Hayseed – Backwoods hillbilly jumps bale
Nigger, bitch, queer…hayseed? Okay, maybe “hayseed” doesn’t belong with such hateful epithets. But at the very least, the term betrays a cultural elitism, prevalent among city dwellers, that reduces rural folk to Bible-thumbing Pentecostals or extras from the movie Deliverance.
“That’s kind of why I embraced it,” says Hayseed, a.k.a. Christopher Wyant, a 31-year-old Nashville singer-songwriter who is anything but a redneck. “I don’t think that I’m that kind of person. And I don’t think that anyone who gets to know me or listens to my music would think of me as that kind of person. [Getting to know me] might even alter their preconceptions a bit.” Indeed, by assuming — and taking control of — such a demeaning stage name, Wyant not only strips “hayseed” of its negative power, he enables outsiders to view “hillbilly” culture in a different light.
He’s certainly earned the right to do so. A preacher’s kid from rural Western Kentucky whose parents shunned every kind of music but gospel, Hayseed didn’t see his first movie until he went away to college; his parents still don’t own a TV set. Even so, Hayseed says he never meant to assume such a socially and culturally charged nickname — that is, not until after playing an impromptu a cappella gig at 12th & Porter, a Nashville nightclub.
“I got up onstage and introduced myself as Clifford Eugene Mason, Caldwell County, Kentucky, but most folks just call me Hayseed,” he remembers. “I just started tellin’ these stories; I’d sing ’em with no music because I didn’t have a band and don’t play an instrument. Enough people heard it and were convinced that all of it was true that they started callin’ me ‘Hayseed.’ And I kinda liked it.
“I’m very much aware of my Southern heritage,” continues Hayseed (who, it’s worth noting, wore overalls and a Will B. Dunn-style preacher’s hat long before he began performing). “Everyone else seems to be ashamed of it — ignoring it and trying to be slick. You see it in Nashville politics. People wanna say thank you to Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl, but they’re really ashamed of Hee-Haw and the Grand Ole Opry. I just don’t get it. That’d be like saying, ‘I’m from New Orleans but I really hate jazz.'”
Hayseed’s music finds him embracing his bluegrass and Southern gospel roots with unselfconscious abandon. On his self-released six-song cassette Homegrown (Big Stick Records), he and his loose-limbed string band stomp all over breakdowns like “Cold Feet” and “The Origin Of The Snake” in much the same way Uncle Dave Macon & the Fruit Jar Drinkers did 70 years ago. By contrast, the unaccompanied “Father’s Lament” could pass for a mournful field holler.
Yet no matter how much Hayseed’s music recalls the sounds and styles of bygone eras, his lyrics — and general sensibilities, for that matter — are utterly contemporary. “Father’s Lament” portrays a heartrending child custody battle; “Between The Lines” is a cautionary tale about technology run amok.
Hayseed’s artless mix of rustic rhythms and latter-day relevance reflects an open-mindedness born of his struggle to reconcile his insular upbringing with the larger world he came to know as an adult. There was a time, though, when he wanted nothing to do with the oppressive, parochial existence of his parents and the Pentecostal church in which they raised him.
“For a long time I was really bitter about the way I grew up,” Hayseed admits. “I so wanted to be different from my parents that I completely rejected everything about them. I didn’t even give them the chance to be who they were. I held it against them that I’d grown up without television, that I’d grown up without movies, without art, without all that stuff. And yet my journey came about because I didn’t have all that.”