A Conversation with Jon Hayes

What initially sparked your interest in pursuing a career in the arts for those who may not be familiar with your background?

For me, it was something that was born in me from five years old or so. I came out to the dining room when I was five or so and told my mom I wanted some new music to listen to, and she passed me DC Talk’s “Free at Last” CD. That started a season of loving the feeling of listening to music and dancing in my room for what seemed like hours at a time sometimes. I started playing guitar at ten years old and began writing songs almost immediately. Soon after, my older brother Josh and I began a season of starting basement bands and playing a “concert” once every year or so and dreaming of making it big. For most of my life, being an artist, whether in a rock band or now as a singer-songwriter, has been the dream for me.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest single?

My latest single “Between You & Me,” is the title track of the album I just released and is all about honest, confessional conversation. I wrote much of this album during a season of life where I was feeling isolated and alone. I had just come off the high of being at a Bible College where I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and was then in a season of life marked by strained relationship with my family, moving part way across the country, getting married, and coming face to face with a lot of my weaknesses and insecurities. It was a lot of change and a lot of pain and confusion. For a good while, I was too scared to really deal with how I was feeling. I would talk about it with my wife or with some friends but I still didn’t have the courage to share with no filter, no people-pleasing. I was stuffing my emotions down a lot of the time. Eventually, I feel like God started to heal those wounds piece by piece over gradual time. Eventually, I was finally able to start being more honest on a regular basis and some of these songs were the process and result of that.

What themes or emotions are explored in this song?

Vulnerability is the main thing in this song. It’s not a massively “produced” song. The vocals are gentle, and the arrangement feels good but is quite simple with only a few guitar tracks and a piano to support the vocals. The first verse is the one I’m most proud of, it says “Between you and me, I’m getting older. I’m still so young but there’s a weight on my shoulders that I have carried since I was eight years old. Fifteen years can be a lifelong load.” I’m really proud of these lyrics because they play this thematic ping pong. I start out by admitting that I’m getting older, and yet immediately contrast that by saying that I’m still young. What’s the resolution to the tension? Well, you can rack up years on your heart and mind if you’re carrying something heavy. The next juxtaposition of fifteen years feeling like a lifetime in certain circumstances is in reference to sexual abuse I went through as a child when I was eight years old. Even though I’ve found a massive amount of healing and forgiveness from that hurt, I’ve still had to deal with the mental and emotional consequences of going through something like that throughout my life and there have been times where I see the heaviness I’ve carried with me throughout these years. There’s a bit of a math clue in there too, fifteen and eight is twenty-three, so attentive listeners will know that I’m twenty-three when writing this. It’s a detailed packed verse followed up by a chorus that many burdened hearts will relate to : “All I want is to hear from you that I am not the only one.”

How does this single fit into the larger narrative of your music career or your upcoming Projects?

This single flows perfectly from the three singles released before it which are all on the full album. This tender, singer-songwriter focused season started with my song “Nursery Lie” which put me into the indie-folk genre with people comparing it to Bon Iver, though a little bit lighter, emotionally. After that, I followed up with “Till This Is Right”, a song I wrote for my wife committing to put her and our family above this music stuff and was more americana feeling, with my NEEDTOBREATHE and John Mayer influence surfacing more. “Nothing to Find” was a carefree, nostalgic tune that came about from me thinking about the light acoustic led tunes that remind me of summer that I’ve loved from Switchfoot and Jon Foreman. And so, all of the tunes danced around this acoustic focused, intimate singer-songwriter feel. “Between You & Me,” is the thesis statement, or the greeting of it all that puts it in proper context for who I am as a person and a writer right now.

Could you describe the creative process behind this single, from concept to production?

The concept came after entering into this season of focusing on writing songs that were confessional and simple. I had written “Nursery Lie” and a song or two that didn’t make the record. I had started digging into this place of sitting into simple chord progressions and just emoting for the lack of a better word, like just singing the words that communicated the emotions that felt most relieving to express which were mostly melancholic or somber. In that space, I ended up writing “Between You and Me,” and I immediately knew this was the title track for the record. I didn’t record it for a couple years after writing it, it actually went through different iterations through a live arrangement and some tweaking through imagination in my head. When it came to recording it, I initially imagined having it be split into two parts to tie the album together and split it into different themes and even imagined having some digital vocoder elements for the vocals while still keeping it acoustic forward (imagine, Noah Gundersen’s “Robin Williams” or some of the short tracks from Colony House’s “Everybody’s Looking For Some Light” record) but in the end, I recorded a really simple acoustic guitar arrangement and loved it. I sent it off to my friend Joe Stilwell from Calder the Band in Fort Wayne, IN and he took a pass adding some piano. The first pass was really cool, but it covered up the lead acoustic melody too much so then he took a second pass and that’s the one you hear on the record. If you want to hear some of what he did on the first pass, you can listen to the version Joe and I did together for a live take at Dogtown Studio in Grand Rapids. Just go to my youtube channel, jonhayesofficial, and click on the live from dogtown playlist. I think initially I was tempted to go for bigger arrangement on this track, but the acoustic arrangement I did really won me over and Joe’s piano addition really rounded it out beautifully and helped to be a great palette introduction for the record for listeners. Zach Rumley and I worked through the mix over the course of a few revisions and the song was finished.

What can listeners expect to experience or feel when they listen to this track?

I hope they’ll feel solemnly encouraged towards honesty. I hope they have the feeling I had listening to “Blood Bank” by Bon Iver when he sings “that secret that you know. That you don’t know how to tell…” I was struggling so much with guilt and shame when I first listened to that song and that line and the feel of the song made my heart feel like Justin was singing exactly what my heart didn’t know it needed. So I hope they feel like they’re not alone and that this song makes them feel like “ahh someone finally gets it”. If they’ve been struggling with honesty or keeping up a face, then I think this song will give them relief. The instrumentation is gentle, simple, yet moving. It’s a really good setting for healing and contemplation.

What can we anticipate in terms of your upcoming projects?

I’m really excited for this upcoming year. I’ve been working on my next project, an EP called “Something More” for awhile now and I’m finally pulling plans together for funding it and scheduling some studio time to get it out the door. Lord willing, I’ll be recording in mid-spring of 2024 and then seeing about a summer release date. This will be my first time making a project the “proper” way with studio time with a great studio in Grand Rapids called Local Legend Recording, hopefully, enlisting some really talented players to back me up with tracking and then getting to mix it with my friend Zach Rumley (who mixed my current record) step by step. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be showcasing my other influences and is going to be a really refreshing addition to my catalog. Other than that, if funding allows, I’m also looking at doing two singles with two producers I’ve wanted to work with for a long time, but you’ll have to stay tuned for that haha.

Where can our readers find additional information about you and your work?

You can go to my website www.jonhayesofficial.com for links to all my work and to keep up with developments in my career. If you want a deep dive on me as a person, my work and my album you can listen to my interview with a podcast called “Between You and Me,” funny enough! My interview was called “Manipulating God and Honesty. Jessica, the host, did a great job and it was a wonderful conversation.