Hawks Do Not Share

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Hawks Do Not Share

Most artists search for and savor the moments when the music moves organically into something suprrising. Jeremy Wilkins and George Lewis III found an entire new outlet that way. The pair had worked together before starting Hawks Do Not Share, but when the current collaboration suddenly blossomed into new territory for both, it was impossible not to pursue it further. Enter Britt White via Reddit of all places, and you have a new trio with rich pop that showcases as much beauty as it does restraint.

Stereo Subversion: This isn’t your first time working together, but can you tell us about just how well you knew each other and how you came to form HDNS?

Jeremy Wilkins: George and I have known each other for a long time. We met, originally, when I was in a band called Underwater, in Atlanta, and he got a copy of our record purely by accident through the internet. He gave it a listen and liked it and at that point he contacted me and came to Atlanta for me to produce an EP he was working on. We became friends and shortly after that I moved to Los Angeles and he came down there and we played together in another band there for about seven years, and then he decided to move back here to Portland, which is rare, and then I followed shortly thereafter.

That band we played in in Los Angeles continued up here for a little while and we recorded our last record, which we were all super happy with, and decided that we were so happy with the record that we were done being a band. [Laughs] The thought of trying to continue to do that was very exhausting—playing that music live was an emotional thing—so we said, “Okay, we’re good.”

And then everything went into limbo until George wanted to work on a new EP, originally, for what was his solo project, The Other Also. He asked me to produce it since we weren’t in a band anymore. This was pretty shortly after I started working on it with him and co-writing material, and it was very clear that it was not what we had done in the past, or what he had done in the past, which was very acoustic guitar-based, singer-songwriter stuff with other arrangements. This was a very different beast from the beginning, and we decided to give it a new name and a new band.

And then, as we were trying to put together a new band, I met Britt on Reddit—she was looking for someone to help her record vocals for her piano solo demo—and I contacted her and started helping her out with recording and light production on the original stuff. We became friends and I was telling her we needed a guitar player and she suggested one of her friends before humbly suggesting she would be happy to try also. [Laughs]

We were like, “Well, we know you and like you, so if you want to try it, give it a try.” And she has worked out great even though guitar is not her primary instrument. [Laughs]

Britt White: Not my primary instrument at all! [Laughs]

Jeremy: That’s pretty much how it worked out. Britt was definitely the accidental sort of find, and she heard and liked the music. That was what drew her to it, and it was sort of a natural evolution for George and I and what we’d been doing. He can probably better explain to you his specific reasons for why he wanted to go about songwriting differently in this project than in previous projects. He’s the primary songwriter, whereas I’m more of the producer/arranger/sound guy.

George Lewis III: Essentially when I started putting songs together when I was about 18, I was using a lot of keyboards and drum machines and just approaching music in that way. But then I got into playing guitar when I moved to L.A., and so I started doing acoustic-based music. I think this project, moving back to Portland, I was just getting back to my roots a bit, experimenting more with keyboards and more texture-based music from the outset of the recordings, rather than chords and melodies, if that makes sense. So that’s how it started.

Then I picked up the bass guitar, which I had never really played. As far as rock music goes, it was kind of my final frontier. [Laughs] I’ve played drums since I was in middle school, but I’d never played bass and had always been interested in it and had been very influenced by some bass players from the ‘80s like John Taylor and Peter Hook. I had always loved the rhythmic elements, especially of ‘80s pop and new wave and post punk, so I think that’s about what I can add. Everything just took off from there.

SSv: Britt, when Jeremy describes needing a guitar player, were you secretly hoping, “Pick me! Pick me!” without saying so?

Britt: [Laughs] Yeah, pretty much, because he’d mentioned he needed a guitar player and he had an electric guitar in the studio, and I was envying it and saying, “Oh it’s gorgeous. I’d love to play it,” talking to the wall pretty much. [Laughs] Then he mentioned it as I was leaving and I went and listened to the music and he said, “I heard you kind of wanted to,” and I said, “Yeah, I really dig the music, and I’d love to give it a try. If you have any objections or think it’s not going to work, let me know, but I’d like to try,” and then we started right away for the most part.

SSv: I love what you said earlier, Jeremy, about how playing the music you’d been playing was exhausting. And Britt, you had solo work as well. You all could be involved in other projects, either with other people or on your own. What makes this so refreshing for you based on the experiences you’ve had? Is it just the ability to learn new instrumentation and recapture some of that? Or does it go beyond style?

Jeremy: For me, what I was saying about that previous project, that project was highly emotionally charged for me. George and I both sang, but I was the primary singer in that project, and lyricist, and it started at a very difficult time in my life for a relationship, so every negative emotion I was feeling in my life was filtered into that band, and I had to play guitar and sing, which is something I’ve never necessarily liked doing live.

So for me, this is nice to step back, not be the lyricist, let George take that role and do the singing, and get back to what I primarily started doing, which is playing keyboards, producing and arranging. That’s what’s natural and fun for me, and when we go play live, I don’t have to be the front man. I run the boards and make sure the tables are there, do all the technical stuff, which I feel very comfortable with. So I get to play keyboards.

George: I think Allegra Gellar was a mixture of acoustic guitars and programming for the most part, which in a lot of the venues we were playing in was always a struggle. [Laughs] It was always a struggle hearing things right, getting the guitars not to have feedback. I think it was music primarily made for the studio and for a listening environment. Do you think that’s fair to say, Jeremy?

Jeremy: Yeah, I think so.

George: With this band, from the outset, I think we wanted to make it something that was going to be more translatable live, and I think we’ve succeeded at that. What we’ve done is really try to find a way to express ourselves in the most simple and natural way for us to do it and to not try to force pieces together that don’t necessarily go together like we did a lot in the past. Now we try to get to the core of what we want to say and how we want to say it and keep it as simple as possible. And then that naturally translates into something which works better live and I think people can understand and feel more naturally instead of having to wade through unnecessary complexities.

SSv: Britt, what about you? You could be doing the solo thing like you mentioned earlier…

Britt: Well, I completed that project, and then Jeremy and I have actually started our own project called Belle Rot, so I’m still getting to do that solo work, which is nice. But I really also like showing up to the show and not being the front person. [Laughs] For five years I was in a different band and played keys and sang backup vocals, and I’m really comfortable with that position. I really like having a variety of things to do, and so I get the challenge of getting better at the guitar and doing something I’ve never done before, which is exciting and a growth process. And then also getting to do backup vocals. So I get to be a supporter that way.

SSv: You talked about not forcing it and making the music you want to make. Do you feel like you can only do that now? Were those other projects necessary for you to be able to arrive at this point?

Jeremy: I think like a lot of artists and musicians, I spent the first many, many years of my career trying to impress, in the beginning—studying a lot of theory and trying to learn jazz chords and working out ways to fit jazz chords into electronic music, these really beautiful jazz chords that George and I talked about all the time, these clustery or super spread out chords—but in the past I would use those all the time. [Laughs]

What we’ve learned in this project is if you put one of those in a verse or chorus it’s incredible, but if you put every chord like that, it’s just annoying. [Laughter] I think it took me a long time to grow out of the belief that complex was more impressive, and a lot of the things I like listening to in music are very simple. If you put it together the right way, that in itself is impressive, keeping the simplicity. So I think I definitely needed that process.

And personally, I was a keyboard player in my first couple bands, and then had a singer I worked with for about 10 years and it was great. Then she started having kids and left and I think I had to go through that process of being the front man and trying to do that, just to realize how miserable I was doing it. [Laughs] I didn’t want to do it. And all of that just so I could go back to this role and say, “This is where I belong in life and this is where I’m happy and this is where I can contribute the best. I’m secure with that.” I think George went a different way, coming from drums to keyboard to guitar, and so has sort of spent all that time learning to be the singer he wants to be and the front man that he wants to be.

George: One thing that has stuck with me for years was I was talking with Courtney Taylor-Taylor from the Dandy Warhols ages ago, and I’m not sure this is his original quote—it probably isn’t [Laughs]—but he said, “Simplicity in structure and complexity in texture,” and that’s just really summed it up for me for a long time.

SSv: I loved what you said about keeping things simple and learning that lesson, but it’s also interesting because when you enter electronic music, programming, things that are synth-based, it’s so easy to add so many layers and make them overwrought. It’s hard to find restraint. But when I was listening to “Forgiveness” and then journeying into the rest of the album it was striking to find that there was such an emphasis on the lyrical content and keeping that clear, and then that overall level of restraint.

George: I think that was definitely our stated mission at certain points, where we wanted to give everything space. It was a balance we had because some of the tracks do have a bit of a wall of sound going on, but we didn’t want to clutter things too much. So I think that in a way, almost like from a visual/spatial sort of thing. I think about, “What’s in the mids? What’s in the lows? What’s in the highs?” Not making things too busy, or adding additional electronic flourishes that we might have in the past just because we could.

Basically, I really like to edit—editing is one of my favorite things to do—so when I hear something I’m like, “We can do without that. We can do without this,” and sort of distilling the recording down as close to the essence of what you’re trying to get across is part of the beauty for me.

Jeremy: I think that’s important; what you’re hearing is the end result after a lot of editing. Pretty much every song on that record had one or two things, parts, in it which either early on in the process of that song, or whenever I got around to mixing it, at some point one of us said, “Hey, that thing doesn’t need to be there. That’s just cluttering up the other thing.”

Almost every song had things taken out of it, and almost every guitar part—no matter who wrote or recorded it—the guitar part would be edited into smaller sections than it originally was. Because George and I, we used to do a lot of, “Once you put an instrument into a song, that instrument should be part of the whole song,” and we abandoned that idea and said, “If the guitar needs to do one little riff in this verse and then disappear for the entire chorus, then that’s what the guitar needs to do.”

Britt: It reminds me of this quote from Nick Harmer from Death Cab for Cutie in one of the documentaries. He called it “Options Anxiety.” [Laughs] There’s so much you can do. You can do everything now with the programs you have, but it actually takes more deftness and skill to pick where everything should be. That’s something I focus on in my project and in picking a few of the guitar parts for this one—what’s necessary and what’s complementary?

SSv: That’s huge. It’s hard to find, but I’m assuming that’s also painful, when you’re taking out things and deciding whether something you’ve contributed and were once excited about is still good.

Jeremy: I wouldn’t call it painful. I can only really think of one or two things I took out of the record that I was sad about because, yeah, I made that thing and at one point I had some attachment to it. But two hours later, when you listen to it and it’s a better song, that feeling goes away, especially because each of us has other things invested in each song. We’re all multi-instrumentalists in this and other projects, so the ability to let go of that ego is pretty natural for us. And by the time the record’s done, the song that is hardest for me to listen to, that I still have the most doubts about, is the one that I did the most on, and I sort of wish that I had let people into it more. [Laughs] I’m thinking, “Why is this still bothering me?” and maybe it’s just that there’s too much weight being put on myself.

SSv: Where does the band’s name come from?

George: Basically Hawks Do Not Share is from a book called A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I was reading that book on a plane back from Louisville, where I was born and where I have family, but we were looking for a new band name and that idea came up. And it was also a song title—my favorite one—from a pretty obscure album called Dark Circles by The Devils, which was Stephen Duffy and Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran. Actually I’m not sure about Stephen Duffy, but definitely Nick Rhodes. So it just clicked for me. I had purchased that record in Louisville and then I read that on the plane and it was just kind of kismet. [Laughs] Luckily everybody went with it. Band names can be difficult, but nobody objected.


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