Piper Hayes will be singing for her supper this summer.
The Hamilton-based folk-pop artist is taking part in Via Rail’s Artists on Board Program, which allows Canadian artists the opportunity to perform for passengers on the train in exchange for a cabin and meals along the way.
The program runs two routes — Toronto to Vancouver or — Montreal to Halifax — and musicians are expected to perform two sets a day, as well as the occasional train station show, says Hayes, who has participated in the program before and will be taking the train westward from Toronto.
"It’s awesome; you meet people from all over Canada and also people from all over the world who come to Canada to take the train across the country," Hayes says before she and partner — musical and romantic Carson Ritcey-Thorpe climb aboard.
Train travel can be quite costly, so she is grateful for the chance to see Canada in a way she might not otherwise be able to.
"The train goes through places in Canada (where) there are no roads, so you really get to see some parts of Canada that you can only see really via train or hiking," she says.
Hayes is on the road supporting her new EP, Goodbye Mister Nice Guy, which she has dubbed an unconventional breakup record. It’s just three songs in length and is sequenced in the order she wrote them — the first, Lovin’ You, was penned about her former partner a mere two weeks before their relationship ended; the next, You’re Gone, has some obvious breakup vibes as she discusses loss and grieving, both of the relationship and aspects of herself that changed along with it; and the third, Honey, transitions from wondering why the breakup happened to accepting it and moving on (the lyrics literally shift from "Honey, why?" to "Honey, goodbye.")
"At that time in my life, I was also going through this breakup list with aspects of myself... I think we all come into our own at different parts and this was a part of me coming into myself and realizing I don’t need to be treated certain ways or I need to be treated certain ways," she says.
"I was also quitting my job at that point and going through this phase of like, ‘Oh, I’m valuable and I bring value to this world and I want people around me who recognize that value and will honour that.’ So there was a lot of change."
Hayes also needed a change of scenery — the lifelong Torontonian decided to pack up and move to Hamilton. She found the money and energy it was taking to live in the big city was not yielding enough results to make it worth it, so she and Ritcey-Thorpe (who grew up on an organic produce farm just outside of Hamilton) decided it would be best to relocate to a smaller city.
Much like Winnipeg, Hamilton has a booming, collaborative music community, which Hayes has become a part of.
"It’s been wonderful. The other thing with Toronto that I had a hard time with, and this might not be everybody’s experience, but for me, I found there was a lot of clique-y, exclusive behaviour within the musician community, kind of competition, and I just don’t relate to that," she says.
"I really like having a community vibe and sharing, because I don’t think we’re going to get as far alone as we can get together. I came to Hamilton and almost immediately met people I just love and have fully supported my growth and a musician and found me gigs in Hamilton and as a result have become really close friends, as well as community musical support system."
On her way across the country, she and Ritcey-Thorpe will be stopping in Winnipeg to play four shows this week at venues all over the city, including the Little Brown Jug and Half Pints Brewery tap rooms.
"A lot of breweries are having music and paying musicians, or at least providing a really nice space for musicians to grow and share their art, so that was of interest," she says.
"We just kind of lucked out. We haven’t been to Winnipeg before, so we’re excited to see what the scene is all about."