Sin City Spotlight: I See Hawks in LA

Sin City Spotlight: I See Hawks in LA
A Turnstyled Junkpiled Interview
By Gerry Gomez, Staff Writer

I See Hawks in LA has blossomed over their 11-year collaboration into the best psych country outfit in LA and finally laid down their reputation as great acoustic performers on their recent release, New Kind of Lonely. In a way, Lonely marks a return to where it all began for the LA band showcasing the guys in a room playing acoustic instruments into a couple of mics. In another way, their lyrics reflect the growth of the band and exposes a more personal and emotional side of the groups songwriting.

On New Kind of Lonely, the band play their way through a bit of Bluegrass, Folk, Roots, Hippie Rock and a touching tribute to friend and fellow musician, Amy Farris. ISHILA visit their usual territory with some fare dabbling in topical and political musings but a few tracks broaden their lexicon on this, their first full-length album of new tunes since 2008.

In acknowledging their role as writers in the folk tradition, the Hawks collectively write about “stuff that matters.” This time around finding that what mattered was reflective of their personal state of mind and the world around them.

“It’s a folk tradition for sure,” said Paul Lacques, lead guitar and co-writer, “There’s only a few people who talk about stuff that matters.”

“When we got together, times became incredibly politically charged. We certainly follow current events. We read a lot. So the darkness of the times just crept into our music. You know? We have to say something about this. ‘This is crazy.’ We certainly didn’t set out to be a topical band but we can’t let this slide,” explained Lacques from the courtyard of his Highland Park home.

“We just try to write what’s on our minds. Sorta free associating,” adds Rob Waller, co-writer, rhythm guitar and lead singer, “But this is one of our least political records. This one is more personal and emotional to me.”

“Which is a departure. This one is very much about our lives,” responded Lacques, and somewhat sarcastically adding in reference to the political stuff, “We might have given up. Maybe its too late to late to save anything.”

The Hawks feed off songs that set off emotions in people. “Humbolt,” “Raised By Hippies,” “California Country,” and “Byrd From West Virginia” – sung about the West Virginia Senator and his opposing the Iraq War yet being somewhat out of touch about a national ban on marijuana are songs that set ISHILA apart from their contemporaries. Their willingness to put themselves out there is a double edged sword though, but the risk they take inspire and reap praise from many.

“I See Hawks in LA are indeed one of California’s unique treasures,” said Dave Alvin of the group.

New songs such as “I Fell In Love With the Grateful Dead,” “Your Love Is Going to Kill Me,” “The Spirit of Death,” and “New Kind of Lonely” will keep people talking about the Hawks. As will their rigorous spring and summer tour dates.

As the Hawks celebrate over 10-years together, it is fun to retell the story of how they came together. That story is one ripe for a 70s era movie of the week:  Friends go out to the desert and talk about forming a band in a style very out of vogue at the time – Country. They put together a few songs, rush over to a friends house who happens to be a guru in their field of music. He sets up some mics, records some demos and the demos end up in another friends hands who plays it for someone who decides to sign them all before even playing their first real gig!

In truth, the Hawks took flight almost before their feathers grew in as they were recorded the first time they ever played their songs for David Jackson, the aforementioned guru, on the day they came to him for advice. The Hawks have been spreading their wings ever since and with Lonely, return back to the nest to deliver an album, literally, 11 years in the making.

“We had always wanted to do an acoustic album” says jovial and thoughtful lead vocalist Waller from the groups central meeting place at Lacques’ Highland Park home, “It was kinda coming back to that original thing. We always play about half of our shows acoustic. And we did a long run at Cole’s playing acoustic.”

TJ’s Gerry Gomez with I See Hawks in LA

Waller refers to the downtown pastrami joint where the Hawks cut their teeth and performed religiously for three years every Wednesday they were in town. When asked about their part in the LA roots scene, noting that they came up when the only other group on the radar was Beachwood Sparks and soon after, Mike Stinson, the guys don’t recall too many that did as they did in LA. The Hawks even add that at times they felt fraudulent as players on the fringes of the Country, Hippie Rock, and Folk scenes.

“We just kinda adapt and fit in where we can. We always kinda feel like we’re the bastard child of whatever scene we’re part of. We don’t  feel like we’re leaders of anything,”said Waller.

“I think we’re dabblers. Rob and I have some amazingly similar influences coming from different areas,” claims Lacques, “We’ll take on a straight ahead old timey tune or bluegrass tune and try to do it in that style. We’ll do psychadelic rock song or a honky-tonk song. There really are about 20 different ways to chop up country roots music.”

“A country fruit salad,” Waller added. They all laugh.

Although they downplay their true dexterity, the Hawks have honed their influences into something uniquely special and uniquely LA:  A melding of time, space, style and even language.

“The real country scene in LA was the late 40’s and 50’s and into the 60’s and 70’s and then everything kinda changed when Urban Cowboy hit,” bassist Paul Marshall adds credibly, having been a part of it for a couple iterations, “For years, it was really kinda a wasteland. And then what was cool, was this alternative country thing that developed.”

“It’s not what country was, what I think of as country, but it’s serving a really cool purpose. And the writing actually became even better and kind of expanded,” he continued.

One could say that pretty much sums up I See Hawks in LA’s existence. Born out of a time of bleakness, to rise into a new kind of country – better and expanded upon it’s predecessor. Maybe the Hawks are more appropriately named Phoenix? Or not. Whatever they are, one thing is for certain:  They are a great Los Angeles band.

For more information on I See Hawks in LA visit: http://www.iseehawks.com


I See Hawks in LA perform “Spirit of Death” in their Highland Park Courtyard

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