Exclusive Interview with Singer-Songwriter Hawksley Workman

Singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman has been a staple of the Canadian music scene for almost 20 years. With 15 solo releases under his belt, he’s amassed many accolades, including JUNO nods and wins, and widespread critical acclaim. His newest album, Median Age Wasteland, solidifies that he’s an artist in the purest sense of the word.

I got the chance to talk with him about how he first got into making music, the story behind his new single from this album, “Stoners Never Dream”, where the concept for that music video came from and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.  

I started singing and performing in my church, Novar United. “The Little Drummer Boy” and Oh Holy Night” solos marked the beginning of me starting to find “my voice”. I also did a lot of public speaking, and I won my first public speaking contest when I was 6.

Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?

My dad loved music; he bought a lot of records and was playing records in the house constantly when I was growing up. He was also a drummer, and there was a drum set in our house from as far back as I can remember. At 5 years old, I started playing the drums. I made a huge breakthrough one Sunday afternoon playing along with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”. By the time I was 10, I was starting to practice at least 3 hours a day on the drums, guitar and piano; later, the bass would be added. I’ve always said, like the Jay-Z lyric, “it’s not the life that I chose but the life that chose me.” I really believe that. I think there’s no other way to survive the business unless you are “called” to it.

I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?

I’d like to think that I make music that’s a little fascinating, difficult and special. I know my music can rub some people the wrong way, especially those who’d like their music to strictly fit a convention. I like using uncool words and oblong melodies.

Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?  

I guess my big ones, in order as they appeared, would be The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, Chick Corea, John Scofield, Bruce Cockburn, Thomas Dolby, Laurie Anderson.

Let’s talk about your latest single, ”Stoners Never Dream.” What inspired this song?

Well, there’s lot’s of talk of marijuana in Canada these days because of the recent legalization.  It’s a song about when old dreams start to look pathetic. It’s about measuring childhood stumbles against adult humiliation.

I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering if you could walk me through what your songwriting process was like for ”Stoners Never Dream.”

This tune started out like most do these days, with a chord progression and a title. I usually go in with a title and a general rhythmic feel. I knew, too, that I wanted this one to feel “churchy”.

Are you someone who always has to write by yourself or do you like collaborating with other artists/songwriters for co-writes?

I think, in fact, I prefer collaborating with people, but I’d been doing so much of that these last number of years, on this record I wanted to prove to myself that I could still discipline myself to write on my own.

Were there any major changes made to “Stoner’s Never Dream” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?

I’d say this one, of all the songs from Median Age Wasteland, probably resembles the demo the most.

You released a music video for ”Stoners Never Dream,” which is super eclectic and a lot of fun. Where did the concept come from? What was the process of shooting it like?

I just wanted to make something cute and sad. One of the most wonderful things about the bottom dropping out of the music business is that we’ve all had to learn to do more things, and making videos is the most interesting skill I’ve had to figure out. The lyric, “like everybody else in here, you were trained to hate your body” guided the feel for this video. I wanted to crash innocence into drug vibes.

Your new album, Median Age Wasteland, is coming out in a few short days. Aside from “Stoners Never Dream”, is there a song from the album you are most excited for fans to hear? If so, what is it and why are you most excited about that particular song?

This record has a lot of songs I’m excited for people to hear: “1983″, “Battlefords”, “Skinny Wolf”, “Snowmobile”. I think I was just really connected to my lyric generator during the writing of this one.  I feel the words carry a lot of the weight.

Lastly, we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?

I’m always nerding out about drumming. I’m nerding out about Keith Carlock, Jojo Mayer, Zach Danziger, Mark Guliana and Brian Blade… they’re all my current heroes!

Median Age Wasteland is out now wherever you listen to music. For more information, visit Hawksley’s website and follow him Facebook and Twitter.

Photo Credit: Dustin Rabin

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