Growing Vegetables to Make Music: An interview with Shaina Hayes

CJLO DJ Lumina sits down with local artist Shaina Hayes to talk; childlike wonder, farming and finding inspiration in the “non-creative.” 


I'm wondering, what was the inspiration for the name, Kindergarten Heart and what does this title mean to you?

That song specifically is about tapping back into your childhood brain. More specifically, a version of yourself that's not encumbered with the stresses and weightiness of being an adult. It’s about trying to let loose and be free and living in your childhood wonder. The song structurally is doing this thing where the verses are trying to remember that sentiment, trying to get back into it. And then the very end section, the chorus of the song is meant to be like what it would feel like if I were to be successful and suddenly time travel into my childhood brain. Kindergarten Heart as a title is about childhood but other songs deal with other moments in my life, like the early days of falling in love or memory at a large scale.

Do you mind speaking about your process when you write songs, how did you go about this journey to “retap into your childhood self”? 

This album just came out in February, but in truth, the songs were written within a year and a half before, which meant I was still farming full time and with my first album as well. I was farming full time and, I think for me, farming has facilitated my process musically. In the cracks of my days, as I would get home and be tired and be getting ready for bed I would just mess around on the guitar and the music would come up. That's something that I think happened a lot during the farm work because you're doing a lot of these kinds of mindless tasks, a lot of the time. So it, I guess, it awarded me a lot of time for my brain to wander and it's in a beautiful environment.

To me, there's something very freeing about being in agricultural spaces, letting my mind wander like that and sort of just being surrounded by beautiful things. Even if you're not directly trying to make something beautiful about that specific beautiful space you're in, it still sort of influences it. I think there's something really important about surrounding yourself with beauty and letting it inspire you to make other beautiful things. So that's my process. Often the melodies and the chords and stuff come to me in little moments when I'm messing around on the guitar and the ideas and the lyrics are sort of a separate thing that take shape in those tasks. But I guess now I'm farming a lot less, so I'm having to be a bit more direct with it. So I am just sitting down and kind of hashing out these ideas in full.  But, it’s a changing process.

Maybe this is a bit of an unfair question but I'm going to ask it anyway. Do you have a favourite song on the album?

I don't think it's unfair. I think people often have a favourite. I think it kind of depends on my mood. The last song on the album “Mastery” was one of the last to be written and I guess content-wise it's a bit more fresh in that way. But, gosh, I think lyrically my favourite is “A Thousand Perfect Words,” which was a song that literally just came up in full with no arrangement. I wrote the lyrics while I was on tour, in a car with my bandmate, sleeping beside me. I was kind of just driving this five-hour drive, writing the words, and it sort of all came together in one piece and I like that about it. It's very unprocessed. It’s hard to say though, I like them all, depends on my mood.

I really love the song “Sidewalk,” with its honky-tonk rhythm and I’m wondering if there’s a story behind it?         

It's a lament to people who are pessimistic. “Your heart’s on the sidewalk, you drew it there in blue chalk and it's fading away with every raindrop.” You’re just like, "oh poor me, woe is me," and so long as you're saying "woe is me," it's gonna rain and your heart is gonna be washed out. If this is the tone you're taking with your life, then it's not gonna mend itself, essentially. With “Sidewalk,” I was trying to keep the childhood theme with that imagery. It's sort of a sassy, maybe too sassy, lament for people who are being too pessimistic, and we were very intentionally trying to make it sound like a saloon, like you're sitting in a dingy bar. We had a big vision for that one.

Some of your songs are addressed to “you.” I was wondering if you're talking to specific people or something else?

I guess it depends on the song. I think often they're directed at specific folks, but I try to keep it relatively broad. The first song “Early Riser” is to a good friend of mine, also from the Gaspé, who also moved away. The song is addressed to her and about how we're getting older at a distance and how we both miss home. “Sun and Time” was for another friend who I farmed with when I was at McGill and about how we both had such a hard time in the winter, because our summers were so full and so busy and so fruitful. The seasonal letdown in the winter was always really hard for us. Any of the sassier ones are probably with certain people in mind, but I try to keep them vague enough so that no one's ever going to notice, or it will never be offensive to anyone. I think I’m often writing to people. 

Can you talk about your farming practice?

I studied agricultural sciences at Mac campus at McGill with a specialization in ecological agriculture, so organic farming, basically. I went on to work for a bunch of other vegetable farms not far from Montreal. In 2020 I was supposed to be running a farm for a restaurant, and because of the pandemic, they obviously closed, but it was March so I had already prepped a bunch of stuff. I made a deal with them where I used the land and the equipment and I started my own farm and did the basket program, which I had done before when I was at McGill, we ran the student-run farms. It was a full-fledged CSA Farm. You really had to learn quickly and you had to learn enough that you then had to pass on the information. 

That’s so cool. 

It was so cool. And it was enormous! We were doing like three market stands a week and like 80 CSA baskets. And it was such a great learning opportunity. The coolest thing at McGill.

So anyway, when the pandemic hit, I took over this farm from this restaurant and then kept doing that for three more years.

Last year, I officially retired from the basket program because the music kind of took over, but until that point, it was very, very full time and it was pretty much just me. I had some volunteers, but I kept it at a scale that was feasible for one person.

Can you talk a bit about the time in your life when you decided to pursue music more full-time and also about your career transition?

I just wrote an essay about it in TalkHouse.

There was a transition, but it was such a natural transition for me in the way that I mentioned that the farm was pretty influential in me writing my songs, it facilitated a lot of those first songs in many ways. As I said, it is such a beautiful landscape that you're creating, the baskets themselves are beautiful, the vegetables are beautiful. Initially, when I turned towards farming in my university studies which eventually led to me working at these farms and starting my own farm it was in an effort to pretty consciously, move away from music. I had studied music at CGEP, jazz voice and I found it pretty intimidating and really competitive and I felt like it wasn’t for me, and moved towards farming in a conscious effort to get away from creativity.

But, when I started my own farm and was realizing how beautiful it was, how much satisfaction I got out of that, I realized that my desire to farm at its core is still a very creative desire. What I love most about it is creating these landscapes and sharing this produce that I've created with people. So, the farming awakened my desire to be creating all the time and that's I think why in the cracks of the farming I was writing songs.

That's why in the winter I found myself drawn back to writing music because I had awakened this desire to be creative and had awakened my confidence to being creative. 

I don’t think this would have happened without having had that farming experience, I would have never gotten there. And I think there's something to be said for not being a full-time musician all the time as far as you know, content of the songs and life experiences, I just feel like having had a more diverse life and having had a life where I wasn't just a musician surrounded by musicians all the time has made for, I think, perhaps more meaningful discussion within my songs. Hopefully… They seem like very different things and they are in a lot of ways, but for me, it’s a path that went directly from one into the other. They're intertwining.

Is there a message you’re trying to convey through your music?

I don't think there's one specific message, I guess maybe if there was, it would be if you have something beautiful that you want to say, you should probably just say it. You know, I wasn't avoiding making music actively for my twenties. I was busy doing other things but I do look back and I'm like you know, I love doing this so much now. I love making these songs. It's too bad it took me so long. No regrets, I think it’s been very rewarding to finally feel the confidence to do it. So I guess it's just that. If nothing else, you should give it a go. If you have something beautiful to say, say it!

We talked a bit about having a career previous to music and I'm wondering if you have any advice for people who are transitioning careers or want to pursue music?

I think the bottom line with my transition is it was incredibly gentle and incredibly patient. People might look at it and it might seem like I just made this drastic jump to this new thing, but I think the seeds were planted a long time ago and I just gently followed things that I was interested in, that being the farming until I was in a point where I was then interested in music and I followed that. I've always just done what interested me.

If you're looking for practical advice, it would be: apply for grants. There's a lot of funding available, especially for music and people don't realize it and if I had never applied for grants, I would never have been able to start a music career at all. Yeah, I would say, patience… but also applying for grants.

That’s super cool, that is like spiritual and practical advice.

Yeah, if I had to describe myself in two words it would be reasonable and spiritual.


Photos by  Lawrence Fafard, courtesy of Bonsound 


Lumina hosts Love Songs for Bike Lanes, music about things that matter, Mondays 11AM-12PM