Singer/songwriter Hayden Laeknir uses music to spread happiness.
The melodies drift from a Gretsch acoustic guitar, white with gold trim, across coffee shops, cantinas and sports bars from Sneads Ferry to Topsail to Surf City, the territory of a singer/songwriter who’s been around the globe and is, finally, anchored seaside. She sings almost every night, covers of artists from Jewel to Sinatra sprinkled with original compositions, and she’s developed a following, often seeing the same eyes watch the stage over an iced chai latte or blackened flounder dinner.
Hayden Laeknir isn’t native to these parts — she’s from Missouri — but she’s adopted it, found her callings and found her peace. Her voice is a bluesy, soulful folk blend that gives originality to her covers, but more importantly for her, it brings happiness to others.
“I think for a long time now, I’ve realized I want to be loved and show love and help people,” she says. “I know that sounds like some kind of humble bragging, but the most important thing to do is to help people, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. In music, I can help people smile and make their day better.”
With long hair, feather earrings and ample turquoise jewelry, Laeknir could be a holdover from the early ’70s peace-and-love era of folk trios in pass-the-hat bars. But she isn’t. She’s in her 20s, served active duty in the U.S. Navy for five years and is in the Reserves. She’s seen Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was on a ship off Japan and found an affection for Central and South America before the Navy set her down at Cherry Point.
“I was on the way out, so I started school at UNCW and I liked the area, and I thought I might as well stick around,” she says. “I started getting shows, and I was like, this is a good place to be a musician. I don’t want to leave this wonderful place.”
Laeknir didn’t play guitar until she was in the Navy, and she found that it was therapy for her and a way to escape stress and calm down.
“And I could reach other people, and make them smile,” she says. “It’s a medicine and healing in its own way. That was my ah-ha moment.”
Her mission to spread caring and kindness has evolved into an identity and her brand. Her Instagram name became dropdeadkindness.
“It was so frustrating to me to hear how people say, ‘Oh, you’re drop-dead gorgeous,’ because it’s so superficial; a lot of people can’t help if they’re pretty or not,” she says. “But if someone could say about you, ‘Oh, you’re so kind,’ that’s a compliment. So, I have dropdeadkindness on my shirts and stickers and logos.”
Laeknir’s bookings started through Instagram when music became her Band-Aid.
“I was having a rough patch in my life, and I knew someone else who was as well, so I created this Instagram account and said I’d put a song out,” she says. “And people started saying, ‘Can you cover this song? Or this one?’ I realized I can connect with these people and make them smile.”
She had never considered playing for a live audience but told herself she could do it. “And I did it. And I loved it. And people were clapping. And I’m still flabbergasted!” she says. “I can’t believe it.”
Songwriters know that lyrics and melodies can show up anytime, unprovoked, ready to be scribbled on paper with a G clef. Laeknir says she finds time during the day to “not use a lot of brain power, but to stay stimulated at the same time.” She takes her three dogs for walks. She swims. She works part-time on a farm called Secret Sanctuary, where she mucks stables and tends to chores. And the music arrives. “Usually, it’s while I’m doing some mundane tasks,” she says. “Hopefully I have a guitar nearby.”
Laeknir’s songs are on YouTube, Spotify and wherever music is streamed. She says she’s written about 100 songs. “But most of them don’t see the light of day,” she says. “Or they’ll ceremoniously get burned in the fire pit. A lot of times they’re about whatever’s going on in my head, but I’m not good at talking about the bad parts in my life, so writing is a way of expressing it. It just kind of comes out.”
Laeknir’s college path is toward being a physician’s assistant. If that happens, she’d like to work in Central or South America. But she’ll keep playing music. She’s attached to her guitar, but also has a ukulele and plays a little piano and drums. She likes Willie Nelson because of how he writes.
She remembers waking up as a child, with her brother and sister, and hearing their dad play guitar. “Way too loud,” she says. Her dad looks a bit like John Denver and likes to sing Denver’s songs. “He has the same hippie peaceful vibe,” she says.
She’s thrilled to possess that same musical talent.
“I love this whole music scene,” she says. “It would be cool to do this all the time. The gigs I play are great. I’m pretty content right now.”