Once A Tree is the singer-songwriter/production duo of Hayden and Jayli Wolf. Their new single, “Born for This,” is the soundtrack for a national TV ad campaign for Nissan’s new KICKS, and Jayli is featured in the commercial. The B.C.-born, Toronto-based duo won a 2018 Indigenous Music Award in the category of Best Electronic Album for their previously released full-length, Phoenix. They participated in the 2018 SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp in Nicaragua. Here’s what they had to say about their experiences there…
Hayden: I’m having the most nostalgic dream. I’m in mid-conversation with an old friend, as his face begins to melt and a deafening howl fills my head. I launch out of bed. It’s 3:00 a.m. We’re in the middle of the jungle in Nicaragua and a family of howler monkeys are partying on our roof.
The next morning we walk the hill to our meet-up point. The scene around us is filled with wild cats, surfboards, and the sound of majestic bird calls. We catch our first glance of the howler monkeys; they’re damn cute. Already feeling inspired, and we haven’t even had coffee yet! We’re at the SOCAN Kenekt 2018 Song Camp, in Maderas Village. Our breakfast is spent getting to know the other musicians, and taking in the scenery around us. It’s dry season, so the hills remind me of desert land, but we’re also just a short walk from the ocean.
Jayli: Before we landed in Nicaragua, we were a bit nervous about splitting up to work with others, as we usually only work together. But after the first-morning feast, and the welcome chat from SOCAN’s Rodney Murphy, the nerves turned straight into excitement. We were ready to build relationships and get into writing mode. Each day we were split up into different groups, to ensure that we had a chance to work with as many people as possible. The energy in each session was completely unique, with each artist coming from their own musical background and style of writing. Some days we would write for someone in the group, other days we would decide to write with a different artist in mind. Writing for other artists was such a wonderful change of pace for us; it was so freeing. I was able to create in styles of music with which I’d never even experimented before, from early-2000s, pop-inspired sounds to rock-infused tracks. I started experiencing growth by the end of the first day!
With songwriting, I normally focus into my own headspace and go from there, but working with others took me totally out of that comfort zone. We all have our own ways of getting inspired, working through writer’s block, and our own feelings that we’d like to express on any given day. So to begin a new track as a group opened up new pathways of creativity. We all threw out ideas at the beginning of the day, until one resonated with all of us – and then we would go for it! Sometimes a song idea was sparked from thinking on a specific genre, other times the inspiration came from a narrative, or even a word. Each group dynamic was so unique, there was never a dull moment. There were times when a song seemed to flow out of the group effortlessly, and other days seemed to take a lot more energy. We even had days where, half-way through, we would scrap everything we were working on and start completely fresh.
We were on a pretty tight deadline! Each day we had to have one full song done to play for everyone at the end of the night. It was the golden hour, when we’d listen to all the tracks that everyone had created that day! It also completely renewed our energy, and inspired us to work even harder the following day. The inspiration would bounce off the walls at listening time. The genres, pace, and storylines of the other groups’ songs would ignite something in us for the rest of the week. Hayden and I would go back to our cabana and discuss the tracks in total awe! We truly felt like every single song we heard could be charting. We were honoured to be in the company of such talented artists. It also helped that we loved each and every artist as people, too! It felt like we had a big family there with whom we could create.
Hayden: This camp truly built our confidence in songwriting, gave us new tools, and gifted us an experience we’ll never forget. We built so many new friendships with people right from our own city, with whom we might have never crossed paths, in such a powerful collaborative way. The camp wasn’t only about making hits; it was about creating those long-lasting relationships that blossom into further creations in the future.
The SOCAN Kenekt 2018 Song Camp was forever life-changing for us, allowing us both to grow as artists, and as people. Huge thanks to SOCAN!