Jon Hayes

Thank you for taking the time to have this interview with IMAAI.
Tell us about your music.
My music pulls from a lot of different influences with this consistent undercurrent of “John Mayer” throughout most of it. I love bands like NEEDTOBREATHE, Colony House and Switchfoot along with artists like Allen Stone, Gavin Degraw, and of course John Mayer but I’ve also come to love work from Indie-Folk artists like Novo Amor and Bon Iver. So my music pulls from all these different places: rock, tender singer-songwriter, indie-folk, pop and ties them together with a thread of honesty-driven, reflective lyrics.

When did you start performing?
My first times on stage were in elementary and middle school for talent shows and a school play. After that it was helping the worship team at my church and being in various bands with my older brother, Josh, throughout my late childhood and early teen years. Eventually, I branched out on my own to start my own projects and picked up more stage experience through the worship program at Word of Life Bible Institute. Soon after graduating, I started working on my solo project, playing a few one off gigs the first year and then slowly ramping up with some stops and starts along the way. I had just started getting plugged in with my local scene in Kalamazoo, MI, USA right before COVID in 2020. I ended up taking a church job as a Worship Pastor for a couple of years and then leaving due to vision differences. It was after leaving and things opening back up in 2022 that I really started to play out more often, starting with a self booked tour across the Midwest and Northeast called “Summer of ’22” that included house concerts, a coffee shop, a youth camp attached to my old college and others. That was a kickstart for me. I played a few shows across the fall and winter of that year including branching out to Chicago through Sofar sounds. After that I played an album release tour of about 10 dates spread out from February until April of 2023, playing across the Midwest and getting to venture down South for the first time. Now, most recently, I’ve continued to play house concerts and am planning more conventional ticketed events, but I’ve been able to keep busy and keep growing the performing side of the business by playing sets at local and regional businesses which has kept me well booked over the summer months. Adding that in has really helped to keep my business regular and is helping me connect with more listeners in local and regional area.

What do you consider to be your hometown and how does that affect your music?
It’s an interesting question for me, because as a person I consider my hometown to be Haverhill, MA where I grew up for the most part. But, musically, my hometown is Kalamazoo, MI. Being in this town has really been a help to my music career. Kalamazoo area has a really good pub/bar scene where, if you’re good, you can play out pretty regularly and make a decent income. It also has a couple of good venues for doing ticketed, conventional concerts. Then, on top of that, Grand Rapids has a majorly supportive market for independent and up and coming acts through WYCE 88.1 FM. I feel like they are the heartbeat of local music in GR, wanting to give opportunities for artists to get interviewed on air, have their music broadcasted, all that jazz. There’s also a really great infrastructure in GR, to my eyes, for acts being able to climb the ladder. What I mean is: “play this place a lot, try to build up your following, sell it out. Now, you can probably swing that over to this venue to try to grab an opening slot. If you do a good job, they may have you back when there’s a national touring act coming through looking for a local opener.” From there, you can really start building up as a well established local act and start show swapping with other established local acts throughout the midwest looking to tour. There’s also this great promoter named Nate Dorough who’s behind a lot of the bills getting put together in my market and he’s such a kind person, wanting artists who are talented and who are taking it seriously to succeed. So my mind has been blown by how good of a market SW Michigan is to be in for an emerging independent artist.

What performers have been your inspiration?
My influences in performing have been NEEDTOBREATHE, Colony House, Switchfoot, and John Mayer. An old band I was in in High School and early College covered NEEDTOBREATHE’s “Washed by the Water Live From the Woods” as the opener to our tour fundraiser show. I had seen them just a year before and was so amazed by the rock n’ roll smashes and lights but then how they also stripped everything back in the middle of the show to the band all gathered around one microphone with just voices and some acoustic instruments. That impacted me and has now subconsciously become a blueprint when I plan out bigger shows for my work. Switchfoot and Colony House are for similar reasons, they know how to rock with hope and love still in their hearts. The lights, the hard hitting instrumentals, the hopeful anthems and in Switchfoot’s case: the speaking to the deeper realities that hids behind our limited awareness, makes for an amazing concert that really means something.

For John Mayer, I feel like he embodies this passion that is so clearly there without having to be a rambunctious rocker. I think it’s his inspiration from the blues that affects and influences the way he presents himself and expresses his passion on his instrument.

What do you base your success on?
I don’t fully know yet. But I talked about this with my wife in a conversation a few days ago and will expand on that a little. I think success, to me, looks like being able to do something I deeply enjoy enough to really enjoy it and do it full on, while making enough money doing it so that I don’t feel this pressure of “I have to.” instead of “I get to.” I’d like to get to a place in music where I’m making enough money to really do this thing well, hiring the people I need to build a professional team and have a notable career with a growing tour schedule, growing streaming numbers, and a fan base that I can see my work making a difference in. Practically, I want to make enough income to have ability to chase after my next set of goals, but not too much to where I don’t have the need to wait/save/work hard. I also want to have a rhythm of rest in my life where I can pause to let my body rest and to spend time with my wife and with my kids. So success to me is “am I able to work at a satisfying pace towards my next set of goals?”, “am I able to give my body, my wife, and my family and friends the time they need/I’d like?” and “is my music making a difference to people? are some of my songs impacting them the way my favorite artists did in my time?”. Something along those lines is how I’d define success right now.

What was your latest musical release?
“Between You and Me,” is my latest release which came out in June, 2023. It’s the title track of my first album that was released physically in February, 2023 and is releasing in full on streaming platforms Fall, 2023. This song was written in 2019/2020 as I was embracing the tender, singer-songwriter genre I had been avoiding for the first few years of my solo project. I was inspired by my friend Hannah Peters who released an EP of songs that were all just her voice and her guitar. Up until that point, I had been dragging my feet with releasing music, worrying about trying to get the right approach: “should I keep recording at home like I did for ‘Temporary’ or go back to the studio like I did for ‘Rest.’?” I had deliberated a lot and was just wasting time because of my own insecurity at trying to get it right and wanting to live up to my own desire for ego. Her project, it’s simplicity and goodness gave me the freedom to realize my music didn’t need to be all dressed up. I could just release music as the songs themselves and let them be. That became the foundation and originally, these songs were meant to be all simple two track (or so) recordings. Over time, the scope grew some and in the end the album ended up having full arrangements on many of the tracks while still holding on to this simplistic nature. It’s an organic, folk-leaning record with some surprises mixed in and some of my other sonic influences mixed in to bring something that’s a beautiful amalgamation of much of the music I’ve loved. I think there’s a song in there for almost everyone.

Lyrically, this song, specifically, is very confessional. It’s me opening up my heart and confessing all the hurt I had been hiding because of fear, defensiveness and maybe even shame. The songs lyrics buck up against that emotion and choose to spill out the things that I hid out of fear for being the only one. But I’m not. I’m particularly proud of the first verse for the ping pong effect they took on that came out naturally rather than me trying to sculpt it out. The first verse says

“Between you and me, I’m getting older
I’m still so young but there’s a weight on my shoulders
That I have carried since I was eight years old
Fifteen years can be a life-long load.”

I love this because it bounces back and forth with these opposite concepts to paint a more full understanding of the feeling/thought being communicated then if I had just stated it plainly. I start off saying “I’m getting older” and then immediately jump to saying “I’m still so young”. What’s the sense in that then? The next phrase answers it “but there’s a weight on my shoulders”. So now the lyrics have communicated the idea that feeling old isn’t just about age, it can be because of being worn down by something, just like how joints can appear old from over-use. The next lines quietly tell you that I’m 23 when writing this by saying “that I have carried since I was eight years old, fifteen years can be a life long load”. And those last few words are the second “ping pong” concept in this section: a set amount of time, like fifteen years, can feel like a lifetime if the load you’re carrying is heavy enough. I was really proud that this level of lyricism came out of me so naturally. And I feel like this is a universal concept that everyone can feel an “amen” to in their hearts, anyone who’s suffered at least.

I had been looking up to Kevin Klein’s lyricism in the song “Nowadays” by Valleyheart in verse three that starts with “I love how we spoke with our eyes closed” for years when I wrote this tune, and it felt like some of his great work had started bearing fruit in me.

Do you have any news to share?
I haven’t announced it yet, but I’m planning a house concert tour for next summer called “Dinner, Movie, and a Show”. My supporters/fans have loved hosting house concerts, inviting their friends/family/community to their backyards/homes for some music and memory-making and so I’m continuing it again for next summer, but this time we’re going to add a cookout/potluck before the concert and a movie after. I always love the moments of a summer/fall event when I have to walk out to grab something from my car and I get to be on the fringes of a lovely gathering. I see all the stars in the sky, feel the cool night air and get to feel to peace of solitude mix with the comfort of nearby company and fellowship, it’s beautiful. So I wanted to create something that could make some of these moments happen a little more. We’ll have dinner together, I’ll play an acoustic concert with my 1960 camper as the backdrop for the stage, and then we’ll watch a movie on a projector on the stage and with my audio system. Naturally, some people will leave after the concert, others might head into the host’s house to catch up with the host, others may start a campfire, some may watch the movie, and others still might just stand in circles enjoying company and light conversation. I love these moments and I hope this tour creates some of them next summer.

How can fans find you?
My website has links to all socials and spotify!

Here are individual links as well

Lastly, please share some final words with the fans.

If you like what I’m doing, the biggest thing you can do to support is to come to a show, share my music with your friends, or do both at the same time and reach out to me about hosting a house concert! They’re free to the host (besides some snacks or beverages) and your guests just give a donation if they are able to.

I say that because I think people think “making it” in music is some undefined thing that “just happens” to some artists who are especially talented. Talent is important, but it doesn’t make an artist rise through the ranks: people enjoying their music enough to buy in and become a fan who comes to shows, tells people about the artist, and listens to their music is what drives an artist’s success. So if you enjoy what I do, support it if you can! 🙂