HAYDEN ELLER

 
 

The Co Founder / LifeVest Records

BelLINGHAM, WA

MUSICIAN

 

Where are you from and what keeps you there?

I’ve lived in Bellingham (WA), for the past five years. I went to school at Western Washington (I graduated in 2014 with a degree in Poly Sci, Economics, and Philosophy), but before that I bounced around with my family - We spent time living here on the west side of the state (Bainbridge, Renton, and Federal Way), some time on the east side (Chelan and Wenatchee), and then some time abroad (Latvia and Serbia). Both my parents are international schoolteachers, so we’ve bounced around the world as they’ve changed schools/positions – in fact; this year makes Bellingham the location where I’ve lived the longest. The members of my family that live in the US all live around Bellingham, so it’s also nice to have one central location where I can come back and see family. I really like how quiet Bellingham is, too – I’m a pretty reserved/shy person when interacting with people face-to-face, which I think some people take as standoff-ish (it’s just cause ya’ll intimidate me), so it’s nice to be able to head home and hide amongst the trees for a while.

Do you remember the moment you first wanted to start playing music and how old were you when it occurred?

I remember listening to Nirvana Unplugged with my Dad when I was really young and being obsessed with “Polly” and “Where Did you Sleep Last Night”…which (now that I’m older) seems a little odd, given the subject matter of both of those songs…

When I was in high school I was a huge fan of bands like Brand New, Green Day, and Blink 182 – I loved how simple those songs are (minus some Brand New stuff). I remember wondering why Mark Hoppus didn’t add more fills to his bass parts, because the space is there, but as I listened to Blink more I started to understand that by “leaving things simple” you leave room for the songs to grow/change as listeners build a relationship with them. I remember watching an interview with Dave Grohl where he talked about that idea, and how he would refrain from adding fills to Nirvana tracks to instead focus on just building a framework that listeners could then attribute their own meaning/relationship to. I was also really attached to punk/hardcore bands like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Rite of Spring, The Bronx, and Every Time I Die. The ethics of those punk bands was super inspiring, and has had a huge impact on how I see the world – those bands worked/work extremely hard, and did/do so on their own terms. They define success for themselves and make other people come to them, as opposed to reaching for the successes that other people have identified for them.

I think I first started writing songs when I was 15 – very shortly after I first started “playing” the guitar, which really consisted of me just playing the opening riff to Adam’s Song until my parents made me stop. The desire to write songs was always there, though – I still don’t know how to play any songs by other bands. I know a few riffs from bands I really like, but I was always more interested in trying to create music, with the guitar just being the instrument I happened to pick up.

You are a part of LifeVest Records, what is your roll there and how did LifeVest come into existence do you guys have any new projects that you are excited to announce?

LifeVest is comprised of myself and my friend Alex Killian – I handle most of the booking + signing of bands, while Alex and I share PR duties. The website + blog aspects are parts I manage during the free time I have when not working with Co Founder.

In short it was something I came up with when I was visiting my parents overseas one summer – I’ve been really inspired by folks like Ian Mackaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat, Dischord), Jeremy Bolm (Touche Amore), and Jacob Bannon (Death Wish, Converge), so the idea of starting a label where I can then spend the time I’m not writing music on a task that still involves music/artwork has always been a goal. I’ve also done a fair amount of work with Non-Profits/NGO’s, so being able to combine both of those interests through the release of benefit compilations and fairly consistent financial contributions has been an opportunity I’m very thankful for. When Co Founder was in the process of putting out our vinyl 7” (phd) last February, I felt like it was as good a time as any to get it off the ground, so we released phd under LifeVest and Alex and I have been running with it ever since. I see it as a way that we can facilitate the success of bands that are already working hard within the DIY community, but might benefit from a little bit of assistance.

We are! We’ve got a few more benefit compilations coming down the line – right now I’m working on a group of songs from Sacramento based artists, which we’ll release this fall. Not 100% on where the funds from that release will be headed, but we’ll work with local members of that community to identify an organization that would be a good fit.

We also just signed Step Dads, who are from Bellingham, and we’ll be releasing their newest EP (Memento) next month before they head out on a month long trip down the West Coast. AND Co Founder has a new album in the works (release date TBA), so it should be a busy next 6-7 months.

Instrument of choice?

Piano or acoustic guitar – all of Co Founder’s music is written on one of these. I don’t really know “how” to play either of them (entirely self taught), so most of the time it’s me just messing around with things until I can figure out how to play what’s in my head. My friend Matt taught me how to play piano chords when I was in college, so that laid a foundation where I can at least kind of figure out where I should start when trying to figure a part out. My acoustic guitar is really special to me, though – It’s a Takamine G Series that my parents bought me when I graduated high school. It was the guitar I learned how to play on (though I still have no idea what actual notes/chords I’m playing most of the time) and it’s been up and down the west coast with me numerous times over the past 2 years. And it’s never been cleaned so it’s super gross - hella punk/DIY points.

Do you have any rituals that help motivate/inspire you before you get on stage or write music?

Luke/Jake/and I will do vocal warm-ups before we play together, but other than that I just like to go be by myself before we play. I really love playing shows, so I try my best to get into a really vulnerable headspace right before we play and then approach our set almost like a therapy session.

Writing has always come out of nowhere for me – I approach it like trying to capture a spontaneous moment where you’re along for the ride. That makes it tough sometimes when you get inspired at inopportune moments (i.e. the middle of a run), but when I’m lucky enough to be in a quiet place, where I can focus, I do my best to just relax and let whatever is going to come out, come out. I’m honestly a pretty terrible communicator, so I will often write a song and then look back at it with a sort of realization, like “oooooh that’s what I’ve been struggling with”. Hella emo.

Writing has always been a very therapeutic task, as well – I’ve struggled with mental health since a young age, and being able to write about events in my life that I’ve struggled with/am still working through is an opportunity I’m very thankful for. I’m not the best at being forthcoming about those challenges, and I’ve gotten pretty adept at hiding my struggles with suicide/depression/self harm, but most of the tracks on Co Founder’s next record have been centered around those experiences and trying to be more open about the role they’ve played in my life.

Top five favorite local musicians/groups?

In no particular order – also you get six cause I refuse to cut one…heh.

1. Iffy Comma (Seattle)

2. Cat Valley (Bellingham)

3. Guayaba (Seattle)

4. The Palisades (Bellingham)

5. Special Explosion (Seattle)

 

Top five not so local musicians/groups?

Gaaaah this is just based on what I’ve been listening to currently, otherwise you’d get a list of 30.

1. Manchester Orchestra

2. Nirvana

3. The Sidekicks

4. Earl Sweatshirt

5. Twin Peaks
 

What was the last show you attended?

Oh gosh – I work at a venue, but I assume that doesn’t count…the last show I actively paid to go see was Father John Misty at the Moore down in Seattle. My partner bought us tickets for a birthday, and we had a grown up date cause we’re fake adults.

Are there any Perks of being a musician?

Too many to name! I am awarded the opportunity to constantly work through issues that I’m struggling with, while sharing that process/experience with members of a community that has been extremely welcoming to me. It’s been really humbling to meet different folks from across the country, most of whom are more than willing to help/support your passion even though they have never really interacted with you in a meaningful way. It’s extremely humbling and inspiring to see the support/community that exists within the DIY music scene – especially being someone who’s never really been part of, or felt comfortable being apart of, a community for more than 4-5 years (as I was moving consistently).

And on top of that I get to play my guitar and sing every day, which is all 15 year old me could have ever really wanted, heh. I do my best to either write or revise songs on a daily basis, so I’m extremely thankful to be in a position where I can work on what I’m passionate about at such a consistent rate.   

How about the frustrations?

I think the biggest frustration is the perceived disconnect between music as an art form and music as a career path with a monetary value. Just to be very clear, none of us do this to make money – the folks that use money/fame as a guide are usually weeded out quickly, as it’s hard to grind on a daily basis when you’re fueled by the pipe dream of being “rich and famous” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-jC3H_8Dk4). But that being said, there is a frustration with constantly being asked to give away your art, or being met with frustration when you ask people to pay $10 for a t-shirt – especially when 99% that money is being reinvested back into your band/label/etc. … BUT those instances tend to be pretty few and far between. We’ve been very fortunate to have people across the country willing to invest in our art and actively support us.

So far, what is your favorite project you have worked on and why?

I had a lot of fun working on Co Founder’s vinyl 7” with Erik Wallace last year. Erik is an awesome engineer, and I really appreciate his very “Steve Albini” like approach to recording. He expects you to have the take you want in the first 4-5 attempts – there’s a level of accountability with him that you don’t always find. It’s extremely motivating and inspiring.

That was also the first time that Luke/Jake and I were in the studio together really hashing things out as a group. Wye was recorded all over the place (at my house in Bellingham, Jake’s garage, Luke’s living room, etc.) and we weren’t able to spend much time working through arrangements/parts together as a group. Phd was the first time we wrote and produced everything entirely as a unit, and I think it gives a little glimpse into what people can expect from our second record. Co Founder started as a solo acoustic project, but for the past year or so it’s been the three of us producing the music as a group – those two are extremely talented musicians, and my two best friends, so being able to hash stuff out together to create something that’s a little bit of each of us has been so much more rewarding than playing solo ever was. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from just listening to the way they both work through the creative process – Luke is meticulous in his attention to detail and Jake has been pretty profound ear for catchy melodies. They’ve have both been instrumental in any/all successes both I and Co Founder have been a part of over the past 2 years, and they’ve given me the confidence to believe in my abilities as a musician.

Also we’re playing a four piece now, with our friend Nikko from Vacationeer on bass and Luke on guitar. *awkward smile

Are you working on any new projects? If so can you tell us a little about it?

Co Founder is currently in the midst of working on our second full length – we don’t have a set release date, but it will be about 35 minutes of new music. It’s been really fun to take a more relaxed approach with the recording/preparation of these newer songs, cause we’ve never really had the opportunity to do that before. Our first record (Wye), was more of a demo than anything else – we flew through the recording process so that we could get out on the road and have something of reasonable quality to help get our name out there/something to have at shows, but I don’t think it’s a great representation of what we’re capable of as a band. I do my best to not focus on perfection, but instead focus on making as much progress as possible with each release, and I think this newer group of songs are a really solid representation of the progress we’ve made as musicians due to touring so heavily over the past year.

These are the most honest group of songs I’ve written, as well – I’ve tried to be more direct in the way I write lyrics as Co Founder has progressed. There’s a song about attempting suicide when I was a teenager and another about a loved one’s experience with sexual assault that were both really hard to write, but I’m excited to share them with people.

What can you be found doing outside of music?

Not really anything…I wish I had a better answer, but this is really all I do. Whether its working on LifeVest stuff, or playing my guitar and working on new Co Founder songs, this is all I want to do from the moment I wake up until I go to bed. Music is what I’m always thinking about; when I’m working on other tasks I’m always trying to work through a rhythm, or a guitar part, or a lyric, or a booking project in my head. Even when I’m at work, I always have a notebook with me so that I can brainstorm ideas that I’m working through – I usually go through 200-300 pages every month or so. Sometimes it’s a matter of needing to get something done, and wanting to put in the time to treat this like a job, but mostly it’s just fun and I don’t find myself wanting to take a break from it. My partner is constantly rolling her eyes at me cause I’ll inevitably ask if it’s okay for me to run Co Founder’s set a few a times at 11:30 at night. She’s a trooper – we haven’t released any of the tracks from our new record and she’s definitely heard all of them over a hundred times.

LifeVest has been a really nice change of pace though – I drive my band mates nuts sometimes cause I have a really hard time sitting still. I always want to be on the road more, recording more, or practicing more, so having LifeVest as an outlet through which to be actively involved in the music community when Co Founder is on a break has been a really positive experience.

Though I desperately want to play in a hardcore band, so if anyone is trying to start a low key hardcore project (a la Blacklisted, ETID, The Bronx) let me know – 3602238322.

Last words?

What time is load in?

 

Co Founder links:

https://thecofoundermusic.bandcamp.com/album/phd

https://www.facebook.com/thecofoundermusic/

http://thecofoundermusic.com/

https://www.instagram.com/thecofoundermusic/

LifeVest links:

https://www.facebook.com/lifevestrecords/

https://lifevestrecords.bandcamp.com/

https://www.instagram.com/lifevestrecords/

http://lifevestrecords.com