Curtis takes on Hawksley Workman

By: Curtis Sindrey

I’ve been a fan of Hawksley Workman since around the time of Last Night We Were the Delicious Wolves back in 2001. It was his single “Jealous of your cigarette,” that propelled me into his quirky yet relatable blend of cabaret pop and glam rock.

Since than, he has released 6 albums including 2 albums he released this year titled “Meat” and “Milk.” The latter of which was a long-listed nominee for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize.

What is the origin of your stage name?
“Hawksley is my mom’s maiden name and back when I first started out I needed to feel that I had a fresh start and also too my mom’s parents were key fixtures in both my brother and my life.  Sometimes a lot of the story telling and their attention to nature and being connected to your garden and to the seasons, I thought that there was a lot to celebrate for the Hawksleys.”

What kind of qualities can you find in the Hawksley Workman character within yourself?
“I think they are the same person. I tried to create a division before but that didn’t really work because it created an emotional divide within me. But I think I’ve gotten more “normal” on stage because I used to dress in such crazy things and it seemed like that was always what I was noted for so I made a conscious effort to trim away some of the novelty to bring forth some seriousness.”

What would you consider the main themes in your songwriting?
“I seem to focus almost always on love, God or lack thereof, war and the beauty of nature.”

Why did you decide to benefit the G-20 Legal Defense?
I thought what happened here during the G-20 was disgusting. I was in Stockholm at the time, but I was glued to my computer screen watching it unfold. I couldn’t believe what an incredibly bombastic violent display that was put on for television and it felt very theatrical and unnecessary. There seems to be an ideological warfare happening in Canada right now where we are trying to polarize the right and the left like the United States has done. It’s not the Canada I grew up in.

What is your relationship with social media?
I don’t embrace it whatsoever. I like Twitter because it makes sense of me but I’ve always been resistance to technological change because it somehow harkens the end of something that was likely better than what we had before.

How has the music industry adapted to a changing consumer landscape?
Well, it’s an old business and it hasn’t adapted well at all.  It didn’t seem to embrace the coming deluge of technology that has effectively shut down the industry.  When you make music digital, it seemed like a great idea when CDs first came out but I don’t think that anybody saw that 20 or 25 years into the future those 1’s and 0’s could be transferred so easily over the telephone and cable lines.  But while record companies resold their back catalogues to pay for those records to be made again, and when it finally came to pass that technology has made that that little piece of plastic redundant they were too far behind to engage in any new creation of laws with media and the way media is transferred.

The big misconception is that musicians are wealthy somehow, but in reality only a handful of musicians are rich and the rest are struggling. Among the technologically savvy generation, there seems to be a sense of entitlement where its part of the consciousness and its so easy to get the media that you want when you want it.

Why do you play the instruments that you do? Is it out of brand loyalty or a make/model?
I play both Fender and Gibson models but I really like the Les Paul because they’re heavy and they suit my aggressive playing style so it feels like it can take a punishment. Right now, I have my 2 Les Paul’s with me. One’s a ’74 and the other is a ’76.  My pedal board has nothing good about it. I have some significant pedals at home but on stage I care more about functionality than aesthetics.

I almost don’t own any amplifiers these days because I mostly rent them where I go. I have good luck with Fender Devilles because they are easy, cheap and available.  If you plug your stuff in Poland or Norway, it sounds like Japan.

How often do you play cover songs?
I play covers quite a bit live, but not always in their entirety because I can’t remember my own lyrics, yet alone other people’s lyrics. (Laughs)

Sometimes I’ll stick a cover in the middle of one of my songs, like Culture Club or Beyonce.

What are rehearsals generally like?
Music for me feels like a pure expression. I don’t practice or think about it and I usually go into the studio and whatever comes out first is the best.

How was your music evolved since your 1st album?
I don’t know if I hear any change between records, compared to someone that has followed me since my first record.  My first couple of records I dreamed what it would be like to be in love or to travel and maybe after you’ve lived a bit your perspectives are less dreamy and more real. So, you can comment on things with a certain thread of experience where in the early days I ran a lot of things based on what I fantasized the world and life would look like.

What is your recording process like?
I’m usually in the studio creating a drumbeat and I write a song to the beat. You know,  I’m going to start writing with a guitar and piano again but I almost never do that because I use the studio as a writing tool and its probably why my songs have changed the way the sound. The last record where I sat and wrote songs was “Between the Beautifuls,” (2008) but more “Treeful of Starling” (2006).

What brought you to Toronto at age eighteen?
Well I’d always planned to move out here. If you were going to be serious about making music in Canada there was no place else to be.  To struggle in a big city is the universal artistic experience.

Do you prefer to play with “Mr. Lonely” (Todd Lumley, piano & keyboards) or with the full band?
Once I overdose on one, I immediately want the other. Plus, I was just in Los Angeles and I was playing solo gigs without Lonely and I hated that. But tonight I’m so excited to be playing with Lonely again. It’s going to be wonderful.

What is the atmosphere like in recording in a one-room schoolhouse that your grandmother once attended?
The atmosphere there was magical and it was an interesting time in my life. I had a lot of people throwing money at me and it was height of me believing the hype of my talents. I remember it being minus forty degrees for 2 straight weeks and it sort of turned into a militant battle to survive the cold.

Unfortunately, I don’t own the schoolhouse anymore because old buildings are always falling into disrepair and this is a word to the wise, if you want to own an old building, you have to be committed to nurturing it on a daily basis. So, I’d go away on tour for 2 months and the place would like it was dead and so I had to go and buy a house that wouldn’t be crawling with rodents.

What is your current musical hub like?
Well, I have a home studio but it’s broken apart right now because I just moved into a new apartment. But I need a consistent musical hub. I also have a studio up north but I just never go there.

What kind of influence did your parents have on your musical development?
At an early age, our house was constantly filled with music. You know, a lot of Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. My father played the drums and my mother had a terrific voice. For the most part, I think the big thing was that music was such huge part of our daily life.

Why do you engineer and produce your own albums?
Well, it was a necessity at first. I bought my own studio equipment and I wanted to have all the fun myself.

Which Canadian bands do you consider to be “the next big thing?”
Hey Rosetta should have “next big thing” status. Also, I think Wintersleep should have more recognition. I mean, Colleen Brown from Edmonton should be massive. It’s just that Colleen isn’t doing something fashionable at the moment.

– Curtis Sindrey

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