This was the second time I talked to Hawksley Workman and the second time I got along exceedingly well with Hawksley Workman. Workman is an artist I respect immensely, someone who's work can be at once sprawling and artistic while being wholly accessible, if sometimes frustrating. This interview was done in February of this year and was supposed to be for FEEDBACK magazine here in Victoria, but my editor there seems to have disappeared so it sat on the shelf for a bit, finally finding its way to the Martlet. This was a really long conversation, in fact this is Part 1, so now, for your reading pleasure...Hawksley Workman.
Rags Music: Hello. Hawksley Workman? Hey, how’s it going?
Hawksley Workman: Good. Is this Blake? Hey guy! How are you doing?
RM: It is Blake. I’m swell. Yourself?
HW: Pretty good. We’re finally getting some good weather here in Calgary, Alberta.
RM: We’re just getting our first good weather here too.
HW: Yeah? You’re in Victoria, right? I thought I had a nice quiet place to talk to you and now I’m realizing it’s not as quiet as I’d hoped. Just one sec…Sorry I thought this would be really good. How are you doing? Wait, you know what? Maybe being out on the street is the better vibe. So, I’m out in the street. Here we go!
RM: <laughs> I’m doing well, I’m not as sick as the last time we talked.
HW: So you’re not sick?! People always get sick and now that I’m in this two-week run of shows here in Calgary, I’m desperate to not get sick. If you’re going to get sick you’re going to get sick but I find I get less if I’m not thinking about getting sick.
RM: I’m sure there’s some kind of psychosomatic thing going with positive vibes and visualization and all of that.
HW: Back when I first started out I used get sick all the time. I used to treat myself with kid gloves on the road, never party, be the guy drinking tea and stuff. After about a year or two of that bullshit I started to just abuse myself like everyone else. I stopped getting sick and everything kept working just fine. It’s a lot I think about worrying.
RM: Maybe all the partying just acts as some kind of preservative for the body.
HW: Now we’re talking.
RM: Although I think interviewing you might be some sort of curse. The last time I got the flu and this time I had a flare up of a strange medical thing that comes and goes. So you might be some kind of curse on me.
HW: Good Lord! I hope not! So Jennifer said you’re writing for a new magazine or something?
RM: Well, I think they’ve been around for awhile but I just started writing for them. My editor told me to write about whatever I want and I noticed that you have the God That Comes and Mounties and all that, so I figured why not talk to Hawksley again?
HW: That’s super cool. Yeah, I feel like a lucky guy to have so much going on right now.
RM: Yeah, how do you find the time to do that? My lord.
HW: I don’t know. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m never home. My woman is starting to come around to the idea that that’s just how life goes. That there can be spans of weeks or months before I get back home after. Literally, after the God That Comes finishes I’m on a plane to Vancouver to finish Matthew’s record. I think what it is that I felt pretty luck to work all these years and have these interesting opportunities come. With Mounties and the God That Comes it was just agreeing to make the time to do these things. Ryan Dahl and Steve Dais and I have been talking about making a band for years and I just said “You know what? If we don’t put this in the calendar we’re never going to be a band.” So last September I flew out to Vancouver and we wrote 21 songs. It was just a kind of creative excitement. Those guys are both kindred spirits and they both are intimidatingly brilliant at what they do. And the thing with the God That Comes, Christian Barry and I had been talking about writing some kind of piece of theatre for almost 10 years and it just felt like the right time. I’ve put out lots of records, 13 or 14 records, and toured, in a way, if you’re restless and have that creative hunger on all the time, the rock and roll business can be kind of bring. Make a record, go on tour, come home, try to remember how to be normal, start it over…that whole thing.
RM: If you never go home you never have to worry about being normal again.
HW: <laughs> Well, I’m a homebody, that’s the funny thing. I’m a homebody and I hate to have my picture taken. I feel like I got into a job where those two things happen to me way more than they should, you know? I think I’ll go home one day…we have our gardens to plant come the end of May. I live in the country and we do a lot of gardening. There’s excitement around the summer. My future goal is to be a little bit closer to home. I’ve been developing a new band as well. They’re brilliant. They’re called Juniper. We’ve been working on their record on and off for the last year. Stuff like that I get to do from home because I got a pretty nice little studio at my house. Maybe there’ll be a little bit more of that. I’ve also had this bizarre inclination to put a shipping container in my yard and turn it into a small 30-seat theatre. I would like to make it more like Branson, Missouri or something where people come to my house instead of me have to go all the time to somewhere else.
RM: That makes sense. Very cool.
HW: Yeah, so if you and 20 friends come by we can have a concert in my shipping container. Maybe that dream’s a little bit off. But it’s always nice to always kind of be thinking about what you want to do next.
RM: Well, you gotta have goals?
HW: <laughs> Do you, really though? Or is just that what society tells us? I don’t know.
RM: I fluctuate really wildly with that theory. Sometimes I feel real good when there’s no goals and no expectation but if I have no goals for too long I start to feel a little lost and confused.
HW: Man, I think you nailed it. It’s weird isn’t it? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about personal goals, a lot of thinking about ambitious humans. This is going to sound crazy, but I was leafing through the Satanic Bible the other day. The gist of the Satanic Bible as written by Anton Levey, the human instinct to succeed in a bigger, better way than your neighbor is really a Satanic trait, which has really got me thinking. I’ve been really just trying to imagine life on Earth as this very generous, charitable place where kindness can prevail instead of turning on the news to a mountain of lies from politicians and business people about why we always have to go to war and the reason we need to own gunships and warplanes. I want to imagine a place where humans are extremely well-acquainted with their oneness and where the connectedness of humans is something we celebrate instead of something we chop up and disrespect. I’m trying to figure out humans can’t seem to be kind to one another and why with the persistent lies about war required to make peace, why humans haven’t grown past that and why the consciousness of humankind hasn’t evolved just a little bit so that these sort of constant fibs we’re exposed to in the media, why we just don’t stand up on a table and say “That’s enough! I won’t take this anymore. I cannot listen to one more lie. I cannot sit around with my tax dollars being used to demonize people in foreign lands.” It’s starting to make me crazy. I’ve been thinking a lot about oneness, about ambition, about animal instinct and how of being human and our idiocy is supported by our animal instincts and what are we supposed to grow out of? This is kind of where my head’s been at the last little while.
RM: All that makes sense.
HW:<laughs> I don’t know. I’ve been so angry about stuff for so long. In a way The God That Comes was like an opportunity to channel anger in really a more productive way than just being vitriolic. I think too, I was getting a little bit hard to live with. My wife was like “Your negativity is too much sometimes.” I never think of it as negativity. I think it of it as sort of healthy realism but when your outlook on life can be bleak…I think that’s another thing that just keeps me working. I think I’ve realized inside a studio or inside a song or in the middle of doing something creative I really feel like A) It removes me from my conscious life. It really puts me into a sort of a realm of living in the moment. I also think too, it’s best thing I can do to combat the things I don’t like. To sort of always working towards creative opportunities. Maybe I sound insane. I’ve been feeling really insane lately.
RM: I don’t know if you sound insane. I think all of this brings up an interesting point about ambition, taking that anger and turning it into something – ambition, as opposed to competition. Where I think ambition implies getting yourself into a better position personally, where I think competition implies you have to take something from somebody else. I don’t know.
HW: Interesting…I don’t know either. It’s very complicated. We’re living in a very competitive time, in a very competitive world where we all see that there’s a great chasm opening up between the haves and the have-nots. Here in Canada a lot of us are awfully comfortable and so sometimes it makes it really easy to just shrug it off and think, “Ah, it is what it is.” That human complacency sometimes too can look awfully ugly.
RM: Well, yeah, it is ugly. I think that allows those systems we have of competitive greed, that ennui allows that system to continue. If we’re all in a bad situation and thought, “Man, we should do something about this,” we probably could but it is so comfortable, like you said.
HW: Yeah, I think you’re probably right. This version of life that we’re living in, we have very little to complain about. Speaking as this rock and roll guy flying around the world and living in hotels, singing songs on stage, it’s awfully good. One of the fortunate things about what I do is when you do you travel and you do get to get to return to cities on a regular basis you get to take the temperature of the cultural disposition of the places you get to see. I’ve been a lucky traveler too. I got to travel before 9/11. I got to live and travel around the world as an adult before the fear machine really got going.
RM: I wish I could have done that. All my traveling has been post-9/11. It’s always an interesting time crossing the border and being a dark guy with a beard is especially interesting.
HW: So, you’re a dark guy with a beard, is that what you’re saying?
RM: I am and going across the border is always a nerve racking experience.
HW: No doubt, no doubt.
RM: Do you find you get a better lense to look at the situation we have in Canada when you spend time abroad? Does it help you look at the country in a different way?
HW: I think when you travel, I’m sure that all people who traveled even a little bit would all say the same thing – travel really wakes you up to where you come from more than anything. Yes, you’re discovering other cultures, seeing beautiful architecture or whatever, but I think ultimately you end up learning more about where you come from. I don’t know how or why that works but I think it’s just that as humans we like to contrast and compare. Sometimes we just don’t have the creative impetus to settle with what we have and call it what it is. We like to have something to compare, we like to have one banana and a second banana, compare the two and decide which one we like better. I feel bad for you. You poor guy. You call me and I’ve been locked in a hotel room all day and here I am just yacking your face off!
RM: No, it’s great. This is one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve done. We’re getting outside of the box.
HW: <laughs> Well that’s kind of you to say.
(To be continued)