It is 43F as we pass the altitude sign. Mt. Pinos off to the left beyond the artificial shores of Pyramid Lake. No water skiers today. No wake boarders pulled across strange tasting waters. It is winter in California. Not much of a winter at all to this Minnesotan but a winter none the less.
The Hawks are in the Yukon again. Four quarters of an orange. PM on the cell phone. SN at the wheel. PL reading about the terrible post-apocalyptic future that awaits us all in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” on RW’s borrowed and blue and new Amazon Kindle. Digital books about death and destruction. There is a powerful idea floating around the collective unconscious these days: what will the world be like when we (the human race) are gone. Will it be better? Will it be worse? Will it be worse then better? Of course we Hawks have been thinking about the apocalypse for years. Warning our small band of loyal followers to run for the hills, to homestead out in Wonder Valley, to wait quietly in the weeds while the mother bear and her cub scavenges the 110 overpass for scraps of food in abandoned vehicles. But the future can wait a little longer. It always has.
The immediate future will take me to the not too recent past. The Independent is right around the corner from my second California apartment. It was a fourth floor walk up on Grove street just down the hill from Alamo Square. I shared the one bedroom with my childhood friend Andrew Bove. It was more of a two room apartment than a one bedroom. We each took one room and turned the long walk-in closet into the living room. It had two chairs, a radio, and a lamp in it. We sat in there smoking Marlboro Reds and drinking Black Label beer. $4.99 for a twelve pack from Tom’s Market down on Divisadero. San Francisco. Cold San Francisco.
The I-5 is barren, gray, and then green. We’ve just crossed over the Grapevine and dropped down into the Valley. We’re still in Southern California. We haven’t hit that psychic turn in the road where the polarity shifts, L.A. feels far away and Grateful Dead lyrics almost start to make sense. Much has happened since our last I-5 Arco stop at the Highway 46 exit. For one, gas is down from $3.25 to $2.93 a gallon. And they’ve let the restroom go. It’s a real disgrace. The pavement is cracked and fading and coated in Valley malaise. There are no attempts at dazzle out here. Just buy your gas and go.
In these months also the Hawks have given birth to a new album, our fourth, called “Hallowed Ground.” We’ve sat in front of computers, Sonar and ProTools, edits, wave forms, comps, file transfer, file management and mismanagement, like cavemen learning metallurgy. Things fell into place in December. At a late night party at Gwendolyn and Brandon’s (Brandolyn?), aforesaid enchanted couple recommended Ethan Allen as the man to mix the record. Ethan had a window starting January 14 of the new year. Let’s do it.
Ethan Allen is our fabulous mixer. He was Daniel Lanois’s assistant at a legendary New Orleans studio for years, and has learned from the master. He has the best of ’60s analog gear, and he is a ProTools ninja. (Brief digression: can anyone out there knit? Rob W wants a blue and yellow sweater with a big lasso and a little cowgirl riding a pony, “I Love Jesus” emblazoned across its middle.)
It was a fun, focused, and demanding 12 days, falling into a bit of a ritual. Coffee at ultra hip Intelligentsia just down the hill in hippest Silverlake (Ethan’s studio is at the young heart of the Facebook mercantile explosion between Maltman and Sunset Junction; it’s all there). Black Bush and Woodford Reserve sipping and listening to mixes, heated tweaking of vocals, guitar levels, chopping songs in half to add double solos. Two songs a day, plus Paul L’s obsessive reworking of two songs in the wee hours, coming in next day to Ethan’s with new guitar tracks. Upstairs Ethan’s girlfriend is sewing their Mardi Gras costumes. Mary, owner of the leafy wood frame houses complex we’re tucked into, drops in to listen and spread enthusiasm and affection. It’s raining hard, and the loveliest of L.A. January awaits us when we emerge from studio. Rich black clouds abutting deepest blue skies. Healing weather.
Inside was a good balance. The two Pauls and Rob kept each other in check, each with moments of insight and mix madness. Ethan works so fast that he’ll have your suggestion done before you’ve finished your sentence. He’s given us our best sounding record yet. Hire this man, if you can. He’s got some dream gigs quickly filling his calendar.Now it’s on to CD mastering, manufacturing, radio and press promo, distribution, long bizoid cell phone calls to our pal, accordionist, and record label owner Richie Lawrence. Big Book Records is releasing “Hallowed Ground” on May 8. It’s the day after Super Tuesday, there’s a horse race for the nation’s destiny, and things feel better. The darkness that fell in 2000 is going to lift, no matter who wins the Facebook myspace clash of style and personality. That singular malevolence we’ve endured has an end point.
A gleaming white van, noticeably anonymous, roars past our Yukon. White tubes fill a field, protecting baby fruit trees, and big white fuel tanks squat at the edge of the green hills that will draw closer to our ribbon of highway, the hills that murmur of Northern California. White blank billboards. It must the angle of the sun. White gleams among new green. I5 imagery.Our drive to San Francisco is surprisingly mellow and quick, no heavy traffic until we’re across the soon to be obsolete Bay Bridge and into The City. What’s to be done with the Bay Bridge after its new sibling adjacent replaces it? How about a stone free zone for urban gardeners, bicyclists, ritual suicides, a permanent Burning Man minus the money factor?
We load into the Independent, our new fave San Francisco club, and meet the super friendly and kind everybodyfields, our co-bill. Sound check, quick hang with our northern pedal steel brother Dave Zirbel, who then sparkles on a rather magical Hawks set. We then hang with SF actual brothers and sisters and old friends and take in the quietly stunning sounds of everybodyfields.everybodyfields. Difficult to incorporate into traditional English punctuation, ah but that’s a discipline in decline anyway. everybodyfields
a young female male harmony that resembles Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, only fuller, richer, and we do not say that lightly. It’s true. Subtle and powerful young sidemen on psychedelic pedal steel and keyboard/electric guitar. Lovely songs of mourning and yearning, nothing faster than a dirge or stately waltz. This band is amazing. Next day Rob flies home. Shawn and the Pauls enjoy more nice I5 mellow winter skies and uncluttered roadway, snow clings to the Grapevine in late sun. Home, sweet home. Made some dough, made some friends, made some sweet sounds.