In Conversation with Hayden James

Interview by Arnold van der Walt

One of Australia’s hottest exports, Hayden James, recently released a music video for his single ‘Just Friends’ featuring vocals from Boy Matthews via trendsetting label Future Classic and music industry giant Universal. Hayden James has seen widespread success across the world with his singles being streamed more than 210 million times on Spotify and more than 42 million views on Youtube, proving that he has the ability to connect with a wide array of fans. With regards to his global sound, he has upcoming shows in Bali, Perth, Auckland, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Washington and more. See more details here.

Hayden James has worked and toured with some of the biggest names in the electronic music scene like Odesza, RÜFÜS DU SOL, Snakehips and GRAACE to mention a few. His signature feel-good sound makes it hard not to tap along while a smile stretches across your face.

We sat down with Hayden James and had a chat to him about his new single ‘Just Friends’, the gear he uses and how he sets out to record a new song:

Set the tone for us. Why did you decide to go into the music industry? Why the arts?

I’ve played instruments and been around music since I was 5 years old. Music has always been a part of me, so it wasn’t so much a choice of becoming part of the music industry once I finished University, but more of a natural decision. I can’t see myself doing anything else.

You’ve had multiple hits in the past but looking at the reaction ‘Just Friends’ is getting, you must feel quite proud! How does it feel knowing so many people are connecting to a track you made?

Thank you. I do feel incredibly proud with ‘Just Friends’ and everything I’ve released. To have that connection with people you’ve never met before feels very special. I’m just pumped that people are out there listening to my music.

How did you and Boy Matthews end up working together?

Boy (Jay) and I met through a mutual friend in NYC last year in the summer. ‘Just Friends’ was the first thing we wrote together… it was a very quick process. It felt natural from the beginning.

On a related note, how do you go about selecting who you want to collaborate with, or is it more of an organic process?

I love to work with a whole range of artists in all different genres. I’ll usually be listening to some random playlist on Spotify and come across a voice or production technique I love and try make contact with the artist, and sometimes i’m lucky enough that people will approach me to work on music. You can tell pretty much in the first couple of minutes if there’s a vibe between you or not.

What’s on your current playlist?

Lots of Aussie stuff actually – Running Touch, Rufus Du Sol, Flight Facilities, Golden Features, Wafia and Parcels.

If you had to choose between never playing live again or never being able to release new music again, which would you choose, and why?

Wow that’s a good question! I need to write, that’s what comes most naturally to me. I would have to pick releasing new music!

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on social media/etc?

I love chatting with fans of my music. If you’ve hit me up on Facebook or Instagram, it’s me who’s responding. I love hearing stories of how a song of mine has made them feel and impacted their lives.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

My friends and a bottle of champagne 😉

Speaking of, you will be embarking on a US tour soon, followed by a series of shows where you will be returning home to Australia. Can fans expect something special from these shows?

I can’t wait to head back to the USA. I’m playing a bunch of DJ sets this time with a few live shows in San Francisco and CRSSD Festival in San Diego. I’ll be playing a lot of new music at these shows and I might have a new single being released half way through the USA dates !

You recently played a sold-out London show, do you have any UK shows in the pipeline?

That was such an incredible vibe. It was also the hottest day London has seen for 40 years.. it got sweaty. I’ll be back hopefully mid next year in the summer.

What is the single emotion you would like fans to tap into during a Hayden James set?


Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

It’s the idea for sure. All my demos are figured out on guitar, keys and basic synth patches. To me, the power of a great song comes in the song writing. Production is a close second..

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I have learnt a lot about the hardware synthesizers I have, but a lot of the time the idea/sound that really jumps out is just mucking around plugging different pedals into things, adding effects you wouldn’t normally use on a certain instrument and just going from there. Experimentation unlocks creativity.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

I wouldn’t say my set-up is a recording studio, but more of a writing room. It’s full of instruments, plants and light. I’ll usually start the day by flipping over my sand timer (20 min) and write an idea, something totally new, and add it to a work in progress folder. The amount of times I go back to something I’ve written quickly and been able to turn it into a song makes it totally worth it! The rest of my time in the studio is just working on demos, listening to a lot of music and sometimes having a vocalist come in and record over some demos with me. This is how ‘NUMB Feat. GRAACE’ came about. I usually spend from 8am to 7pm in the studio.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

Yeah, actually recently. It was when I released tickets to my upcoming Australian tour and they all sold out in a few hours. I was pretty shocked to be honest. I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.

What gets your creative juices flowing? How do you make sure you stay in the zone?

Most of the time it’s about spending time outside the studio for me. I find if I lock myself in the studio and put pressure on coming up with something great, I’ll go mad. Taking time away from an idea is super important and lets you come back to something with fresh ears. That’s when I’m at my most creative.

Let’s get technical for a moment: take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

I play around with so much gear, but here’s a list of studio gear I will use in every song / production:
Monitors: Focal SM9’s, Rokit 6’s
Keyboards: Juno 106, Prophet 08, Prophet 6, OP-1, Joey MS20
Outboard: Studio electronics SE1X, Vocoder SVC-350, Ensoniq DP/4
Soft synths/DAW: Ableton, Soundtoys, Wav bundles, Output, U-HE, Roland cloud, Massive

Any side projects you’re working on?

I collaborate with a couple of different artists for their projects, but not as a group side project at them moment. I had some sessions with Katy Perry last year and wrote a song on her latest record, ‘Deja Vu’. That was a pretty amazing experience.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I like to think so. The more you do something, the more you learn, the better you’ll become.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year? Any new collaborations you can tease?

I’ve just finished a remix for Bob Moses that will be out very soon. There’s also a new single that you’ll also hear this year 😉

Hayden, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to The Playground. Before you go, what are your famous last words?

Simplicity is key. Thanks for listening!

A still from Hayden James – Just Friends Ft. Boy Matthews

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