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Escape Velocity

"There's More To Us Than Shouting": Hawk Eyes Interviewed
John Freeman , April 3rd, 2012 06:02

John Freeman meets up with three quarters of noise-rock outfit Hawk Eyes to discover just how their mighty new album Ideas ably demonstrates that less can sometimes be more

Hawk Eyes appear to be on their best behaviour. Snuggled around a table in the back room of the Brudenell Social Club, vocalist Paul Astick, bassist Ryan Clark and their newly-acquired drummer Steve Wilson are doing a good impression of being amiable, insightful and jolly good fun, as opposed to the "four pissed-off guys" they profess to be.

Formed in 2005 and veterans of the Leeds punk/hardcore scene, Hawk Eyes (or Chickenhawk as they were known until last year's name change) released an apocalyptic debut album Modern Bodies in 2010, which sounded like - in Clark's words - "being punched in the face for 40 minutes."

The four-piece (guitarist Rob Stephens completes the line-up) then released the excellent Mindhammers EP late last year, which gave an initial glimpse of the more expansive sound that Hawk Eyes have groomed on their second long-player, the recently released Ideas. Funded via the PledgeMusic concept (and hitting 100 per cent of target within three days), Ideas still seethes in all the right places but now showcases a more "accomplished set of songs," according to Paul, fuelled by a collective love of "bands like Neurosis, Dream Theater and Shellac."

Over several pints of competitively-priced continental lager, the three musicians are resolute in sticking to their band philosophy of making "honest" music and not pandering to any trend. "That's the whole point of the band and the whole point of our music," nods Astick. "We have disregarded everything which is fashionable."

Steve, I believe this is your first official band interview for Hawk Eyes. What did they have to do to entice you to join?

Steve Wilson: They didn't have to do anything as I was already a big fan anyway. They just had to ask, and I said yes straight away. I'm good friends with [previous drummer] Matt [Reid] anyway and we had talked about it. The timing was perfect as the band I was in, Japanese Voyeurs, had just split up.

Paul Astick: We'd played gigs with Steve and he is very much part of the incestuous Leeds scene, so it just made sense. We are really grateful to Matt for him helping us find someone so quickly. We are happy that Matt is moving on and being a proper person – that's something we might all have to do at some point.

Ideas seems to make a significant musical leap from your previous work. What was your initial vision for how you wanted it to sound?

Ryan Clark: There was an approach we wanted to take but there was never an exact formula as to where it was going to end up. We wanted to broaden our horizons, progress and not retread the same ground.

PA: We listened back to the last record and at the time it did the right things. It was relentless and it was an onslaught and it was shouting 'Here I am'. But there is more to us than shouting. That is what the second record is about. If you listen to Ideas and then go back and listen to Modern Bodies there are similar themes musically but this time around they're easier to hear and to listen to.

How has your songwriting developed over the last couple of years?

PA: What we used to do was each have a range of ideas and then we'd cram them all into a song. This time it was more about doing a song that does one thing here and then another song that does another thing over there. We wanted to present these different thoughts in their own distinct packages.

So, a song like 'Hollywood Sweatshop' is a hugely accomplished rock song, while something like 'Milk Hog' still retains that short, sharp burst of thrilling excitement.

SW: Yes and the point is that if the entire album was like 'Milk Hog' it wouldn't work - as it is, it leaps out.

PA: It was about separating out each idea and giving them their own place to shine.

You've described the recording of Ideas as 'intense'. Why was that?

RC: Well, we started recording in March 2011 with a guy called Ross Halden, who has worked with us a lot in the past. We'd booked him for two weeks but it came to a point after a week where we hadn't got as much done as we'd intended. So, Rob arranged to go over to a studio in Barnsley with a gentleman called Jason Sanderson. Rob and Paul would be swapping files at motorway service stations. We were trying to increase productivity, but we just came to the end of the two weeks with a mass of tracks.

PA: Basically, recording in two studios at once was a disaster. Don't do it. But I don't regret it in terms of what we have produced.

Lyrically, Ideas covers some pretty dark subject matter. Is the content a fair reflection of your state of mind at the time?

PA: I'm a very paranoid person and I'm not ashamed to say that. I worry about stuff and these songs are distilled pellets of musings. Some of them are metaphors for the way I am feeling and some of them describe things that are going on around us. 'Skyspinners' is a very anti-progress song, because, in some ways, progress is killing the planet. I'm not particularly an environmentalist – it was just the way I was feeling. I'll feel differently on another day. So, all the lyrics are very contradictory and there will often be lines that contradict themselves.

Ideas has been funded by the PledgeMusic model, and I checked today and you were at 143 per cent of target. The model seems to have worked for Hawk Eyes.

RC: Yeah, we got our core support in as soon as we announced it, which picks up more people along the way and means more reviews drop in. At this moment in time, as far as the music industry goes, I think it is a good model to deliver music especially for artists at our sort of level. It also allows us to give something back to the fans in a way. We can give exclusives like demos and studio videos. If someone has taken the effort to pledge they are probably quite into the band, so they might appreciate that sort of thing. That's not me fulfilling the marketing spiel for Pledge; I genuinely feel that's a big advantage of the model.

Apologies in advance for the question, but can I ask about the name change? One year on from making the decision, is there a sense of the change being part of a rebirthing process?

PA: The old name was a pain in the neck. We were getting confused with other bands and it had become a source of ridicule, especially with the 'chicken' aspect.

RC: The decision typified where we were in life; on the precipice of growing up and that little in-joke not being very good anymore.

PA: We didn't like it, so we changed it. Hawk Eyes is better. So, that is the end of the discussion – we chose a better name.

I was at university in Leeds and was always struck by sheer weight of music created in the city. Would you describe Hawk Eyes as a Leeds band or a band who just happen to come from Leeds?

PA: We are not from Leeds – we've moved here – but we have become a band because of Leeds. If it wasn't for the fertile scene here, we wouldn't exist. When I came to Leeds Ryan was the coolest guy I knew – he was already in a hardcore band. I had a guitar but no one wanted to play with me because I looked like a geek. We were able, because of the way Leeds is set up, to form this band that hated everybody and made music that said 'I hate you' and that's what we did for three or four years.

RC: There are loads of awesome bands to play with here, who push you harder and make you want to be better. I could talk for hours about how the Leeds scene has shaped me as a person.

I get the sense that Ideas is the work of a band who are really exhorting themselves to grow as musicians. How ambitious are you?

PA: I'm not going to be ashamed to say that I want the band to continue and get bigger, because if you worked in an office, you'd want your job to continue and get better. All we want from this band is to be able to continue doing it and we will continue doing it until it is no longer feasible. We work really hard and we've sacrificed a lot to do what we doing. And we love it.

RC: It's about getting cooler experiences; if you can push on a bit and get to play with better bands and tour different countries. It is selfish in a way. You put a lot of effort into doing the band, and we'd like to get a little bit of good life-experiences back out of it.

PA: We make this music to express the things we feel and we just hope that people want to listen to it and we can continue to play it. There is nothing more to it than that. We are just four pissed-off guys.

Ideas is out now via Fierce Panda.

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