It's been a good summer for music lovers in Fort Frances, and the hits just keep on coming.
Piper Hayes is a singer-songwriter from Hamilton who writes, performs and tours with her partner Carson Ritcey-Thorpe as “Piper & Carson.” The duo is set to play From the Grind Up tomorrow (Aug. 8).
Hayes has toured Canada and the United States extensively and also embarked on several international tours, though she doesn't limit herself to just being a musician, choosing to use her art to reach out to others.
“I am a singer-songwriter as well as an arts educator and mental health advocate,” Hayes said over the phone before she embarked on her latest tour of Canada.
“The intention behind our work is around healing and bringing people together and creating community and sort of remembering how we can live better and be kind to one another. We do a lot of work in mental health advocacy, we go into schools and community centres and we tell our stories and our own histories with mental illness and mental health”
Hayes said that while she's always loved being a performer and being creative, she didn't begin writing her own music until 2011.
“It was sort of on a whim, because I didn't know how to play guitar very well,” she said.
“I would look up songs and I couldn't play the chords for the songs I wanted to sing, so I just started writing my own.”
Hayes explained that she met Ritcey-Thorpe four years ago, and when the two began to work together on their music, their intentions began to come into focus.
“We talk a lot, Carson and I, about what are we doing as individuals,” Hayes said.
“How do we want to leave our own legacy behind that might be a lasting impression that contributes to the world and the planet and the people?”
Hayes said she has dealt with her own mental health struggles in the past and felt that her healing came in part from sharing her experience with others, and that her music was something she could focus her energy on.
“It became such an important piece of who I am and something bigger than my illness,” she explained.
“So music comes from a very raw and vulnerable place inside of me and Carson, and we try and ask ourselves questions as frequently as possible to assess 'are we contributing in a way that feels authentic to us and in a way that hopefully helps other people and hopefully the planet?'”
Hayes' music is most easily classified as folk, and she listed off names of artist she admired and who have influenced her, if not in their sound, then in their songwriting style.
“I would say Tracy Chapman is like one of my number one personal inspirations as an artist, as a writer,” she explained.
“I really have been totally enamoured with how she expresses herself through music and art. I think she's one of the best songwriters and guitar players and vocalists of all time. There's so much social activism and reflection in her work and that's something that I definitely am trying to incorporate in my art as well.”
Hayes also listed The Civil Wars, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens as other artists whose work has influenced the way she approaches writing music and lyrics.
Hayes and Ritcey-Thorpe are currently touring in support of her self-titled album “Piper & Carson,” which was released in 2017. The album, recorded as a concept album spanning a day in the life on the farm where Ritcey-Thorpe grew up in Southern Ontario, is a grounded and intimate recording, and according to Hayes, almost didn't come together.
“We worked with our producer Chris Bartos, and it was his idea to record the album on the farm where Carson grew up, where his family still lives,” she recalled.
“We had scheduled three days for recording and the first day we set everything up and our producer got everything ready and it all sounded good and everything was smooth, and then the next day we got up to record and his main piece of equipment wasn't working.”
Hayes said they tried troubleshooting the machine but eventually had to resort to renting a similar, but lower quality, piece of equipment to get the job done.
“By the end of the second day we were kind of feeling low and Carson and I looked at each other and said 'well, we'll have something,' which is not ideal when you're putting your lifeforce into something,” Hayes said.
“On the third day we woke up and it was working again, and at that point we'd pushed all the nerves and the frantic energy aside with all the other crazy stuff that happened, and we just sort of banged it out. We did all the songs and it ended up being those takes that we used on the album.”
A stand-out track on the album, titled “Big Red,” features Hayes and Ritcey-Thorpe trading mournful vocals and crunchy blues guitar riffs respectively, and came from a weekend writing camp that Hayes attended in Idaho.
“I was missing Carson, he wasn't on this trip with me, and I was with all new people, and you know, sometimes you just crave that familiar face and person and human,” Hayes explained.
“And all of a sudden, in that missing him, a song started to emerge, and it was about him and about missing him. I grew up with this idea that home is a place, and in this song I realized that home can also be a person or people and community.”
Piper & Carson will be bringing their blend of folk, blues and Canadiana to From the Grind Up tomorrow evening, following the performance of The Honest Heart Collective at the Rainy Lake Square.
Tickets are available at From the Grind Up for $10. Doors will open at 7 p.m. with the show to begin at 8 p.m.