IT’S STILL ALL IN THE NAME (PART 2)
A CONVERSATION WITH HAWKSLEY WORKMAN
Less Rage More Tears reveals many sounds and references to the ‘80s, which were important formative years for Workman’s musical influences. In fact, Workman was booked to play with one of his heroes, Bruce Cockburn, this past summer at the CNE in Toronto, before the show was ultimately cancelled. It’s been rescheduled for 2021.
‘One of the many things, and one of the many reasons I sort of celebrate openly, that nostalgia for the 1980s was that Eddie Van Halen was a virtuoso, Paul Simon was arguably one of the greatest songwriters to ever live and write in the English language, Prince is a bonafide genius as was Michael Jackson. These were the artists that corporate American entertainment enterprises were selling to me as an eight-year-old kid. They were selling me virtuosos and geniuses, and these were my heroes. I will always tell you that the 1980s was the last truly sort of remarkably courageous time in pop writing. Like, you could turn on the radio and hear very interesting things still happening. Then that started to kind of disappear quite quickly, and you hear very interesting production on the radio still, but you don’t hear necessarily very interesting writing.’ ‘Even A-ha’s Take On Me was not written to fit into a Spotify dinner chill playlist. You know, like these are pieces of music that were written to stand out and to be noticed. And I find that you know what works on Spotify is “Sit down, shut up and let’s start eating our spaghetti and meatballs.’ You know, it’s very different and that’s really, I think, affecting how music is getting made. I think kids are going “Oh well, I want to get on a playlist, so I’ve got to make sure that my music fits the confines of the playlists. And if this becomes your artistic comparative, then I think, woooo, (laughs) scary time.’
Isadora Records, Workman’s own label, has released most of his albums, including Less Rage More Tears. The freedom of not being attached to a large record company and basically doing things your own way, really has its advantages.
‘The other day, when I put a little video together about the new record and put it on-line, I remember back in the day I didn’t want to upset the apple cart. You couldn’t just go and do that, you needed approval “Oh, I should call and see what so and so thinks and get so and so’s sign off on this and they should see this video before we post it too, just to make sure that, you know, it’s got all the details they were hoping for, or whatever. It is interesting to be in full control and kind of how it took Covid, in a way, for us all to realize we could work from home. It took the music business to get to its absolute worst for me to go “Oh look, I’m in 100% control, l can put out records if I want to, I can start bands, I can write musicals.” It doesn’t matter, there’s no rules.’
Most musicians do not engage fans directly through social media avenues. Hawksley Workman seems to thrive in connecting with fans of his craft. Workman has even created his “Hawksley Night In Canada” on-line events, four of them to date, which is a 75-minute live show, streaming from Workman’s in-home studio. Along with his long-time piano player and friend, Mr. Lonely (Todd Lumley), Workman includes his “Pet Songs” segment, where he sings an original song about someone’s pet, selected from fan submission and “Hawk Talk” where Workman takes unscreened calls from anyone, anywhere. He’s even created adorable pet music videos which are on YouTube.
‘A couple of my friends were just talking about how at a time when, you know, we’ve gone through a lot of emotional, political, social upheaval, and that I seem to be running further and further in the other direction. The whole world is going through these very remarkable social changes and I’m fucking writing about people’s pets (laughs). Oh man, but it’s just what makes sense to me. And early on, when we started to get stories for people’s pets at the early part of the pandemic, the amount of people who live alone who wrote to me to say that their pet, their dog, most often dogs and cats, had literally been saving their life or their mental health through that whole process. I think we all maybe forget a little bit how lost and terrified we all felt in March and April, and that’s when I kind of started this project, of reaching out to people to tell me about their pets. I think people were at home with a little bit more time on their hands than they were used to and the amount of beautiful writing I received. The punk side project element to that whole thing was, what if I see this as a collaboration with my fans and what they bring to it is a piece of creative writing about something that, you know, I knew these people were sitting down, writing one and two-page detailed, beautiful pieces of writing about their pets. It was like a liberation, you know, and people were feeling so vulnerable that that vulnerability was coming out and how they were living and living with their dogs and cats. I mean, to me, that’s punk rock. You know, that is what gets me excited like rebellion is how you kind of frame it. And to me, there could be nothing less cool in the world than having people write about their pets and me picking songs to write about people’s dogs. But in the end, what it’s turned into is it’s got its own movement now, these pet songs. But I think that’s just how I operate. I operate from my gut and my gut steers the ship.’
‘My gut has been steering the ship for as long as I can remember. It’s like a bear running through the woods, I’m just busy trying to keep up with it. It’s like “The next thing we’re gonna do is write a play, the next thing we’re gonna do is start a band, the next thing we’re gonna do is this…” and I’m just like, alright, I’m just here to keep up.’
In keeping up, the musical ground that Hawksley Workman is on is as strong as it ever has been. His sweeping catalogue has grown to an impressive size and his résumé speaks for itself in this dangerous time for artists.
‘I get scared that, like, it’s gonna disappear, and no career in the arts is built for the long haul. I never made a million dollars, you know what I mean? I never won the game and then bank it and then sitting around here, counting my money going “It doesn’t fucking matter what happens.” Every record I release, it fucking matters. It really matters to me, you know?’