The cat's comeback

ROB WILLIAMS

, Last Updated: 8:56 PM ET

It can get a bit crazy being in the spotlight all the time.

It can get even worse when you step out of it.

Just ask musician Hayden Desser, who has newsgroups on the Internet devoted to sightings of the reclusive Toronto singer-songwriter.

"There were reports on one of my Web-things I worked at Home Depot for a while, I don't remember that, but it was possible," he says laughing.

Hayden, who goes by his first name only, released Skyscraper National Park last year, following three years of silence.

With no record label waiting for an album (it was swallowed up in a corporate merger and dissolved) and no deadline to record another album, Hayden, 30, spent some time getting his life in order after the tour for his 1998 album The Closer I Get. He bought a house, got some new cats and built a home studio where his new album was recorded.

"It was all kind of up to me if whether I wanted to start recording again, if I even felt like writing again, so it all just really happened naturally and it only happened when I really felt like it," he says. "For a while I was pretty adamant on doing music just for myself and for my friends and trying to do things that gave me pleasure I guess, so I really wasn't in a huge rush to get my name back out there.

"I wasn't a writing machine, that's for sure."

The result is the same Hayden fans know and love: poetry and intelligent, melancholy introspective lyrics -- many mumbled or sung in a falsetto voice -- over a bed of acoustic guitars and piano.

Some of the piano parts on the album were inspired by his cat Woody, who likes to walk on the piano.

"I think he likes the sound he makes by stepping on the keys," Hayden says. "I'm not sure if he understands what's going on, but he's written some of my favourite music over the last couple of years. It's very avant-garde."

Skyscraper National Park was originally distributed by Hayden in 100 handmade wooden cases for friends, family and people who worked on the album. He made an additional 1,500 numbered CDs out of cardboard and sold them at shows on a small cross country tour. The album was eventually picked up by Universal and put into full distribution in September.

He didn't do any promotion for last year's tour and tried to play in the smallest places he could to see if he still had a fan base after his time off.

"I didn't know if anyone remembered who I was. I didn't really have a concept of how many people would come see me," he says.

It might seem odd the man once called the next great Canadian hope in Billboard magazine and one of the 40 most vital artists in 1997 by Spin magazine would be nervous about still having fans, but the humble Hayden also admits it was hard playing before live audiences again after two-and-a-half years of performing strictly for his feline friends.

"It seemed like a good step for me to see if I enjoyed going back out into public again and it kind of worked, and it give me the want to do what I'm doing now," he says.

Hayden will perform solo with only a guitar and piano during the tour, which stops at the West End Cultural Centre tonight and tomorrow. He will play songs covering his whole career and some new ones not on the album.

He was thinking about having Woody do some background piano work, but decided against it.

"I would take him on tour if he didn't have an attitude problem."


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