Havens chats ‘Fairy Tales’ and the creative force of heartbreak

“It was a cathartic and therapeutic experience to put my feelings into words,” Havens says of the impetus behind Fairy Tales. 

Havens roared onto the airwaves earlier this month with ‘Fairy Tales’, a sprawling debut album that traces the Toronto singer-songwriter from aughties nostalgia to 80s shoegaze pop.

Hot off the heels of ‘Fairy Tales’, we caught up with Haves for a deep dive into the album, the versatility of rock music, and channelling heartbreak as a form of therapy. 

Havens interview
Credit: Chad Chevalier

Catch our full interview with Havens below, and scroll down to listen to his debut full-length album ‘Fairy Tales’ 

HAPPY: What are you up to today?

HAVENS: Today I am enjoying a day of rest after a successful release party Friday night for my debut album ‘Fairy Tales’ at Toronto’s famed El Mocambo.

I haven’t slept properly yet though. Still feeling the adrenaline rush of playing one of the worlds best and most iconic small venues that saw the likes of The Rolling Stones, Blondie and Stevie Ray Vaughan back in its original heyday of the 70s and 80s.

HAPPY: What’s the music scene like in your neck of the woods?

HAVENS: On one hand, the Toronto music scene is incredibly diverse and active with tons of artists of all genres and levels playing all over town on any given night.

On the other hand, there isn’t a culture here of people going out to bars and clubs in big numbers to support small artists like I’ve experienced in Europe and other parts of the world I’ve visited.

Venues are closing down all the time here too, and the scene just hasn’t rebounded to what it was pre-pandemic.

Havens interview
Credit: Justin Friesen

HAPPY: What does a typical day look like when recording a project like ‘Fairy Tales’?

HAVENS: ‘Fairy Tales’ took over four years of recording, which was interrupted and paused by the pandemic.

At the busiest time during the album’s production, I was working two jobs full-time six days a week, and on my one day off I would go into the studio for as long as 12 hours to record as much as possible (vocals, guitars, bass and  synths are what I laboured over the most once the drums were laid down).

This demanding lifestyle eventually caught up with me after about six months and I ended up dialing back my schedule a bit to preserve my mental health.

The last half of the album was recorded in shorter session bursts mostly, with me going to the studio for two or three hours on weekend evenings to lay down just a few parts at a time.

HAPPY: Is there a certain level of pressure that comes with making your ‘debut’? Or are you more keen to just get the music out?

HAVENS: Absolutely there was. I realized from the onset that as an independent artist, I’m competing with all other artists in my genre for attention, including major-label artists, and thus my songwriting and production had to be of the highest possible quality.

That meant only using ideas that I felt genuinely excited about, not having any filler at all, and working with the best studios, equipment, producers, engineers and session drummers that I could afford.

I have no regrets, as the result I believe is a record that sounds as good as any major indie/alternative rock release I’ve heard.

Hans interview
Credit: Aaron Nadel

HAPPY: It’s always interesting to hear about single selection. What is it that decides which track will serve as the album taster?

HAVENS: I ask others for their opinions, but I generally trust my instinct and go with what feels like it has the most hooks, the tightest arrangement and most importantly, the most memorable chorus.

The album features several singles that met these criteria, but I chose the title track as the lead single due also to its buildup and diverse soundscape that changes and evolves throughout the track.

This made it feel more layered, complex and meaningful than some of the other tracks. It’s just a bit more epic, while still remaining pop and catchy.

HAPPY: There’s traces of multiple genres across the tracklist. Would you say there’s a particular sound you feel most at home in?

HAVENS: I’m influenced by a lot of different music, with various styles of rock being the most significant that I pull from when creating my own sound.

I particularly have a special love for ’80s bands that span the alternative landscape of that era such as The Cure, The Cult, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, INXS, and lesser-known bands like The Railway Children, Wire Train, Riverside and The Ocean Blue.

I also grew up with bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and The Darkness as my childhood favourites.

Havens’ alternative sound could be characterized as dreamy or jangly on a certain level, yet with a strong hard-rocking groove at its core, largely due to these prime influences of mine combining.

Hans interview
Credit: Shane Bonnell

HAPPY: There’s a theme of heartbreak that courses through the album. Why is this topic especially rich for storytelling?

HAVENS: It was very easy to write about heartbreak because at the time of writing many of these songs, I had just gone through a painful breakup.

It was mid-pandemic and due to the lockdown here at the time, I felt trapped and unable to do anything to take my mind off the pain. Songwriting became my solace thankfully.

I had a few ideas floating around my head so I decided to go stay at a quiet rural location for a few days alone to write and arrange everything. I ended up writing/completing ‘Fairy Tales’, ‘Half of Your Heart’ ‘The Box’ and ‘If Tonight’ there.

It was a cathartic and therapeutic experience to put my feelings into words and music this way, and I feel the stories and themes of heartbreak, love and relationships on this album are relatable for a lot of people.

Hans interview

HAPPY: The album cover is sick! Why was the collage/retro aesthetic a nice fit for the sound of the album?

HAVENS: Thank you! The collage artist is from Italy who I discovered online. I found the image to be incredibly captivating and fit the album’s themes on multiple levels.

Childhood can be seen as a fairy tale-like experience when looking back from adulthood, and the kid smiling at the camera just embodies that innocence and playfulness, while retaining a level of mystery due to his face being slightly in shadow.

1950s America and the suburban American dream can also be viewed as a fairy tale from someone like me who never lived in that time.

The image of earth and outer space in the background just sends the image over the top into fantasy territory and gives it a slight eeriness too; working with some of the darker themes on the album. I love it and am so glad I found it.

HAPPY: Anything else exciting on the horizon that you can tease for us?

HAVENS: My band and I look forward to hitting the road this spring for some dates in Montreal along with more shows here in Toronto.

I’m getting married this summer too, so no time to record new music until after the wedding! I do look forward to the next recording project when that time comes. It will likely be a single although I’ve thought about doing another EP too.

Hans interview
Credit: Matthew Narea

HAPPY: What makes you happy?

HAVENS: These days, it’s being with my fiancée, family, friends and being grateful for what I have around me and my accomplishments thus far.

Aside from writing and recording music, which is the most satisfying activity I can do, I also get happiness and enjoyment from classic films of the 1930s-2000s, trying different cuisine, interior design, fitness and reading Batman comics.