With her gorgeous new album (out 8 December), “Piper & Carson,” Piper Hayes has created a soundscape not only of her life (depicted as a day, start to finish) but also a statement about how we can and should live in the world, and make the world a much better place. In tandem with her partner Carson Ritcey-Thorpe, Piper has crafted a beautiful set of songs that pay tribute not only to a life well lived, but also to her late mother.
The album was recorded live off the floor at Thorpe’s Organic Produce farm in Millgrove, ON (near Hamilton) in the summer of 2017. It was captured in the living room of the century-old Ritcey-Thorpe family farmhouse, and has an absolutely lovely immediacy to the sound that enhances these songs even more.
The album starts off with the haunting “Wolf Song,” a call to respect the natural order (rather than trying to circumvent it). “For All We Know,” the first single released from the project, is a beautiful ode to the beginning of life (and the rare opportunity to live it fully), while “Dear 1%’ is a powerful call to action for all of us to live more authentically.
Other highlights from the album (although it’s really difficult to pick just a few!) include “Save Some For Yourself,” an inspiring call to reserve a bit of love for ourselves while we pour ourselves for others, and “Beneath the Waves,” a hauntingly reflective piece that showcases Piper and Carson’s musical partnership at its best. “I Don’t Wanna Go On” is an absolutely riveting (and, from my own experience, spot-on) description of grief at the loss of a parent, grief that does not necessarily ease with time but rather continues to burn from within.
This is a thoughtful, beautiful album whose treasures are unlocked not only on the first listen, but on repeated spins. I look forward to hearing more work from Piper (and Carson!).
We’re delighted that Piper took the time to talk about the album with us.
The album starts off with “Wolf Song,” a plea not only to decrease our dependence on meat (due to the economic and ecological cost of raising it) but also to allow the natural cycle of things to operate, rather than killing wolves who are only doing what comes naturally to them. Why this particular song and topic to lead off the project?
From the beginning ‘Wolf Song’ stood out as a powerful, topical and necessary song. A song that has already stirred people, myself included, into action. When I wrote it, I was nestled in the Sawtooth mountain range in Stanley, Idaho on a week-long songwriting retreat. I was inspired by the breathtaking wild landscape surrounding me.
The first time I played the song live I was excited to invite everyone to howl along. It quickly became apparent that people don’t need to be asked twice to howl, and I can’t think of a single audience that hasn’t howled along since. It’s inclusive also with the lyrics: ‘Stop the killing, stop the murder and stop the hate!’ For me, this is about more than wolves. It is about all the lives on this planet that have ended and continue to end because of needless greed and power of corporate and colonial structure.
We live in a time when many must fight to stay alive and it is our responsibility to change this. We have forgotten the power of unity, and this is what we can learn from the wolf. ‘Wolf Song’ allows listeners to transport themselves, immerse all their senses. I think we have much to learn from the animals, plants and rocks around us.
You recorded this album in three days, with the actual recording happening in one take on Day 3. How did that impact the resulting songs, do you think?
Yes, we set aside three days for recording the bed tracks. Our producer Chris Bartos came out to the farm and we got everything set up only to wake up day two to find his Lynx not working. After a couple hours of troubleshooting we rented a lesser quality piece of equipment and did two takes of the original 16 songs. Carson and I remembered feeling pretty deflated that night. But, the next morning Chris had a big grin on his face. The Lynx was working again.
It was a bit of a miracle, the way it all played out. The hiccup had turned into a dress rehearsal and now we all locked in; me on vocals and acoustic guitar, Carson on vocals and acoustic guitar and Chris on upright bass. There was this unstoppable momentum in the room, I remember banging out the songs all in one take. We became a unit and we let the songs take us on the journey they needed to have.
This project was full of deadlines that, in the end, I truly believe strengthened the art and the story. We also recorded the pedal steel on a separate day. The fiddle, Moog and electric guitar parts where written and recorded by Chris at his studio, and he came back to the farm later to record the old piano.
Working with Chris was instrumental. He understood our desires to highlight vocals and lyrics, and the resulting songs are magic.
You mention on your website that the concept of the album is essentially to take the listener through a day in your lives. What do you hope your listeners see/hear about their own lives as a result of listening to your album (start to finish)?
Perspective is so important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama of our individual lives and loose connection with the rest of the world. My hope is that after listening to the songs people will feel hopeful. Carson and I have put a lot of thought and energy into making our personal and business lives sustainable. We’ve been asking a lot of questions and speaking up on a lot of topics like mental health, racism, misogyny and ableism.
By no means are we perfect, but I do think some of the choices we make and the ideas we have are unique. Being raised by a teacher/early childhood educator (my mum Maggie Thomson Hayes) and being a teacher of 15 years myself, I’ve come to observe that humans learn best by example. I want to lead by example (as my mum did) and hope listeners might see where they may take action in their own lives. I would love for listeners to reflect on the lyrics and sentiment of the album. I think these stories initiate the thoughtful process required for change to transpire.
Listening to “Dear 1%” is an interesting experience from this side of the border (we’re based in the US) … you recorded this last summer and it seems even more relevant today than just a few months ago. What would you say about the song to folks down here?
Keep pushing back. As challenging as it is, this is not a time to give up. We must come together.
Dear 1% was written quite literally from our lives and experiences. I was inspired a few years ago to stop shaving. I realized I had never had my body intact in its full natural expression and this disturbed me. Furthermore, I realized the actual costs to remove the hair. At first it was embarrassing, but I kept reinforcing my decision with the question, ‘If it’s ok for men, why isn’t it for me?’ Overtime I realized how living true to our individual selves and loving these aspects is quite radical in today’s social climate. This disturbed me further.
Carson grew up on an organic vegetable farm. His dad Ted Thorpe is a community builder and sustainable food hero. He started the organic farmers markets in Toronto 20 years-ago when there were none; he was on the governing board for certification and he truly spearheaded the organic industry in Canada. Largely, his work and the work of so many farmers go unrecognized. How is this possible when they literally are providing fuel for us all to continue living? To me Ted is a hero.
Carson and I wrote this song because we want to remember and honour the true heroes in this world…people like my mum and his dad. It can be hard to know what to do, so we thought it was important therefore to include a very specific call to action ‘Spend all our money on ourselves, make our purchase power spread the wealth.’
My mum was always a big fan of finding ways to take action in our daily lives, and equity is something we can take part in every day. We can choose where and how we spend our money, and this is what Dear 1% is about.
Can you talk a bit about the soundscapes between several of the tracks, and why you selected these particular sounds? (I have to say I’m especially partial to the cat…)
I am so glad to hear you love the cat. He is a little lovable bugger named Joe. He is the friendliest, cuddliest and most mischievous cat, lol.
I recorded all the farm sounds on my iPhone, believe it or not. Living on Ted’s farm this last year has been life changing. I’ve never had so much connection to a piece of land and all the life on it before. I’ve been living in a state of wonder and awe. My mum’s passing last November also thrust me into this heightened state and I felt as though all my senses were activated ten-fold. She was full of never ending exuberance and appreciation for the world around her. I inherited some of this exuberance and choose to continue her legacy.
During the summer of 2017, I collected field recordings of birds, insects, weather and more. I wanted to give people a full sensory experience of life on this farmland and I chose to capture sounds that resonated with me in real time. I paired the sounds with the songs that seemed to have a similar vibe. Then I placed the sounds at the hours of day in which they originally happened. It was amazing to see the story take shape and truly represent a day in the life.
My mum was directly and indirectly a huge part of this album and it is dedicated to her. She loved birds, specifically crows, so it was only fitting they made an appearance. For the thunder, I stood outside recording for five minutes before I got the 30-second-long thunderclap, and there’s also an owl at the beginning of the last song. Shortly after my mum passed an owl’s call was present at the farm. My mum always told us a story of her encounter with a snowy owl on the beach in Maine after her mother passed, so it was very comforting when one showed up at the farm.
You have two album release events coming up (one in Hamilton, one in Toronto) – after that, do you have touring plans for the new album?
Yes, we sure do! Right now, I am working specifically on booking a Canadian east coast tour for early spring and a west coast for mid-summer. We will also be in Kansas City for Folk Alliance International conference in February 2018. I have dual citizenship, as I was born in NYC, so we are working on figuring out a viable touring schedule in the states and how to get the proper documentation for Carson too! I’m hoping to get back to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival again and Nepal in the next year or two as well.
Photo credit: Lisa MacIntosh. All photos taken at Thorpe’s Organic Produce farm in Millgrove, ON (near Hamilton) in the summer of 2017.
HAMILTON CD RELEASE:
WHO: Opener, Guelph-based folk group The Lifers at 9:00 p.m., Piper Hayes at 9:30 p.m. (with band Carson Ritcey-Thorpe on vocal and lead guitar, Bill Simms on upright bass and Sam DeRosa on harmonica).
WHERE: This Ain’t Hollywood, 345 James Street North, Hamilton, ON, L8L 1H3.
WHEN: Thursday, December 7, 2017, doors at 8:00 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $10.00 in advance, available online, or at the door for $12.00. CDs will be $15.00.
FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/1921684164743982.
TORONTO CD RELEASE:
WHO: Opener, Owen Sound’s Our Shotgun Wedding at 7:00 p.m. and Piper Hayes at 7:30 p.m. (with band Carson Ritcey-Thorpe on vocal and lead guitar, Bill Simms on upright bass and Chris Bartos on fiddle).
WHERE: The Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Avenue, Toronto, ON, M6J 3A1.
WHEN: Friday, December 8, 2017, doors at 6:00 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Advance tickets are $12.00, available online, or at the door for $15.00. CDs will be $15.00.
FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/126731344676511.