Indie-folk artist Hayfitz was in search of capturing the proper musical mood for the somber, desperate lyrics of “Hold On,” his latest single which is premiering here on American Songwriter. The Brooklyn-based singer/guitarist (born Brandon Hafetz) found exactly what he heard in his head when he stumbled on a unique guitar tuning, a variation of an open C# tuning (C#-G#-D#-F-G#-C#), which provides a low-sounding droning quality and an uneasy dissonance.
“That 9th note, with the D# added, has given my songs a lot of the melancholic mood they have. I wrote most of the record in this tuning,” he says. Hayfitz’s quavering, eerie vocals and soft, intimate guitar playing recall the introspective works of Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley.
“Hold On” effectively captures the lonely feeling of being, well, alone. The listener is not quite sure the singer is going to make it through the song, even as he affirms to himself and by extension, his lover, “I swear it’s gonna get much better.” Is the singer holding on to the memories of the good times, or trying to convince himself that once the relationship gets over the hump, things will indeed get better?
“I wanted to capture that feeling of denial and desperation that so often presents itself at the end of a relationship,” Hayfitz said. “The good moments come less and less frequently and when they do you never want to let go of them. It’s like you’re nostalgic of a moment that’s happening in real time and you just want to live in it forever because going back to your shared reality may just mean the end of that relationship.”
The song’s moody, dual atmosphere is perfectly captured in the album cover artwork, a picture of an empty bed with two pillows, one residing in darkness while the other basks in sunlight.
“When I wrote the chorus of this song it was very much a message to myself, as I was really struggling with depression right out of graduating college. I hung onto that melody/lyric for well over a year until I moved to New York and while experiencing a second bout of that depressive wave I got close to a newer friend of mine who was going through a separation with his longtime partner. At that point I was able to write the verses and step out of the autobiographical realm my songs usually live in – dedicating the rest of the song to my friend who had helped me stay afloat and hoping that he could salvage what was left of his relationship.”
“Hold On” ends in a mantra-like repetitive affirmation of “It’s gonna get much better… better…” before Hayfitz lets out one final exasperated and well-executed breath, uttering a final, lonely ‘beettterrrr,” before the song eerily trails off. You might not believe it will get better, but Hayfitz has convinced himself otherwise.
Hayfitz, who was raised in Los Angeles before settling on the East Coast, gave us a detailed breakdown of the long, cross-country recording process for “Hold On” and the full album Capsules, to be released May 29.
“I recorded the main electric guitar and lead vocals in Seattle during a three week stay at my mom’s best friend Sue’s beautiful home right on the Puget Sound in January of 2019. Most all of the album art I ended up using is photos I took of that house.”
“I tracked the guitar overdubs in March at my friend Patrick Gregg’s remote cabin in Parker, Pennsylvania and Patrick tracked synths/modular, pump organ, and all sorts of woodwinds. He had been dying to try out all these instruments he had laying around so we used everything we could find – basson, tenor sax, bari sax, and every analog keyboard he had. Patrick probably played over ten instruments on this record I’d say.”
“Next I brought some gear over to my friend Julian Tepper’s (of The Natural History) Long Island City apartment to record his upright piano, which was beautifully out of tune – once it hit the tuner and reverbs it modulated in all sorts of wacky ways. I finally finished this one up recording background vocals in my apartment of my live bandmates Alec Alabado & Miriam Elhajli then Miriam’s boyfriend Griffin Meinbresse on upright bass – which we overdubbed several times to make that orchestral section you hear in the final chorus.”
“I tracked nearly every element on a Royer 121 through an Apollo Quad, occasionally breaking out a small diaphragm condenser or SM57 when needed – but the Royer was the real work horse of this whole record, even for my lead vocals.”