Friday, December 13, 2013

Ten Questions With......Vincent Hayes

If you've heard either of Vincent Hayes' releases (2010’s Reclamation and this year’s The Grind), you will realize that he possesses the total package.....excellent songwriting skills that give you his perspective on the world around him, a gritty and heartfelt vocal style, and guitar chops to die for, plus one of the tightest bands in support in David Alves (bass) and Donnie Hugley (drums).

Hayes has already received a lot of attention from fans and critics.  In 2011, he was a BMA nominee for Best New Artist, a 2011 Blues Blast nominee for Best New Artist, and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award, and he won the 2011 Jammies (given on the Grand Rapids, Michigan music scene) for Best Blues Album, Album of the Year, and Best Band….all for Reclamation.  One listen to The Grind, and it’s obvious that Hayes will hear his name called a few more times during the 2014 awards season.  

Mr. Hayes was kind enough to sit down and participate in FBF’s Ten Questions With….series. We thank him very much for his time.

Hayes' New Disc - The Grind
Friday Blues Fix:  What did you try to do differently with The Grind from your previous release, Reclamation?  The first disc was pretty impressive, but you seem to have kicked things up a notch with this new release.

Vincent Hayes:  Well, I just let go of all of the “have to's” and said, "screw it, I'm going to stop trying to fit into this or that blues genre and just write music." Reclamation was an accumulation of tunes that I had been writing for the format of the Vincent Hayes Project, but I was feeling too constricted by the identity that band had developed over the years as this big powerful funky blues show. I found myself getting caught up in the entertainment side with that band, where for me, it has always been more about presenting songs and stories from an honest perspective. I was no longer being true to who and what I am, so The Grind is an attempt to get back to that.

FBF:  What do you think separates your brand of blues from the rest of the pack?  What makes you stand out from the crowd?

VH:  Maybe because I don't consider myself a “blues man”, just a musician who plays the blues. Muddy Waters was a blues man. Willie Dixon, Little Walter...those are blues men. I'm really not concerned with defining myself as much as focusing on writing the best songs I can write, and looking for a way to get that story into your soul. I want the music to form a connection, and for the story to come through clearly, and for you to feel those vibrations up and down your spine long after I unplug my guitar. I know that sounds like a lot to expect of myself, but that is what great music does for me, and I hold myself to the standards of the musicians who have inspired me. I really don't care what anyone thinks of my guitar playing, because I got most of it from someone else who got their stuff from someone too, and so on.

FBF:  Obviously, your music is influenced by other styles beyond the blues, but you manage to combine those styles into such a solid, cohesive brand of blues…What types of music have you listened to besides the blues?

VH:  Man, you name it. I was raised on a steady diet of 50's and 60's rock n' roll, from Dylan, Beatles, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Zeppelin, and the Ventures to Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, etc. In the 80's I got into all of the hair bands like Van Halen, Kiss, Dokken, Motley Crue, etc.....then dove pretty deep into the early Euro Punk/New Wave movement in my college years. These days I listen to a lot of roots rock stuff like Ray Lamontagne, Amos Lee, Ryan Adams, John Mayer, Black Keys, etc. I've been digging Gary Clark Jr's stuff a lot too. I've always got my mainstays too like Miles Davis, Bob Marley, and I'm a huge fan of The Verve, from UK.

FBF:  When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician?

VH:  When I was 9 years old, I told my mother that I was gonna be a rock star. Honestly, I somehow always just knew that this is what I was called to do. I tried to do the college thing for 5 years. I declared a major in World History and a minor in Japanese. About a year short of graduation, I decided to take a semester off to reconnect with the guitar and during that time I discovered a local blues jam, and was offered a job teaching private lessons. I've been a full time musician ever since.

FBF:  Who were some of your influences as a performer and a songwriter?

VH:  I have so many. Where to start? I honestly can't claim too many influences in the way of “performers”. For me, the music and the performance of it are synonymous, so in my world anyway, there can't be a great performance without the musical integrity to back it up.

FBF:  What drew you to the blues and led you to decide that you wanted to play the blues?

VH:  The honesty, the struggle, the raw human emotion, that deep pocket, those 3 chords and 5 pentatonic notes that seemed to have limitless possibility. I'm not sure I decided anything, I mean, I believe that it was decided for me. Like many, once that door was opened, there was no turning back. I felt like I was betraying God if I wasn't playing the blues, and I couldn't get enough. I grew up in Muskegon, which has always been racially segregated by a strip of highway that borders the white middle class, and black underclass parts of town. I was a white kid from a trailer park that lived in the poorer side of town, though I went to a mostly white middle class school. Next to the trailer park was a huge outdoor recreation park, which was mostly African American. I used to ride my bike over there as a kid and hang out, not even thinking any differently about it. My buddies and I used to play Space Invaders all afternoon and they had a stereo in the Pavilion playing stuff like Rick James, The Time, Prince, Gap Band, Meters, Parliament, Marvin Gaye. I think it was only natural that I discovered the blues a few years later.

FBF:  What was the first blues album you heard?

VH:  Well, I'm not sure of the first blues album I heard, but I can tell you that the first two full blues releases I owned were SRV's Couldn't Stand The Weather, and a compilation called The Electric Blues Gold Collection, which had about three songs each from Muddy Waters, BB King, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf. I wore them both out in the tape player in my car, and after I figured out how to play all of the songs on those two records, I started picking up everything blues I could get my hands on!

FBF:  On a lot of your songs, both on Reclamation and The Grind, you seem to draw from personal experience and make it easy for the listener to relate to what you are saying….Is there a particular method that you use to do your songwriting or do they just come naturally?

Hayes' 2010 Release - Reclamation
VH:  No, I don't really have a “method” per se. The best ones just happen on their own, whether it's a great hook that happens at a jam, or a lyrical phrase that comes into my head while doing something else, like taking a shower or running errands. Then it's kind of like making soup, and I just start throwing things in until it tastes good. Luckily, unlike making soup, it's easier to take something out of a song if it doesn't fit or something better comes along. It's like making a painting or a sculpture-the fun is in the process, and it's done when it's done. Yeah, I definitely draw most of my material from personal experience, but sometimes it's my experience in being exposed to someone else's story just as well. I like to write about real life, because I find it's usually so much more twisted and interesting than fiction. For me, it's all about the story and the lyrics. I can forgive myself for a bad note, or even an awkward musical phrase, but lyrics are what most people are going to sing along to at the show. Think about the new breed of “soulless pop” out there. Musically some of it is pretty interesting, but if the lyrics are just ridiculous it's hard to justify to anyone that it's a “good song.”

FBF:  What are some of the blues albums that are mainstays of your collection?

VH:  Off the top? I have all of the early Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac stuff, TheyCall Me Muddy Waters, tons of Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, BB King's Live At Cook County Jail is an all time favorite, and my favorite album of all time, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.

FBF:  What’s your next project?  Are there some things you would like to try in the future that you haven’t already tried?

VH:  Well, as you know I have a new line-up, which has re-invigorated my creativity. For the time being, we are a just a power trio, but when budget allows it's always nice to bring other instruments on board. I also play Native American and Japanese flutes, percussion, and basic keyboards, so you never know. I like to experiment with loops and weird sounds, delays, and I'm a huge fan of strings, especially cello. I have a sitar, which is collecting dust, but I can get around a little on it, and would love to write something around it. Jeff, my bassist, plays upright and he's very creative on the electric bass too. Steve, the drummer, is one of the best drummers I've ever heard, and can find a groove in anything, so the options are wide open. I know the next record won't be a straight blues thing, though I may do another one someday for fun. There are just too many melodies and sounds, vibrations and emotions to get stuck in a genre or even a sub genre. The blues will always be my strongest roots, but the sky is the limit.

FBF (Free Bonus Question):  What are some of your favorite songs on the new disc?

VH:  Well “Things That Get Me By” has become my favorite song to date. It was actually written back in 2007, and I've played it at most of my solo shows ever since. It stands the test for me, and I think the lyrics, vibe and composition feel the most complete of any song I've ever written. I can always go back to a song and think “yea, I could have done such and such differently”, but every time I play or hear that song it never leaves me wanting nor wishing for something else. Of course I like all of the tracks on the new disc too, but I'll leave it to the listeners to decide what they like best. I'm always curious to know why certain songs are more or less attractive to people. I really dig this disc, and I really enjoy them all. It's complete, and these songs were chosen because they all mean something to me. Hopefully others will connect with them somehow and will get something out of this disc that isn't easy to forget.

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