Getting to Know Shannon Hayden

Not that I have anything against cellists (I’m a fan of quite a few.), but rarely do they find themselves in the realm of what could be considered “hip.” ...

Not that I have anything against cellists (I’m a fan of quite a few.), but rarely do they find themselves in the realm of what could be considered “hip.”  However, Chicago-based cellist Shannon Hayden would very much seem to fit that description.  I daresay she’s the hippest cellist to come along since Isobel Campbell (Who, no offense to any other cellists, will hold the heavyweight championship belt of hip cellists for a minimum of the next hundred years.)  Shannon Hayden is likely best known for handling cello duties for sister folk duo Lily & Madeleine, but she also does her own music, in which she explores neoclassical, the ambient, the avant-garde, and experimental electronics.  Her latest album, You See the World, is out February 19th and on February 27th she begins a trek of dates that will have her both supporting and backing Lily & Madeleine, which includes a return to upstairs at World Café Live on March 4th.  I recently got a chance to chat with Ms. Hayden, who tells me that she has quite a fondness for the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection and that she also appreciates the diversity of the venues that playing with a folk pop act like Lily & Madeleine has allowed her to experience.

“The last couple of times we were [in Philly] were really good.  Our show last show at World Café Live, with the double-bill and Kimbra playing downstairs, was really great.  We also really enjoyed playing Boot & Saddle.  We play all kinds of different venues, so sometimes it’s like sit-down and then sometimes it’s in like a club.  For me, I’m always kind of divided.  I grew up in theatres, or ‘concert halls,’ but there’s something I love about playing in clubs and the having people be inches from you.  There’s definitely a vibe, almost a collaboration between the audience and the performer.  But yeah, I like something kind of right in-between those two settings.”

Although Shannon Hayden is not exactly a household name at this point, she has been making music professionally for some time now, but when I ask her what the highlights have been and she tells me that it actually goes back to her time studying music in college: “Probably the fact that I gave the first all amplified recital at Yale University… and they let me graduate [laughs].” She also mentions a memory of a rock band she was in during high school: “When I started evolving my cello sound I was playing in a rock band in high school and I remember putting the guitar down and picking up a cello and everyone seemed to want me to stick to the guitar, but then hearing the sound of that instrument blasted through a PA just blew their minds and they didn’t want me to pick up the guitar again.”  But in general, Shannon tells me that the real highlight of her work has just been the process of evolving her sound over the years: “It always seems so gradual, writing for my act.  I’ve been at it for a while and the whole journey has been very enlightening for me, which has been really great because I plan to do this for the rest of my life.”

When we get to talking about her upcoming release, You See the World, in particular Shannon tells me that the physical form actually played a large role in the structure of the album: “What I really like about this release is I knew I was going to release it on vinyl, which really makes you think about the album structure and order of the songs and what’s on side A and side B; it has a little more of a flow.  The first side is as pop as I get the second side is a soundscape and the more avant-garde side of what I do.  I’ve also included a crazy, demented country song [laughs]; I always try to include one thing that no one would ever guess.”  I’m equally amused by this characterization and go on to tell her that this particular track, “Baggage,” is actually my very favorite of the album, which reminds me of many of the sounds of my gothy youth (see: a more refined and less-genre-y take on the aesthetic of the likes of Rasputina, Switchblade Symphony, and Emilie Autumn).

In addition to her new record, last month saw the release of her official video for “Starshine.”  And the video is as hypnotically atmospheric as the song, seeing multiple shots overlapping as Shannon plays all on her lonesome, amidst a plethora of gently swaying and twisting picture frames.  When I ask her about the concept behind the video, she tells me that she felt like it’s a reflection of the way that she makes all of her music: “With the picture frames and the image layering, it is my idea of the visual representation of my layering of audio.  Also, I don’t think people understand that the music on the album can be performed live, so we wanted it to be like a live performance.”  She also tells me that she’s a huge fan of film, characterizing it as sort of the ultimate, all-encompassing medium, and that she takes a lot of inspiration from the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders (In particular Wings of Desire).

As our conversation starts to come to an end and Shannon tells me about the future she tells me that she’s very excited to be out on the road again and has a number of dates that are yet to be announced, but that she’s also very excited to start crafting new music in the process.

“Well, getting this album out is a big thing and I’ve been playing these songs for a while now, but what I’m really looking forward to is playing my new material, which will probably be on the next album.  I’m really looking forward to getting on the road.  I love touring and performing every night.  That’s my favorite thing in the world – beats recording.  I just love playing live.  It’s probably the music at its best and in the newest form.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.