I first met Hayden Coplen in the backseat of a cargo van, driving through rain soaked forest of nowhere, Oregon some time in 2015. As these types of media trips go, we were all strangers on assignment for different magazines—I was gathering content for the imminent launch of Field Mag, Hayden doing similar for our friends at Gear Patrol. As the trip went on Hayden confessed writing gear reviews was actually something he simply did for fun. His indie rock band, Sir Sly, in which plays the drums and other instruments, was, and remains, his full time gig.
Fast forward a handful of years or more and Sir Sly has played Coachella, Bonnarroo, Governors Ball, Lollapalooza, and landed two top-5 singles on the alternative radio charts—and just this week released their third album, The Rise & Fall of Loverboy, out now on Interscope Records. The occasion seemed the perfect excuse to get back in touch with the occasional Field Mag contributor.
For Hayden and his band, the pandemic arrived just as they were wrapping up an album and preparing to tour. Forced to put both on hold, they entered a creative limbo of sorts. To cope, Hayden turned to the outdoors, spending most of the past twelve months exploring near his home in Los Angeles, with a stint in a cabin in the Redwoods, too.
“There wasn’t much to ‘work on’ in a conventional sense during this past year—it was just wait and see. In lieu of this I mostly focused on moving my body outside and learning another instrument. I caught the cycling bug hard. I hiked 200 miles in January. And I’m not great at bass, but I found another way to communicate musically, which was gratifying.”
The Ten Essentials are survival items that hiking and Scouting organizations recommend for safe travel in the backcountry. Playing on this, we asked Hayden, to identify his own ten essentials for navigating the pandemic. In it we see a theme of solitary activities and ritualization, perhaps surprisingly. Hayden says these kept him grounded this year. “The simple joy of brewing a good cup of coffee, or the rhythm of pedals moving above asphalt. I’m not much of a gearhead—I don’t buy much. But my favorite items and instruments sort of develop a living, breathing personality to me.”
Read on for the 10 essentials of musician, writer, and lifelong outdoors enthusiast Hayden Coplen.
Hayden Coplen's 10 Essentials
1. The Bike: 1980s Takara Olympian
I’ve had this Japanese lugged steel frame for a few years, but I used to feel a bit insecure on LA’s most popular road routes without a nice bike or “the right gear.” Now, many many miles later on this bombproof bike and I am a believer that gear doesn’t much matter as long as you’re enjoying yourself.
Wave if you see me out there climbing hills on my flat pedals, wearing goofy civilian clothes and cargo pants. You don’t need lycra and carbon fiber to have a good time!
2. The Album: Ahmad Jamal At The Pershing: “But Not For Me”
Ahmad Jamal’s piano playing puts me in a good place. He’s got such a knack for space and feel—sprinkling in melodies that catch but never snag. “Poiniciana,” at the start of Side B, is my favorite, but I’ll really listen to this whole performance on repeat. I bought this, and many other records in my collection, from my man Ray at High Fidelity Records in West Adams.
3. The Bass: 1960’s Eko 995
My band was putting the finishing touches on an album right when lockdown started, so I used the past year more as a time to explore than anything else. Playing bass was a big part of that. This is actually Landon’s (from the band), but he lent it to me and I had many memorable moments with it. It’s a violin style-bass made in Italy, and it’s almost identical to the Hofner that Paul McCartney plays. It’s a really nice tactile experience to play, and there’s something so satisfying about just laying in bed or on the floor plucking out bass parts.
4. The Shirt: Patagonia Capilene Air base layer
I wore this base layer every day in January and washed it maybe once. I was on the trail most mornings, cycling in the afternoon, and playing bass in between, always wearing this. It became sort-of my catch-all adventure uniform, and I got a lot of dirt on it, to no ill effect. Those are my favorite types of clothes.
5. The Drum: 1970s Ludwig Acrolite
After getting home from a few years of touring in 2019, I realized I didn’t “practice” drums much anymore—all my playing was at shows, soundchecks, or the studio. That’s not very inspiring! There’s something special about bashing the drums alone in a garage like you’re 15 again. I rented a small rehearsal space right at the start of 2020, and it’s been a wonderful place to explore, create, and vent. This snare is my desert island drum—it’s old and a little rickety, but has logged thousands of miles with me, and has that classic old-soul, Motown snap.
6. The Book: Total Freedom by J. Krishnamurti
It was partly out of dark humor that I read a book called “Total Freedom” as the world was shutting down, but I took a lot of valuable lessons from this one. I don’t even agree with everything Krishnamurti has to say in this book, but he would probably say that’s the point.
7. The Pack: Mountainsmith Mayhem 30L
I’m not good with fragile gear. I am clumsy and I move kind of fast. Luckily, this Mountainsmith pack has put up with my lack of consideration for the past 5-ish years, and was especially handy during local missions in this recent season of life. Small enough for long day trips, big enough for short overnights, and useful for toting inessential gear like Jetboils (mid-hike coffee?) and foldable camp chairs. Because why not, I’ve got the time.
8. Indoor plants
My partner has a tremendous green thumb and brought splashes of color and life to our home in the past year. She has propagated five or six Pothos plants, a couple Monstera, a couple ZZ plants, and nursed along a handful of others. They bring me a lot of joy in the idle moments inside.
9. The Coffee: City Bean Roasters
These guys roast coffee at the end of my block, and one of my weekly highlights is walking down the street to see what their roaster, Carlos, has going. I’m currently hooked on a Colombia that tastes like mint chocolate chip.
10. The TV Show: Ted Lasso
I am cheesy. I am prone to the long-winded, emotional, and vaguely sappy. For all these reasons, Ted Lasso hit me in the perfect way at the perfect time. It’s like the TV show I wished I could write, if only I had Jason Sudeikis’ chops.
The follow-up to 2017’s Don’t You Worry, Honey, Sir Sly's third album, The Rise & Fall of Loverboy, is out now via Interscope Records and available on all the digital retailers. Vinyl/CD is available on sir-sly.com.