Hawksley Workman is my kind of guy. Why I mention this is because, even though both of us are relatively young in our 40’s, we seem to share the same passion for “the gorgeous aches of growing up” in the 80s of our youth. But that’s likely the extent of our kindred spirit because honestly I have nowhere near his talents. And I mean nowhere near his talents! In short, he is a poet, playwright, author, producer and one of the most recognised Canadian musicians of the last 20 years. For the record, he is a two-time JUNO award winner, he has released over a dozen albums and headlined prestigious venues like Massey Hall in Toronto and The Olympia in Paris and even opened for the legendary David Bowie, The Cure and Morrissey. That said, it is Hawksley Workman’s talents as a prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and the release of his latest single Battlefords that brings him to our attention this week. Moreover, with his unique blend of cabaret pop and glam rock, I couldn’t think of a better time to catch up with Hawksley Workman ahead of his Australian tour beginning next week. Here is some of what we talked about.
I understand during your first Australian tour you said something about no one knowing who the hell you were, which meant there was really no expectation upon you. I understand you actually liked that scenario. This time around things are different as you beginning your Australian tour in Marrickville. Your audience is a little wiser and I guess they will be expecting a lot more from you. Does that continue to weigh on you as you keep coming back? And what can we actually expect from your new shows?
I think I’ve rounded another corner on all that kind of thinking. That thought of nobody knowing who I was and the freedom of that is kind of the old ‘music business’ thinking me, back from a time when the pressures of the biz weighed on me much more heavily. I feel much freer from all of those strange and tax emotions and honestly I feel like the years of touring Australia helped me turn that corner. This time it’s just me and a 1971 Martin D35 and my voice and songs. I just got back from Europe playing solo like this and I loved it. I loved connecting with the folks who’ve been so lovely in supporting me and coming out to shows all of these years, singing along to all the songs and treating me most kindly.
You have toured with Bowie, The Cure and Morrissey to name a few. As a fan of all three, I’m hoping you can indulge me with one of your best memories you have from playing in one of those early shows?
The Bowie show, which was at The Nimes Coliseum in the south of France almost didn’t happen because of extreme winds. Nimes is a big enough town to have had its own local paper at the time, but a small enough town that the person sent to review the show, reviewed me as David Bowie. I guess she didn’t realise that there’d be somebody on after me. And that somebody would have been the real Bowie. The shows I played with The Cure were a real learning experience. They weren’t playing many hits on that run and I watched them disappoint audience after audience who wanted to hear the big favourites. After that I decided never to be precious about your set lists and within reason you should use the opportunity at gigs to play the songs people have come to hear. And Morrissey is brilliant at ping pong, maybe even better than I am.
For some twenty years, you have let your music speak for itself. Could you tell us something surprising about it and how it continues to evolve?
Oh goodness. Well, I’m eternally bored and disappointed in myself and a great deal more. For me, music is my chance to shake off convention and feel vital and alive. When I write and record my greatest wish is to divert from the direction I was previously heading. I know I’ve pissed my audience off sometimes. I’ve pissed myself off just as much. It’s the Neil Young way – 1 record we all like, then 3 that utterly confuse us. It’s a great way to operate, in my opinion.
A lot of your songs are told with wit, passion and remarkable candor. Where do you continue to find your inspiration for songwriting?
I find humans and love and god and cities and travel and heartbreak and sex so very lovely and perplexing. All of those things never sort themselves into any bankable order. So somebody like me tends to feel like they have to chase and chase and chase. And I’m like an old sniffer dog for the chase. I don’t bite down too hard on the gander. I’m always swimming it to the master. I’m grateful the mystery is still king.
What would you say has to this point been your signature song? And why?
Oh well, probably Safe And Sound or We Will Still Need A Song. But I can guarantee there’s a few soon-to-be signature songs in the running on my new record. It’s got some of my best writing in a while.
You have an amazing new single called Battlefords. Can you tell me a little bit about how it came to life?
Oh goodness, I didn’t read ahead, and hear I was bigging myself up on the last question. Battlefords is full of the gorgeous ache of growing up in rural Canada in the 80s. A truly premodern modern time when the prefix “Astro” got us all excited. That part of the late 20th century felt like the future to us all then, walking around with portable music players and headphones. It’s also got thoughts about how strangely democratised life was in school and how when you’re a kid you have no choice but to see all the mad things that happened around you as normal.
Finally, what’s in store for Hawksley Workman in the near future?
I’ve got a couple of musicals on the burners these days. Mounties has a new record and single De Evolve Again. A big/little christmas tour in December and so very gratefully, a few weeks in Australia!!