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Shaina Hayes – Kindergarten Heart (Bonsound)

“My folks always wanted me to be a musician, so for me, rebelling meant getting a degree in agricultural science!”

With the release of her second album, Kindergarten Heart, Canada’s Shaina Hayes proves that you should listen to your parents.

Kindergarten Heart is an inviting melting pot of Hayes’ enchanting vocals, charming melodies, and poetic lyricism. Born and raised in a farming family in the tiny town of Shigawake on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Hayes cites the picturesque land and seascape as shaping her aesthetic taste and creative inspiration. Despite her relatively recent emergence on this side of the Atlantic, she is no newcomer and her unconventional background and journey towards a music career makes Hayes’ songwriting even more fascinating.

Hayes started out majoring in agricultural science and music in Montreal, delving into jazz studies at Vanier College and immersing herself in the city’s blues and country cover band scene. However, faced with the cutthroat nature of the music industry, she took a hiatus, turning to farming as a different, but familiar avenue for creativity. After almost seven years, Hayes was drawn back to songwriting, making her debut on Bandcamp in 2018 with the song ‘Hollow’. She says the reaction to it sparked “the stimulus I needed, and songs started pouring out.” Returning to her roots in Shigawake, she collaborated with Francis Ledoux and David Marchand of the noise rock band zouz (who she had sung backing for) to record her own debut album, to coax a waltz in 2019. Like many, she navigated the challenges of lockdown in early 2020 but turned adversity into opportunity by establishing a community-supported agriculture farm on land from a closed restaurant. Over the next three years, she balanced the seasonal nature of farming with writing music, growing produce for subscribers, while completing to coax a waltz. Following the album’s release in April 2022, Hayes shifted her focus back to music, working once again with Ledoux, Marchand and other collaborators on Kindergarten Heart.

Although key influences include Blake Mills, Feist, Big Thief and Julia Jacklin alongside the more traditional country of Hank Williams and Dolly Parton, Kindergarten Heart is closer to a pop album, building out in several new directions, providing a little of something for everyone. From the opening hums and strums of ‘Early Riser’ there’s a gentle rising of the spirits as the song recalls warm memories of youth and carefree days, providing comfort during a grey winter’s morning. The alt-country lap steel refrains of ‘Kindergarten Heart’ continue this theme, searching for the playfulness and weightlessness of being a child at heart. Next, ‘Fun’ is a more lively detour, with its simple syncopated bass line, subtle keys and chorussy guitar runs complementing Hayes’ layered vocals. ‘Sidewalk’ follows, a bar room country blues ballad with a Shania Twain-like twist of lemon fizz.

Two of the most interesting tracks, both singles, are ‘New Favourite’ and ‘Sun and Time’ (below). While distinct in style, both tracks offer a glimpse into her ability to create a space where the past and future coalesce like a timeless continuum of learning and growth. In ‘Sun and Time’ and again later on ‘Heatwave’ , there is a subtle experimentation that moulds traditional country sounds into something more expansive, like Emily Cross‘ twilight sound. Album highlight ‘A Thousand Perfect Words’ provides a brief but heartbreakingly exquisite moment of introspection: “A thousand perfect words could never set the fire alight/send shivers like the night /tell the story quite right”. Hayes’ beautiful, hushed close mic vocals speak to the inadequacy of words to recreate feelings that mean so much, and in the process make us feel them all alongside her.

Most of Kindergarten Heart may present a carefree side to Hayes’ song craft, but below the surface there are years of slow, steady growth and wisdom. The last two songs close the album gently and with thoughtfulness, in spite of their underlying weightiness compared to other songs here. ‘Fool Forloned’ uses gorgeous harmonies and key shifts, signifying a moment of lucidity having been deceived: “There’s nothing left to pay with but time/ and still I can’t quite tell when a feeling is mine/ so blind”. ‘Mastery’ turns its attention inwards, to the spark of all human creativity and the paradoxical tension between avoiding uncertainty and longing for change. As strings cascade around her, Hayes muses on this idea, turning around the thoughts methodically like tilling the spring soil, ready for sowing. The album ends on a rather profound note, but one which lingers long after the fade out: “for this the only mastery – to be at once child and poet” .


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‘Kindergarten Heart’ is out 23rd February, via Bonsound.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.