notes from the Northwest music scene
Friday, December 03, 2004
WRY GUY ED HAYNES -- Odd things happen in Haynes' songs. A nun marries a serial killer. An employee calls in sick with "a mild case of coma." An agnostic harbors impure thoughts for a lovely Amish girl. Dysentery leads to true love.
"I played a show one time," Haynes recalls, "and a guy said to me afterwards, 'Um, I'm not sure I'd wanna hang out with you.' "
But Haynes' penchant for the peculiar works in tandem with an emotional honesty that allows many of his songs to achieve a tricky balance of wit and poignancy. And that fine, writerly line runs right through his new album, "Snacking With a Vengeance," the release of which he'll mark with a solo show Friday night at Mississippi Studios.
"Two of my biggest heroes are Loudon Wainwright III and Randy Newman," Haynes says, revealing a lot about the inspiration for his wry and often deceptively conversational style. "The way Newman writes in the guise of all these different characters, I think is really interesting.
"But earlier on, a big influence was Tom Lehrer. I like comedy records. The sound of people laughing, I've always liked that."
And so we have songs such as "Anthrax," which draws chuckles (at least in the live recording included on "Snacking") with its opening lines: "I've got anthrax baby/Won't you sleep with me tonight?" If that sounds like a cheap gag of a song, well, it is. But even here, Haynes makes it work by both adding an undercurrent of feeling even as he keeps the laughs coming. "I'm going to miss all my good friends when I'm gone," he sings sincerely. "I'd really love to miss you too/Just one thing you got to do . . ."
That's probably the album's most frivolous song, but it still serves as an example of the heart of Haynes' writing method. "I'll take a ridiculous situation and try to make it real by going into the character. Without trying to sound to pretentious about it, I try to write honestly, to make things believable."
One Haynes song that sprang from a ridiculous premise yet struck a chord was "I Want to Kill Everybody," from his 1989 debut album "Ed Haynes Sings Ed Haynes." A demi hit, it landed him briefly on MTV, led to some regional touring and still has fans searching for copies on the Internet.
"That song hurtled me out of the ranks of the unknown and into the ranks of the obscure," as Haynes puts it. "I don't play that song anymore, though. I'd have to update the lyrics. It's about a guy who's upset that the government can't start any real wars."
Both the debut and his second album, "Poolside Phone," were recorded while Haynes lived in the San Francisco area. But an old California friend, Jim Brunberg of the band Box Set, invited him to come record in Portland -- where Brunberg now runs Mississippi Studios -- and within months of his first sessions he'd moved north.
He hasn't performed all that often since relocating, but continues to write when he isn't spending time with one of his favorite hobbies: baking bread.
"I'll be bringing some stuff over to the show. We'll be doing a raffle and giving out some snacks."
Which is an odd thing to happen at a folkie songwriter's show. But maybe it'll help convince you Haynes is someone you'd want to hang out with after all.
Ed Haynes: The Bio
Ed Haynes wrote his first song at age thirteen, shortly after his mother bought him his first guitar. The song he wrote was terrible. I mean real awful. Unfazed, however, by the melodic deficiencies and the blatant self-aggrandizing nature of his lyrics, he kept at it. He began writing better and better songs.
After moving to San Francisco as an emotionally immature young man, he broke into an unoccupied recording studio in the wee hours one morning and recorded, very quietly, a handful of his own compositions. That simple tape of him - alone hunched over a guitar and practically whispering into the microphone for fear of alerting the police - landed him a recording contract. His debut album Ed Haynes sings Ed Haynes was released. The album featured the college-radio anthem I Want to Kill Everybody, which reached out and touched a generation of un-snapped loners. The video of the song became an all-too-brief staple on MTV. People Magazine declared Ed "extremely interesting", a comment that Ed described as "somewhat interesting".
In support of his album, Ed toured nationally, and made sojourns into Canada and England as well. Some of the clubs that have been proud (author's interpretation) to present Ed Haynes include: Tipatina's in New Orleans, The Bottom Line in New York, The Hammersmith Odeon in London, and The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
Following this initial success Ed Haynes rested on his laurels. His friends, family, and colleagues all told him "Ed, don't rest on your laurels! Don't rest on your laurels!" Ed, however, much to his credit, lumped this and all other kernels of free advice he received into the "actively ignore file" and remained a determined follower of his own, sometimes bizarre predilections.
He hobnobbed with celebrities, famous politicians, rouge lawyers, and jaded journalists. He beat the crap out of Norman Mailer and Mickey Rourke at the same time in Malibu, CA. in what would later be dubbed the "Nitrous-oxide Incident." He re-enrolled at San Francisco State University to finish up his degree in Sandblasting that he had begun years before. He tried to launch a golfball-swallowing craze.
But what of his early formative years? Ed was born and raised just outside Washington D.C. in Northern Virginia. He vividly remembers sitting at the picnic tables at the public swimming pool eating Sweet-tarts and Red-Hots when Richard Nixon announced his resignation in 1974. Did growing up just outside the Beltway during the turbulent and tumultuous early 70's have a profound influence on young Ed, and help shape him into the kind of songwriter and social critic that he is today? "No" says Ed, staring vacantly into space.
Even through the rocky unstable periods of his personal life, however, Ed Haynes has continued to write songs. Mining the vast resources of his personal experiences, and borrowing the personal experiences of others (with or without their permission), Ed is never at a loss for subject matter to write about. His mantra for many years has been "There have always been the songs, and there will always be the songs." He can be heard repeating this mantra over and over, sometimes in a low barely audible mutter, and other times in loud shrieking banshee-like wails.
Now, with the release of his new album Snacking with a Vengeance, Ed's truly is a rags-to-riches story, only set to music. Except that he never really was in rags, being brought up quite comfortably in a middle-class suburb. And technically speaking, he isn't actually rich. There's no Family Money. Frankly, he'll be lucky if there's any inheritance at all considering the way his retired parents have been painting the town red. They're on a fixed income for gosh sakes! But it's a rags-to-riches story all the same. At the beginning he sucked. But he worked hard and it has paid off for him. I think we all can learn something from the Ed Haynes saga and apply it to our own lives. I know I will. But first I think we should all listen to his new CD.