Not every band can handle a DIY-tour in a minibus, starting with cities all across their home country and then continuing across the border into an even larger country, playing in cities that some of the members have never even visited before.
Canada-based four-piece HAWKING, however, have taken on that challenge--43 shows in 54 days, people--and they’re making it look easy.
I caught up with Tom (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Chris (bass guitar/backing vocals), Benji (lead guitar/backing vocals), and Chartwell (drums/backing vocals) at their first ever NYC show, where they talked about their upcoming self-titled EP, the best gig they’ve experienced so far, and their worst habits while living on the road.
PopWrapped: Tell me a little bit about how the band started.
Tom: Well, Ben and I met in Calculus class in college almost three years ago now. We had similar tastes in music, and we started jamming and whatnot. We had some songs that we were working on, and then we just decided, ‘Hey, let’s make it a band!’ Through Craiglist, we found Chart, and started jamming with him. It worked out really well. And then Chris and I went to rival high schools in the area; he was always in jazz band, and we had each other on Facebook for, like, six years and just never talked. We never had a reason to talk, because we went to different schools and played different styles of music, but once we started playing more math-pop, we needed a guitar player who could also play bass, and write basslines to fit accordingly.
PW: So you all had music backgrounds before you met, then.
Benji: In a sense, yeah. I was a guitar bedroom player for, like, ever ‘cause where I grew up, music isn’t really a thing there. Top 40 is, but all the bands I knew were way older than me, so I had no chance. These guys were all doing previous band things and going to school.
Chris: Yeah, I did five years of jazz band in high school and Chart also did the same.
Tom: And I was just doing a singer/songwriter thing when I was in high school.
PW: Do you all write your own music?
Tom: Yeah. And we don’t really play any covers, so it’s all original. I write most of the lyrics.
Benji: And the skeleton of the song.
Tom: Yeah, and musical composition-wise, filling in the blanks, that’s a group effort. So it’s fairly even.
PW: You have an EP coming out next month. Tell me about making the that, what the inspiration was.
Tom: It took place over probably about eight or nine months, as far as the recording process went. We started writing it on our last tour, last summer, and everything just came together from there. The thing that makes this EP stand out from anything we’ve done before is we used to have a lot of nature themes in our songwriting, for whatever reason…and those are completely absent from this set of songs. All of the songs take place indoors, and lyrically and thematically everything revolves around fear and the different ways that fear can manifest itself, whereas a lot of our stuff before—even the sad songs were happy. We still write in mostly major keys and everything is, I guess you would call it “sparkly” or “jangly” sonically, but it’s a lot darker. Even the album cover.
PW: Why did you choose “Safe and Sound” as the lead single?
Tom: We liked it the best.
Chris: That was the one song where, right off the bat, when he first sent out a demo, we were all just like, ‘Yep, that’s the one!’
Benji: It was right around Christmas; we were all in our respective homes, and he sent the song, and at that moment, we were like, ‘This is gonna be the single.’
Tom: It just felt right.
Chart: As we all tackled it together, everything worked perfectly. It just all came together—we couldn’t have asked for a better process. We weren’t calculating it at all.
Tom: It was very organic. Everyone was able to put their own flairs on it. The composition was very much a group effort.
PW: Is this also your favorite song to perform?
Chart: It was!
Tom: It was our favorite, until we started playing “Books On Tape,” which actually just dropped today on Baeble—they did the premiere, which we’re super thankful for. Yeah, “Books On Tape” has nudged its way in, slowly, to become our new favorite to play live.
Chart: And it seems like a crowd favorite as well. Everyone loves the intricacies of it, but it also has very basic elements where people can bop their head along to the whole thing and the lyrics are easily identifiable, and everything comes together really well.
Benji: I think “Safe and Sound” and “Books On Tape” have very different elements. You know, “Safe and Sound” is easier for us to just play and really enjoy being onstage, whereas “Books On Tape” keeps us a little bit on our toes. The musicians’ aspect to it is way more fun, in that sense.
PW: What are you most looking forward to in playing New York?
Benji: I don’t think we know what to expect. We don’t have a clue what’s gonna happen tonight.
Tom: I think that’s what’s exciting about it for us. We’ve never been here; Ben and I haven’t been in NY at all.
Chart: East Coast states have a big influence on Tom and the music he loves listening to—old punk and just really rowdy music—that music has influenced our stage presence and our stage show, and just having the craziest show that we possibly can. That’s why we’re excited to be here.
Tom: I’m a songwriter and performer very influenced by a lot of ‘90s emo and hardcore, while three out of four of us come from hardcore, metal, and punk backgrounds—so that definitely influences the stage show, especially. Insane amounts of energy.
Chart: So the history here motivates us to do what they used to do back then. The scene, I find, is kinda dulled down a bit. Everyone has their phones out at concerts, everyone just kinda stands there and doesn’t enjoy it. We encourage people to put their phones down and actually live at the show, and get the live performance, because our record is basically us playing live. If they listen to us live, they can hear it on the record. That’s one thing we pride ourselves on. Put your phones down and go crazy at our shows, we love that.
PW: With the touring subject, there have to be ups and downs. Can’t always be fun times, right? So, what are your worst habits?
Chris: Not brushing teeth.
Tom: No, that’s you three! My oral hygiene is amazing on this tour. I just bought more floss this morning! It’s in my coat pocket. I’m not lying.
Chris: Our bus also doesn’t have air conditioning; that’s just a side note.
Tom: So, just being disgusting. Also, the East is so damn humid. We’re sticky all the time. I’ve learned a lot about geography on this tour. All of New England is in a swimming pool—I didn’t know that before. You walk outside and you inhale, and it is an ocean.
PW: Do you guys prank each other?
Benji: Oh my God, I wish we did.
Chris: Spraying each other with Hawaiian Breeze, but that’s about it.
PW: I feel like you’re missing out on an optimal opportunity to prank each other, though.
Benji: If we pranked each other…
Tom: …the tour would be done.
PW: It would be that brutal?
Chart: *points to Benji* Leaving him in a different city. We don’t need a lead guitarist. We’ve thought about it.
Tom: We were gonna leave our merch girl in that gas station in Ontario.
Chart: Shoutout to Michelle. You’re awesome.
PW: What’s been your favorite city so far?
Chart: We went to Montreal not expecting many people. We have fans there, but we always go in with the expectation that we’re gonna try and win over the crowd. That’s how you should do it every night. But, we went there…
Tom: …and the crowd was our crowd.
Chart: The people knew the words to the songs, people were cheering along, they knew all the stops we were gonna do. It was incredible just having to feed off the crowd, you always play better like that.
Benji: They flipped shit when we changed up the songs, too. It was an amazing feeling. Right off the bat, we changed a little bit, and they were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not what happened on the record!’
PW: For those who don’t know you yet, why should they become HAWKING fans?
Chart: We put on a hell of a show. That may seem egotistical, but you come to a show and we will prove it to you.
Tom: If you’re in the front row, you will be hit in the face with my sweat. I’m sorry. Unless you’re into that, in which case…you’re welcome.
Chart: We’re normal guys, we write mainstream music, to an extent. But we also have intricacies that make it different. We’re not just that generic pop sound. We have pop elements—the hook, we have choruses—but we make things different, which keeps your attention.
Benji: We’re musicians who appreciate mainstream music.
Tom: Especially with all of us coming from music nerd backgrounds, it’s I think the most fun thing about the project—to walk the fine line between music that becomes almost a talent contest just trying to show off how good you are vs good songwriting and big pop hooks that you can sing along to. It’s a fun tightrope to walk.
Chart: We’re also real people. We’re always on social media. If you come to a show, we will say hi, we will meet you. Everyone thinks that musicians are deities and they can’t talk to them.
Tom: But it’s 2015, and everyone has Twitter, and so do we. We try to be nice dudes and meet everybody, and just not be douchebag rockstar wannabes.
As for the HAWKING live show? They’ve got soul, and it shows.
They’re a mesh of indie rock and math-pop, and their performance gave me a vibe of a more hardcore version of The 1975—they’re a little quirky, but they rock out like no one’s watching. And it’s awesome.
I love when music forces me to move, even when I’m sitting down and, at times, completely unaware of it. HAWKING was the epitome of that—in a tiny venue that could have been detrimental to their sound, they managed to embrace it and put on a great performance.
Of their six-song set list, “Safe and Sound” and “Deep Blue Sea” were my favorites.
A huge thank you to HAWKING for a great interview and an equally great show.
Their self-titled EP will be available on July 14.
This isn’t the last time you’ll be hearing about them either, so stay tuned.