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  • Millie Watson

Letting Go - Hayden Pedigo (2021)

I’ve been listening to the album Letting Go by Hayden Pedigo on repeat for a couple of weeks now. It’s a solo guitar album with added subtle synths and field recordings that create a rich sound world. I read a brief interview with him where he and his long-time collaborator worked to achieve an album that felt like an old school, ‘just a man and his guitar’ recording à la John Fahey.

First of all, the cover art is magnificent. American Goth(ic). The image is incongruous with the goth clown (GC) with long Cher hair (he borrowed his wife’s Cher wig for the photo the painting is based on) in front of a hauler. It’s sunset, the image is plaintive as the GC stands with slumped shoulders in front of the truck that sits flat on the page. A liminal piece for people who haven't run away, but have let go.

Truth be told, Pedigo said himself that the image has no particular meaning, but I think it sets the tone for the album perfectly.

The first track, ‘Carthage’, is one of the most well crafted songs I have heard in the last couple of years. There are two primary themes. One feels like a moment of pause, a simple idea unadorned calling in at the truck stop. The other is propelled forward, ensconced in moving quavers spelling out the harmonic progression. The development of these two themes across the 5 minutes 30 is incredibly satisfying and well designed. There is constant companionable chatter between voices that sweep you across the threshold into the timeless Texan truckstop. Then the return of the opening motif will suddenly rein it in allowing your shoulders to drop and you're weightless, suspended. Weightless is the right word here, but I don’t mean uninhibited freedom. To me it is the weightlessness of resignation. Letting go is aptly named.

I haven’t heard music like this in a long time, and the critics all agree - this is some seriously good music. So I took a look at Hayden Pedigo to get an idea of where he’s coming from. He is a born and bred Texan, coming from a heavily religious family and was homeschooled. He was signed to a label at 19 and released his first album at 20. He then proceeded to run for local office in Amarillo in 2018. What people initially dismissed as a joke gained momentum and his surrealist campaign videos grew in popularity. His political endeavour was captured on film and has just been released in the new documentary Kid Candidate. He wrapped up 2021 with a walk down the Gucci runway, his Instagram is a lookbook of deep south surrealism with well-curated photos of Pedigo dressed to the nines/Seven Elevens.

So that’s the music, but Pedigo's story got me thinking about

The double edged sword of the digital polymath

That’s a lot. A lot of stuff, a lot of energy. I’m amazed by his bravery. Here are the results of rigorous research I carried out measuring a person's vulnerability in these endeavours:

Going into politics in an insane exercise in self exposure and sacrifice, I tip my Stetson to you Pedigo.

But it’s hard being so many things. He has spoken of his concern that music people don’t take his music seriously. He was also surprised when a bunch of people at a show found him through Instagram first, they know him for his thrift fashion. Building such a rich identity and artscape through so many mediums means there is more chance for people to ‘not get it’ the way you want them to. Because we all have a narrative of ourselves and our output, and know how we would like to be seen. Pedigo admires John Fahey and aspires to be a part of that cultural heritage, but how many of his Instagram folk know Fahey? And what does it matter anyway?

Side bar: John Fahey is outrageously cool. I enjoyed his tune ‘Sligo River Blues’ immensely, but never pursued his music until it came up with this Pedigo dive. He was the creator of American-primitive guitar that married the language of the blues with the dissonance of Béla Bartók. He’d develop folk motifs as themes and variations. Amazing.

We’re the generation of the digital polymaths. History is filled with genius polymaths from da Vinci to David Bowie, but this ‘package deal’ artist is a growing expectation in the digital era and to be honest it’s a bit scary. Hunter Schafer of Euphoria fame is an actor, a writer, a model and an artist. FKA Twigs is a dancer, singer, producer, and director. The artistic sprawl is exciting, but it also feels like we have to be so (seemingly) effortlessly expansive to even get a look in. And the worst part is, they’re all really good at everything they do.

This then leads to the question, how does this work for the specialists? Is this the age of the artist Amazons? It does feel like we see the same faces everywhere, singers turned models turned actors. And I repeat - fundamentally there is nothing wrong with this and I have immense respect for the artists mentioned, but could this threaten our communal gut biome? Food for thought.

Pedigo may have a lot going on, but it is all impeccably curated and designed. From the motivic development of his compositions to the photoshoot outside of Walmart; ya boy has total control. But despite having achieved all of this over the last decade or so, he has only just been able to quit his cubicle job at the bank. Go figure.

To summarise my meandering musings: Individual level: Being a digital polymath gives you space to expand your creative universe but at risk of misunderstanding, at risk of exhaustion, and at risk of doubt about artistic belonging. Macro level: The age of the digital polymath might threaten the diversity of our ecosystem by giving these opportunities to familiar faces over burgeoning specialists. (N.B. I don’t believe Pedigo falls into this category).

That being said, this new position of super-creator makes sense to me. I don’t see conceit in an artist producing in every medium, but rather promising outpourings of creativity and aesthetic. Whatever your specialisation, all mediums feed into one’s creative practice and to exercise your aesthetic in as many mediums as possible can only enrich an artist’s unique artscape.

No conclusions have been reached here.

Tl;dr Hayden Pedigo is dope


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