Country musician Ward Hayden knows a hometown can evoke both love and heartbreak.
Hayden’s latest single with his group, Ward Hayden & the Outliers, is “(Breaking Up with) My Hometown,” a crooning ballad with lyrics that unpack the complexity of those positive and negative emotions.
“For me, I was just a small-town kid. I loved Scituate,” Hayden says of the Massachusetts town just outside Boston. “It was very hard to move on, but you have to leave home if you want to grow. It’s hard to tap into those emotions if you haven’t been anywhere else.”
The single comes from his newest record, “South Shore,” which officially released a day before the group’s show in Rochester this weekend. With a smooth vibe of honky tonk mixed with rock ’n’ roll vibe inspired by artists like Hank Williams, Gene Autry and Johnny Cash, the concept album delves into what it means to leave a small town behind.
Natural changes to the area, as well as tragic events including the death of a good friend, brought up feelings Hayden thought were long buried.
“There are regrets that come with moving on and moving forward,” he says. “You can question your decisions. For a long time, I wasn’t allowing myself to feel as honestly as I felt about those things that you bury.
“When we ended up moving back (to Scituate), we thought it would just be for a year, but we’re still here now,” he admits with a laugh.
The COVID pandemic forced Hayden to move back to Massachusetts and cancel a tour halfway through its stops. While the pandemic went on for much longer than they expected, Hayden says there were silver linings throughout the experience.
Not only did that forced downtime allow for him to grapple with and write music for “South Shore,” but it also allowed for the group to form deeper connections as a band.
“For instance, (‘Handsome’) Greg Hall joined us on our tour and got halfway across the country to Kentucky. And then it was March 2020,” Hayden recalls. “We found a warehouse to practice (in Massachusetts), outdoor, socially distanced and everything. It made us develop really organically so we’re all comfortable with each other on a higher level now, I think.”
With that creative energy built up, the members of Ward Hayden & the Outliers are excited to get back on the road to perform live music. The latest tour just wrapped up an international leg that passed through Sweden and Norway.
While the band enjoyed the Nordic swing, Hayden, still recovering from jet lag, also admits he’s glad to be back in the States with familiar and friendly touring locales. Rochester, he says, is a favorite place to play at with its supportive crowds and interesting venues.
In fact, a large carved tiki statue from Rochester’s iconic Record Archive stands guard over Hayden’s home bar, a testament to the oddities the musician loves to collect.
“With this show, we’re taking the Jamie Lee Curtis challenge (from comments at the Independent Spirit awards) and doing a matinee to make it accessible timewise to everyone,” Hayden says. “So, hopefully people come up to support that because we’re excited to return to Rochester and share some of our new sound.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].