While most parents encourage their children to take up a “respectable” career, for Shaina Hayes, the daughter of farmers in the Gaspé region of Quebec, things were a little different. My folks always wanted me to be a musician, she laughs, so for me, rebelling meant getting a degree in agricultural science!
With the release of Kindergarten Heart, Hayes proves Mom and Dad had the right idea after all. A captivating blend of gorgeous vocals, inviting melodies, and thought-provoking lyrics, Hayes’ second album fulfills the promise of her engaging 2022 debut, to coax a waltz. Call it folk-pop seasoned with alt-country, or simply pop – in any case, Shaina Hayes is making fresh, exciting music that needs to be heard.
Raised in tiny Shigawake, on the east coast of Quebec, Hayes grew up listening to singer-songwriters like Feist, Joni Mitchell and Regina Spektor, traditional country artists such as Hank Williams and Dolly Parton, and more modern country stars, including Shania Twain and The Chicks.
Attending McGill University in Montreal, Hayes pursued a degree in ag science, but also participated in the city’s bustling music scene. I sang in country and blues cover bands and studied jazz, but I wasn’t ready to make my own music, she recalls.
Hayes also sang backing vocals for the noise-rock band zouz, finding kindred spirits in the group’s Francis Ledoux and David Marchand. zouz is about as far as you can get from my music, she notes, but they have a softer side that doesn’t get put to use elsewhere.
In 2018, Hayes was ready to share her music with the world for the first time. She released the song Hollow on Bandcamp and was surprised by the strong positive reaction. It was just the stimulus she needed for songs to start pouring out.
Returning to her rural hometown of Shigawake, a major influence on her aesthetic sensibilities and her first reference of what she finds beautiful, she began recording to coax a waltz in late 2019. The album was produced by Hayes, Ledoux (who also mixed and played drums), and Marchand (who also played guitar, steel guitar, bass and keyboards), building the music around her graceful voice and acoustic guitar.
Like everyone else, Hayes went into lockdown in early 2020. She then started a CSA [community supported agriculture] farm and grew products to sell to subscribers for three years while finishing her debut album. Following the release of to coax a waltz in April 2022, she found her musical activities ramping up, and put farming on hiatus that fall.
Reteaming with Ledoux and Marchand, she started recording new songs in late 2022, just as live dates opening for bands like The War on Drugs and The Barr Brothers began to demand more of her attention.
Though Hayes cites Feist, Big Thief, and Blake Mills as recent inspirations, Kindergarten Heart is a work of striking originality. The exuberant title track sets the tone, focusing on, she says, rekindling a sense of childlike wonder by getting back in touch with earlier versions of yourself and rediscovering playfulness and lightness. While the songs are unified by her insights, there’s a startling variety of sounds, from intimate bedroom pop (A Thousand Perfect Words) to rollicking toe-tappers (Fun) to string-driven epics (Mastery).
Though Shaina Hayes wants to resume farming eventually, Kindergarten Heart guarantees she’ll be a full-time musician for the foreseeable future, as the world discovers this charismatic performer.
And how do her parents feel about this rapidly blossoming career? They’re thrilled, she says. Sometimes Mom and Dad really do know best.