By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Macias.
“So many roads to ease my soul.”
Poet Robert Hunter first penned these words nearly two decades ago, dedicated to a band well-worn with echoes from a half century of constant touring. The Grateful Dead lyric conjures an image of a weathered traveler, a nomad of the road that comes a bit closer to home with every step.
There’s something peaceful that holds hands with the wayfarer afar. A certain silence or wisdom grows to accompany the dusty footfalls.
The dust has cleared, and with it Christy Hays has reached a profound new state of stillness. It’s a peace of mind that the singer-songwriter discovered after years spent journeying around the world.
“There’s an element of quietness that I’ve reached within myself,” Hays tells BTR.
“When I started playing music, I had all these preconceived notions of what it was going to be like and how long it would take to reach some kind of level of success. All of those things were proved different over the last seven years that I’ve been doing this.”
She might have started writing songs at the age of 14, but it wasn’t until she turned 27 that Hays decided she wanted to be a professional songwriter. In the time between, she fell in love with nature. After attending college for forestry Hays moved directly to Alaska where she could lose herself in the wilderness.
The chilly winds sent her rippling along frozen currents and river eddies. She ended up a guide in Alaskan fish and game. But the path was far from sealed in stone. Hays underwent a startling transformation in the desolate tundra that split her career path into a sprawling crossroads.
“I just decided that my purpose in life was to make art instead of science,” says Hays. “So I wandered around the world. A lot.”
She’s not exaggerating. The songwriter dropped her old life behind and set sails for South America, beginning with El Salvador. She later drifted to Southeast Asia, where she walked from country to country as the quiet observer–letting her experiences seep into a timeless well from which her songs would later spring.
Hays acknowledges that while the traveling instills a rush of creativity within her, the majority of her songs actually stray far from the self. Her inspiration for songwriting stems from her observations of others–culling their stories from years spent on the road.
Once while resting after a river trip, Hays sat along a clay bank next to an older man. He looked to be in his 70s and seemed to be severely paralyzed. She followed his gaze along the water, where she spotted a young man casting his line into the stream. From the sparkle of affection in the old man’s eyes, she knew it was his son.
The two took to talking. The elder man spilled a slow rolling reverie about his life, and Hays, ever-attentive, listened. He explained how he spent the majority of his life in Denver “breaking his back” for Lockheed Martin. He struggled to raise a family and all the while remorse quickened his blood. In desperation, he clung to the notion that one day he would retire and buy the plot of land where he and Hays were sitting.
He finally reached his dream, retired, and took to exploring his acquired acreage. A newfound joy arose, as the old man realized he could spend the rest of his days losing himself everyday in the boundless nature. Without warning, however, he suffered a devastating stroke that left him unable to walk. The blessing of his beautiful surroundings had suddenly become a curse.
“His story hit me really hard,” reflects Hays. “It made me think about the fragility of life, and doing something your entire life that you really don’t want to do.”
The conversation stuck with Hays, so much so that she wrote a song. It’s aptly titled “Lockheed,” and although unreleased, should be available for listening later this year.
In the meantime, Hays has followed up her 2012 album Drought with last December’s EP O’ Montana. The songs are tender and almost naked in their honesty. Folk shuffles and country twinges pang alongside Hay’s acoustic plucking and a voice that effortlessly wavers between effervescence and quiet longing.
The invigorating sense of confidence heard in the songs is not lost on Hays. In the three years between her records she developed a vision for the material on O’ Montana that she believed in more and more with each passing day. The album symbolizes a road to inward realization that years of meditating alone and afar have taught her.
“I think one of the biggest differences between those two pieces is a comfortableness with myself and the art that I was producing,” says Hays. “I really believed in what I was putting out there.”
To hear the rest of the interview, tune into this week’s Discovery Corner.
Or find your own way to interpret Christy Hays by clicking here.