlier this month, Melbourne-based musician Hayden Calnin threw down his debut album Cut Love Pt. I – a dark and dense collection of the thoughts that have run through his head over the past couple years. To further explore this, we dissected the Alan Watts lecture that features in the opening track of the album, Introduction; Nothingness, and asked Hayden questions off the back of each part of the track.
“If you are aware of a state which you call ‘is’, or ‘reality’ or ‘life’, this implies another state called ‘isn’t’, or ‘illusion’, or ‘unreality’, or ‘nothingness’, or ‘death’ – there it is. You can’t have one without the other.”
Tell me about your ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’. Tell me about your ‘reality’ and your ‘nothingness’.
Just a word of warning, this is some deep shit we are about to get into. Alan Watts is like my Yoda. Okay?! Here we go:
My 'is' or my 'reality' is what I can perceive on a human level. I can see, I can feel, I can hear and I can smell, I can understand and interpret my physical self. I put a lot of my experiences into song. That's just what I do. Just as a teacher would put it in to teaching, or a builder puts it in to creating a house. It is my experience and my transferral of it to others. Song and relationships with others seems to be my 'reality'. But my 'isn't' or my 'nothingness' is unknown. But because it is unknown, it doesn't make it any less real. I just can't understand it. But that's the point. Having an unknown is what keeps me thinking and pushing my thoughts. Life would be boring if we knew the answer to everything.
“And so as to make life poignant, it’s always going to come to an end. That is exactly, don’t you see, what makes it lively.”
In terms of your career in music, do you ever think about the end? Does this line resonate with you in terms of grabbing the current platform of influence that you have by the balls and giving it all you’ve got, in order to make the most of the abilities that you possess?
Music is just one part of my life. But a big part. I've got the bug. I'm addicted to it. I'm giving it the time it needs to develop but in no means am I giving it all the time that I have. We live in the wrong age to do so. Musicians, or artists in general have to work hard for a dollar because a lot of people mistake art for a hobby and not a career. It sucks. But fuck the haters. I'm in it because I love it and I'm making a career out of it and my name isn't as prolific as Kanye West (I love Kanye, btw). That being said, if you spend too much time on one thing, you'll end up hating it because it begins to feel like a chore, and no one likes doing chores, ey? I just pumped out everything I have written in the past couple of years into a double album, so I'm fresh out of songs. So, realistically I guess I am taking a step back from music at the moment and off to get a bit more life experience so I can write again. But it won't take that long, 'cause like I said, I've got the bug.
On the contrary, where did it all start for you? And what do you see as being the breakthrough moment for yourself as an artist?
Music started for me when I was a teenager as something to do with my friends. We'd grab some beers and just jam on the shitty instruments we had and try and make something cool. Once you start anything and get something out of it, you end up exploring it a little deeper than intended and I guess that is what happened. I don't really know if I have had a breakthrough moment yet. It's all been a pretty amazing experience so far and I've met so many amazing people and built some very strong relationships through it. It's taken me to places that I never thought I would visit. It's pushed me to listen and discover a whole bunch of artists that I may have never heard and it's challenged me in so many different ways artistically. I'm thankful for being involved in the industry and having the courage to put my stuff out to the world. Music, you're alright.
“Liveliness is change, it’s motion.”
You were born in Red Hill and now live in Melbourne. What change occurred in that little geographic alteration? A lot of shit goes down between your teens and your mid-twenties. What are the main differences that you have noticed in yourself since your younger years?
I guess when I left home, I grew up. I had to start doing things on my own, from cooking to buying clothes. I had a great stint being a teenager. It was a great time but my twenties are just as great, just a bit more independent and responsible. That being said, I still feel like I'm 15...
“You see, you’re always at the place where you always are, and you think wowee – a little further on and we will get there. I hope we don’t go further down, so that we lose what we already have.”
Where are you at right now? Where are you most comfortable? Where are you most productive during your creative process?
Right now, I'm at home in my lounge room. I live in a massive converted church in Melbourne and I would definitely say that I am most comfortable right here, doing my thing. Kicking back, talking shit. I should probably apologise at this point for my language. I write the way I speak, so there's a little swearing in this Q+A. Awks. When it comes to music, I like to think I'm most comfortable writing in my bedroom no matter where I'm living. There's something about sitting on your bed in your pjs with a notepad and a guitar that just works well for me. That, or being down at my parents' house in Red Hill because that place will always feel like home for me.
What do you class as ‘getting there’? Do you think that you’ll ever reach that point in your musical career where you’re happy with what you have achieved?
I'm not too sure what I class as 'getting there'. It's different for everyone. Some musicians chase the fame, others chase life touring on the road and some just want to express themselves and aren't too sure how else to do it. I like to think that I write music for myself and enjoy telling a story and the fact that people are listening and relating to it is a huge bonus. I don't really want to live the rock star lifestyle, my music doesn't quite suit it. I just want to make art. I'm proud of everything I have achieved so far and have no regrets just yet.
“But that is built into every creature’s situation. No matter how high, no matter how low. So, in this sense, all places are the same place. And the only time you ever notice any difference is in the moment of transition.”
Cut Love Pt. I is obviously about heartbreak and new beginnings. How was that transition?
Between love and heartbreak, and then between heartbreak and new beginnings. It was both hard and amazing at the same time. Coming out of a big relationship is hard for anyone and everyone deals with it differently. I was a bit worried about myself for a while and felt very lost and misdirected. Late nights out. Very boozey and wild nights out trying to deal with my shit. I was very lucky to have amazing friends that were there when I needed them and helped me through it. Because of that, I'm happier than ever. Shout outs to my mates JV and Sangas in particular. What legends! They dealt with a pretty emotional Hayden for a while.
“It takes nothing to have something. You wouldn’t know what nothing was without something.”
Tell me about a time in your life where you felt like you had nothing and of a time where you felt you had everything. How did one feed off the other to make it seem that much more real? Vis-à-vis.
I don't think I've ever felt like I've had nothing. I've been down, real down but I've been able to get out of that and pick myself up too. It's easy to get disappointed or angry by something but when you start thinking about the bigger picture (or listen to a lot of Alan Watts), you begin to realise that life is about living and everyone is going to go through it differently and you just have to give it a red hot go. Or not. It's really up to you how you go and live your life. One thing I have learnt through my short time here on Earth is that life is about who you have around you, so appreciate that at every moment you can.
“The most real state is the state of nothing.”
I’m stumped on this one. Care to elaborate?
BEST Q+A ever. I like you. But really, you should just listen to more Alan Watts. I think he said something once along the lines of trying to imagine yourself before you were born. You can't. Think about that. Children think about it. It's the one great mystery. How can you know the unknown until you are there? The idea of nothing is like the biggest mind-fuck ever. That is why it is so important to think about. That's why I chose to use his lecture on it to open my album. It's a huge thought and not one that you can ever really understand but you certainly can think about it and accept it.
Watts says, later in the lecture, “So, if you really go the whole way and see how you feel at the prospect of vanishing forever – of all your efforts and all your achievements and all your attainments, turning into dust and nothingness. What is the feeling? What happens to you?”. Alan has done it for me here. What is the feeling? What happens to you?
Exactly! That's the point! It's something to look forward to and not fear, even though we most likely will not experience it in a way we are familiar with or even understand. Or will we? Deep stuff here, pass it to your heart my friend.
“Kept you like a seed, grew love like trees, til they burn. They burn. You’re faster than a thief, in a rush for his feed, it’s a murder scene. Cut bleed. Cut love.”
Finally, looking at the lyrics from your lead single, Cut Love… So this track is about love, hopelessness and loss. What drove you to create 20 tracks off the back of this concept? How would you describe the album? And how would you describe your sound in general?
It was a huge turning point in life for me. I can't really explain the feeling. Being so connected to someone for so long and then suddenly having them out of your life was a huge deal. I didn't take it well and my thoughts and reflection on it inspired a lot of songs. The album is a collection of thoughts around that transition period of feeling lost, alone, miserable, drunk, high, happy, angry, motivated, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It's just an album of self expression and a little look inside my head. I don't quite know how to describe my sound, that's for the listeners to decide.
Finally, you told your fans on Facebook that they should think of Part I as the calm before the storm, with the storm being Part II, which is set to be released in May. What can we expect?
It's a bigger sound. Part I was minimal, sparse and internal. Part II is a bit more external and takes you on a little bit of a different journey, one maybe filled with a little more hope. I'm just as excited to share the second half as I was the first.