≡ Menu

January 2010

Lonesome Onry and Mean: I See Hawks in L.A. Soar on Shoulda Been Gold

By William Michael Smith in Lonesome Onry and Mean
Tue., Jan. 26 2010 @ 1:30PM

I See Hawks in L.A. are perennial roots-rock favorites in Southern California. Their Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2009 compilation on new Collector’s Choice Americana imprint American Beat Records drops today and covers some of their most well known work like “Humboldt,” one of the best odes to the sweet leaf ever written. Five of the 17 tracks are from 2004’s hard-to-find Grapevine, the album that put the Hawks firmly on the alt-country map.

Shoulda Been Gold contains new material as good as anything the Hawks have ever done. The band has been playing “Sexy Vacation” for years, and this one just builds and builds with that rare-air psychedelic country power that has always been a Hawks trademark. “Shoulda Been Gold” was written specifically for the album, and it has the Hawks’ trademark end-is-near late-night feel.

Another fresh track, and a true highlight, is a cover of David Allan Coe’s minor classic “Bossier City,” which features a soulful duet with former Austinite Carla Olson (Textones). This one has been in regular rotation in Lonesome Onry and Mean’s truck the past month, which is always our supreme test.

Link to full article here.

American Songwriter Reviews SBG

By Mike Berick on January 26th, 2010
Three Stars. The popular Los Angeles band I See Hawks has released four CDs to critical praise but received little recognition at large; however, this self-described “greatest non-hits” collection should improve on their current cult status.

This expansive 17-song set of album tracks, unreleased material and new tunes showcases I See Hawk’s harmony-rich, sun-baked sound, which evokes the laidback ‘70s SoCal country-rock of Poco, latter-day Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The road-trippy “Texarkanda” embodies the Burritos’ comic Americana vibe, while they transform David Allen Coe’s “Bossier City,” a new duet with Carla Olson, into a Parsons/Harris ballad.

Behind Rob Waller’s easy-going California twang, Paul Lacques’ nimble guitar picking and a trunk-load of pedal steels, mandolins and fiddles, ISHILA takes listeners on an Americana travelogue, from their home state (“Grapevine,” “Wonder Valley Fight Song” and “Humboldt”) and across America (“Laissez Les Bon Temp Roulet,” “Hope Against Hope,” and “Midnight In Orlando”). The band’s interest in U.S. history and politics, meanwhile, surfaces in selections like “Raised By Hippies” and “Byrd From West Virginia,” an ode to the longtime Virginia senator.

This disc might not uncover “shoulda been gold” tunes but it does hold enough nuggets to make this an excellent primer for a band worthy of more attention.

Link to full article.

Crawdaddy Reviews SBG

by j. poet

I See Hawks in LA
Shoulda Been Gold
(American Beat, 2010)

It’s hard to write about California country without mentioning Gram Parsons, so let’s get that out of the way early on. I See Hawks in LA probably wouldn’t exist if Parsons didn’t open up the minds of hippies and rockers to the joys of traditional country music. That being said, their sound owes little to Parsons’ brand of cosmic country. I See Hawks can play hardcore honky tonk with the best of them, but that’s only part of their appeal. Their hard-to-pigeonhole sound also has a firm grasp on folk, blues, psychedelia, Cajun, bluegrass, and other strains of roots/Americana, but what really sets them apart is their politically astute, left-leaning, eco-friendly lyrics, and humor.

The Hawks have released four albums on small indie labels. Many of them are hard to find as the new decade dawns, so this “greatest hits” collection on Collector’s Choice’s new Americana subdivision makes good sense. It collects 10 tracks cut between 2000 and 2009—including half of the tunes from 2004’s Grapevine, maybe their most potent release—and seven songs that see the light of day for the first time here. Three of them were recorded specially for this CD, including “Bossier City” and “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet”—both feature harmony vocals from Carla Olson, former Textone leader and a gal who knows her country.

Rob Waller sings lead and plays acoustic rhythm guitar. Paul Lacques shreds on all kinds of guitars in any style you want to mention. He also sings and plays Dobro and lap steel. Paul Marshall plays bass and adds the third voice to the harmonies, and Shawn Nourse is the drummer. The Hawks are a cohesive quartet, but it’s Lacques on guitar and Waller’s singing that make them a force to be reckoned with. Waller is a great vocalist and easily brings the band’s two main influences together in his singing. “Soul Power”, a previously unreleased rocker, shows off Waller’s gritty side. It’s a straightforward blues-rock tune with a relentless rhythm and Allman Brothers-style guitar harmonies supplied by guest picker Marcus Watkins. Waller delivers the sexual lyrics—“We’ve got the power of nature underneath our clothes”—with a perfect balance of swagger and sincerity. “Bossier City”, a goodbye to a faithless lover, likens the end of a relationship to the end of summer, with a chilly pedal steel solo and Olson’s harmonies adding to the forlorn aura. “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet” is the other side of the coin, a celebration of a lasting relationship, with Olson turning up the heat on her vocal part. The fractured French of the chorus and the added fiddle and accordion give the number a vaguely Cajun feel. The portrait of lovers growing old together is presented without the cloying sentimentality that often mars songs of this type.

“Sexy Vacation” is a more straightforward, Cajun-flavored two-step, another song about a failed relationship with great harmonies, a lively solo from Lacques, and sharp, snarky lyrics like, “The road to hell is paved with heavenly delights.” “Shoulda Been Gold” is a sunshine-drenched California country tune that suggests the Beach Boys, although it sounds very little like them. The poignant harmonies and pedal steel paint a melancholy picture of broken hearts still dreaming of the good times. The demo of “I See Hawks in LA” is from the band’s first recording session in 2000. It’s a lonesome country blues song with a lap steel solo as empty as a midnight sky. “Mystery of Fife” is a secular spiritual that was cut live in 2004. There’s bare-bones guitar and fiddle on the track, but it’s the three-part gospel harmonies that make this one a keeper.

The 10 oldies here were all hits to Hawks fans, and hopefully this release will get them some much-deserved recognition. The ecological lament “Hope Against Hope” is a countrified folk song and promises to keep fighting for the preservation of the planet; a weary lap steel adds touching accents to Waller’s distressed vocal. “Byrd from West Virginia” is a folk ballad about Robert Byrd, the conservative senator from West Virginia who was in the KKK as a young man, but wound up opposed to the Iraq War and voted for health care reform as a tribute to his friend Ed Kennedy. It’s a complex tune and a reminder that liberals don’t have a monopoly on integrity.

“Humboldt” is a moody psychedelic rocker, and a salute to the pot growers of Northern California. “Raised by Hippies” is a bouncy, country-rock tune about unrepentant hippies, and “Wonder Valley Fight Song” is a funky rocker full of dystopian visions of small town living. The Hawks show off their bluegrass chops on “The Salesman”, which features the banjo of pal Cody Byrant. The salesman of the title could be Jesus or the devil, trying to sell the capitalist dream to people already lulled into a coma by over-consumption, while “Grapevine Texarkanada” is a quiet mid-tempo ballad that takes its name from a notorious stretch of road in California known for multi-car pile ups brought about by heavy fog. Beautiful harmonies and Lacques’ subtle, twang-heavy lead give it a dreamy, laid-back feel.

The band’s literate-leaning lyrics may have some thinking that they are a bit too pretentious to be a real country band. But storytelling has always been part of the cowboy tradition, and California has always been friendly to mavericks, from the twang of Buck and Merle’s Bakersfield to the shredding cowpunk of Tex and the Horseheads. With their glistening harmonies, sharp songwriting, and a cosmic outlook that stays rooted in the tumbleweeds and Joshua trees, I See Hawks in LA fits right into the Golden State’s noble country lineage.

Listen: Various Tracks [at myspace.com]

Link to article

HIgh Noon Saloon Reviews SBG

A decade after their formation on a front porch in a neighbouring LA suburb, and country-rock outfit I See Hawks in L.A. take a moment to reflect on their achievements, and err…. the public’s failure to recognise a hit song when they hear one.

Wryly titled, Shoulda Been Gold is a retrospective of sorts, taking the ‘non-hits’ from each of their four albums and packaging them with a few rarities and new recordings.

Rooted in sixties/seventies country-rock (Flying Burrito Brothers, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Buffalo Springfield, etc…) with touches of psychedelia, ISHILA are a few decades late to the party. Such fashionable lateness may explain their inability to produce a hit, however it’s this refusal to modernize their sound that is likely to resonate with alt.twangers the world over, many of whom long for days gone by. Such critical success – though not paying the bills – ought to make up for any commercial failures.

Throughout their ten-year history, ISHILA have set themselves apart from the crowd with their penchant for observational humour (‘Raised by Hippies’, ‘Texarkanada’, ‘The Salesman’), drawing comparisons to Wagons, while the political and social commentary of ‘Byrd from West Virginia’ and ‘Highway Down’ highlights their serious side.

For the novice, it is barely possible to distinguish between the older tracks and the new, such is the consistency of ISHILA. For the entrenched fan however, new tunes such as the title track and opener ‘Sexy Vacation’ ought to keep you going until the next album-proper.

Raise a glass!

Link to article

L.A. Daily News Reviews SBG

“Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2009″

I See Hawks In L.A.

American Beat Records 4 stars

Not merely the ironic best-of collection its title implies, this latest from our town’s most authentic, underappreciated country rock band features, along with selected non-hits, new songs, never-before-released cuts (including a beautiful lost love ballad called, well, “Shoulda Been Gold”) and a live version of the song named after the band. Or was the band named after the song? Whatever – there’s something wonderfully lost and confused about these cosmic cowboys that nicely matches their scruffy charm and balances their tight harmonies and forward-driving rhythm. Post-millennial Eagles with a nice strain of Byrds-like psychedelia and a good sense of humor (“I’d burn your pictures but you know you’re just too pretty,” Rob Waller gripes on “Sexy Vacation”), the Hawks commence a passel of area shows tonight at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.

– Bob Strauss Staff Writer

Link to article

LA Record Interview: We Will All Die Happy

Before this interview, I See Hawks in L.A. and L.A. RECORD co-founded the Four Guys for Peace organization, which is dedicated to promoting friendship and brotherhood worldwide by combining strangers with beers. The first meeting was held in Union Station. I See Hawks are marking their tenth anniversary as a band—as the band which spent years playing elevated California country in the side room at the old Cole’s—with a not-hits-but-still-greatest compilation called Shoulda Been Gold out this month. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

Do think there are other dimensions where I See Hawks is colossally, globally successful?
Paul Lacques (guitar): I’ve had a very schizophrenic life. Creativity fills anything—it goes with anything.
Rob Waller (guitar/vocals): Especially if you have to pee. My wife has a theory—every bottle in the highway median is a piss bottle. On our first tour outside of California in ’03 or something, we were in dead-stop traffic on I-40. We were driving all the way across the country to North Carolina for our first show, then play all the way back. The first week was just this hard-ass drive. In a 1994 GMC Yukon.
P: In which we could fit everything. Four members and all gear—electric and acoustic. Probably our finest achievement.
R: We’ve done amazing packs never recorded by history. The world will never know we pack a vehicle better than any band in America. There should be a Grammy for that! For Best Independent Vehicle Pack! So traffic comes to a dead stop and we’re just sitting there with the car turned off and the windows down … and we see a piss bottle. Like a plastic quart bottle full of piss.
P: Allegedly.
R: So we had to test the theory. Paul ran out to get it, and I would open the cap and sniff it. And confirm or deny.
Wouldn’t you need a bigger sample size?
P: Than one? One was enough.
R: I just put my nose over it and took this big sniff—and it was the worst most acrid stinking acidic smell—‘Ah, no!’
P: There was genuine horror in his eyes. There’s no faking that.
R: And I’m not a weak-stomached guy. I have two and a half children. I can wipe somebody’s ass while they’re puking. I don’t care!
P: Then you’ll never be out of work, son!
Did you write ‘hit the bong / hit the bottle / Shaquille O’Neal / is Aristotle’ because of Shaq’s Twitter?
R: I signed up to follow Shaquille cuz I knew enough to know that would be a good idea.
P: I refuse to use Twitter—who has time?
R: The two of us are the bloggers of the band.
P: Rob’s mom thought we actually got arrested for peeing in the California Aqueduct [a classic iseehawks.com tall tale—ed.] and she goes, ‘Good! He needed to be stopped!’
R: ‘I’m glad they finally got him!’ That’s what my mom said after discovering I’d been ‘arrested’ and ‘was in jail.’
Is she much of a criminal herself?
R: ‘Yes’ is my answer to that question.
P: You certainly have a common understanding of each other.
R: We understand each other better than anyone else. The dark side of each other. You can’t communicate with my mom in a way that’s not dark. The minute you communicate with my mom, you’re in darkness.
What were your birthday parties like growing up?
R: She didn’t throw any birthday parties. Ah … my mom.
Who does she wishes I See Hawks sounded more like?
R: Jimmy Swaggart!
P: My mom loves everything I do. She’s very supportive. One time one of my bands was on tour and the singer goes, ‘I’ll give you $5 if you stick your nose between my toes.’ Why not? So I do it and someone takes a picture—I’ve been set up! And they’re over at my mom’s and they lay it on her and she says, ‘But Paul looks so HANDSOME!’
R: We have opposite mothers. Maybe that’s why our writing collaboration works.
P: She’s dark, but she lightened up. Except politically. My mom’s darkness is in politics. Any conspiracy comes along, she’s right there. Art Bell is too mainstream.
What’s the closest brush with death I See Hawks has had?
R: Paul almost drowned on tour!
P: I don’t know if I really would have drowned. We were on a little inlet and I’m not a very good swimmer and halfway across, I realized I’m not gonna make it. So I just start floating and it’s going really fast. ‘Am I gonna drown? No, I can just float.’ And I see our drummer and our eyes lock and I realize he thinks I’m dying! He was just frozen! But you can tread water all day, so I just treaded water. And floated for a really long way.
R: That’s the best way to go through life! One of the only good things about aging—the process of aging—is realizing, ‘I’m not gonna make it! I’m not gonna make it to the other side. So I might as well just go slack and let the current take me.’
P: ‘I can prolong the experience as long as I remain calm.’
R: People don’t want it to come, but it’s a very good moment.
P: Death? No it’s not!
R: No, the moment when you realize not to struggle.
P: But you’re also into death. Rob is like, ‘I bet it’s great!’
P: Paul is very afraid. I’m kind of oddly welcoming.
Epicurus said, ‘If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear death?’ Does that help?
P: No, but I like that! I’ll grab on to any life raft!
You said once that I See Hawks songs are about three things—places, animals and defiance of death.
R: We might have expanded a little bit.
P: We sort of have kind of political and social commentary.
R: But woven into it.
P: Not like ‘War is wrong.’
Because war is right?
R: We had a song called ‘Kill the Rich.’
P: We never did it—it seemed like tossing a violent pebble into the river.
How come that’s not on the new compilation?
P: We never recorded it.
Is this I See Hawks’ private reserve?
P: We have a lot. We were thinking of putting them on the website. We have insane songs.
So what would the dark side version of Shoulda Been Gold have? ‘Shoulda Never Been Heard’?
R: There’s ‘Run Osama Run.’
P: We just wrote one on the train ride: ‘Hitler Needed Oil.’
R: ‘Morphine Is Good for You.’
P: It’s a lullaby.
Do you ever play these?
P: We played ‘Run Osama Run’ at Cole’s one time and it was great. Our bass player keeps us from doing a lot of these songs. He’s the moral rudder. Rob and I are children who pick wings off of flies and don’t know we’re causing harm. We’re pleased by our own clever turn of phrase, and he’s like, ‘Goddamit, you can’t play that!’
R: He just says he won’t play on the song, and he sings and plays so well that we want him on it, so …
What do you think of the new face-lifted Cole’s?
R: I hate it.
P: I haven’t gone in. I don’t wanna see it. It’s pretty heartbreaking. The guys wear garters on their sleeves. It’s ‘shave and a haircut, two bits!’ But there is something I’m happy about. The room we played in is gone. Sealed up. The vault has been sealed. We played there every week for three years. It was great—it really allowed for the creation of the band in certain ways. If you play every single week at the same place, it just develops a life of its own. And it was a laboratory for us.
R: And for our fans. It was easy to pack—a fairly small room—but it was packed every week. And the fans did not care what you did. If you fell on your face, they loved it!
R: You’d play every night and be like, ‘Wow, we’re fucking great!’
P: And then go do a real gig—
R: All of a sudden you’re in Athens, Georgia, and Beck is at the Georgiadome. And you’re like, ‘Oh, shit …’
Is the Cinema Bar your new Cole’s?
R: It’s a different spirit.
P: But you can do whatever you want. Cole’s was our little private … Ali was kind of doing it for fun.
R: Or family. But Cinema Bar has a place for good spirit.
What has departed L.A. forever and is never coming back?
R: My wife’s restaurant at Mr. T’s is gone and I miss it dearly.
So free food?
R: I certainly worked for my food there! That’s something I miss. Shaquille O’Neal. That era of the Lakers I enjoyed. 2002-2003.
Have you ever participated in a Lakers-related civil disturbance?
R: Not near any particular epicenter. But when Robert Horry hit that three-pointer against Sacramento, I was part of a spontaneous act of violence.
When you played the Mariposa County Fair, you said, ‘We believe in America. We love fairs. Corn Dogs, the Demolition Derby, funnel cakes and Ferris wheels.’ What do you still believe in about America?
R: Funnel cakes.
P: I think we were pretty specific—did we leave anything out?
R: Is that a trick question?
P: It’s almost ‘Do you support the troops?’
What’s the last nice thing you did for the troops?
R: I gave an acting serviceman a CD. He tried to pay for it and said he was in action in Afghanistan and I said, ‘Dude, take it.’
P: I stopped donating to Al Qaeda. I realized, ‘Wait a minute—this could be harming our troops!’
And now you’ll never be able to board a domestic flight again.
P: They won’t let us on anyway!
What are the three greatest American inventions?
P: The Shop-Vac is phenomenal.
R: The dildo.
I think that’s from ancient Greece.
P: ‘Dildo’ sounds Greek.
R: The electric vibrator.
Not the electric guitar?
R: Same concept.
P: I would say pedal steel. A phenomenal thing.
R: The cotton gin! The steam shovel!
P: The atom bomb. We’ve done a lot!
R: Haven’t we? It makes me proud! I’m proud we got the nuclear bomb first—aren’t you? I’m proud of the stealth bomber! I was a bartender at the 1996 Superbowl—Packers against Denver—and it was like the first time the stealth bomber was released to the public and they flew it over the Superbowl.
And no one could tell it was even there?
R: No one had ever seen it! Everybody was just silent like, ‘Oh my God …’ Cuz it looks like a flying wing of death coming to kill you. So everyone was like, ‘Ooh, it’s scary!’ 80,000 people scared! This huge wing goes WOOOOOOSH right past and then everybody is like, ‘… YEAHHHHHHHH!’ So fucking psyched! And I was too! ‘Yeah! This is ours! This is our weapon!’
P: It’s so primal. People make fun of the Soviets for parading the tanks but …
They should have dropped some kegs on the field.
R: The ultimate!
Is that what you thought of when you played the county fair?
R: We played at the Irvine Spectrum in the early days of the band. We got booked by the mall at the mall. Our job was to stand and set up all our shit—we’re telling all our humiliating stories! ‘We’ve had some good gigs—like the time we played the Spectrum!’ We go through the back entrance and they’re really hardcore about not drinking, so we went to McDonald’s and got a coke and filled it with bourbon. And they set us across from the Opera Café, and we were playing acoustic music and they got these speakers on the fake patio so we had to sing into the opera music. People would walk by like going to the movies—
P: —with no reaction. ‘Is that a fire hydrant?’
R: And then girls would come up and start talking to us—while we’re playing—and they wanna get on the mic and start saying ‘happy birthday’ to their friends. Which we let them.
P: Good times. Like ‘Flight of the Conchords.’ Playing to nobody for no reaction.
There’s purity there.
P: There is. For yourself.
R: It takes courage to face that cultural wave that’s gonna wipe you out.
You said before that country music is pragmatic above all else, and that makes people like Toby Keith and Gretchen Wilson truer in a way to country than the kind of throwback music I See Hawks makes.
R: We’re freaks and relics and we’re something else as well. But it’s weird how we tend to do better in remote areas. We have sort of a remote area mindset. I think it’s borderline survivalist. There are people in the world who still wanna rock. But it is weird. When you do this thing in this era—we’re releasing this record of basically music we’ve written and played for the last ten years. A decade of music as we’re coming to the close of a decade, and we started right at the beginning. An interesting way to mark time. It’s almost like geographical regions don’t matter. People can dial in to whatever taste is wherever. It’s spread way out. But you go there and have these kind of more rewarding experiences with people because they genuinely like what you’re doing and you genuinely appreciate them and they know it. Genuinely! You stay at their house and they make you dinner. It’s a strange experience and different than being a rock star. We sort of had that idea before, but when you are sort of just existing and playing music and connecting with people, it’s a totally different experience.
Does this connect to anything you’ve said about the death of regionalism?
P: Everyone has access to everything at the same time.
R: People hunt authentic experiences like people hunt exotic game. Hemingway shot elephants and now people get an iPhone app to find an authentic Mexican restaurtant. ‘The Authentic Guide To American Cities!’
P: That’s good! Authenti-city.
R: The second big website we’ve designed today! It’s great! Go to a bowling alley, check into a flophouse—
P: —I lost a finger! That real enough for you!?
So after all this time, people still kind of don’t want to be lied to?
R: They wanna be lied to and they don’t wanna be lied to. They wanna be lied to by the president but they don’t wanna be lied to by a country rock band. They welcome lies by the president. Maybe it’s easier to tell? When someone sings a song that’s bullshit, you walk the fuck out. You can’t sit there and be obliterated by it unless you’re heavily medicated. Unless people are!
So the solution is to let country-rock bands run the country?
R: There is no solution! But we will all die happy!

I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. WITH GINA VILLALOBOS AND HAYMAKER ON FRI., JAN. 22, AT THE PUKA BAR, 710 W. WILLOW ST., LONG BEACH. 9 PM / $7 / 21+. MYSPACE.COM/PUKABAR. AND ON SAT., JAN. 23, FOR THE HIGH DESERT CD RELEASE PARTY OF SHOULDA BEEN GOLD AT PAPPY AND HARRIET’S, 53688 PIONEERTOWN RD., PIONEERTOWN. 7:15 PM / FREE / 21+. PAPPYANDHARRIETS.COM. AND WITH MATT THE ELECTRICIAN ON SUN., JAN. 24, FOR THE L.A. CD RELEASE PARTY OF SHOULDA BEEN GOLD AT McCABE’S, 3101 PICO BLVD., SANTA MONICA. 7 / $15 / ALL AGES. MCCABES.COM. I SEE HAWKS IN L.A.’S SHOULDA BEEN GOLD RELEASES TUE., JAN. 26, ON COLLECTOR’S CHOICE. VISIT I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. AT ISEEHAWKS.COM.

Link to full article here

Twangville Reviews SBG

Imagine if Graham Parsons had hooked up with Grace Slick instead of Emmylou, and one of their offspring had moved out to Joshua Tree for a decade or so, then formed a band with a couple of his friends. The real story of how I See Hawks In L.A. came into being is less, well, legendary. But that picture paints a good story about what an ISHILA record is going to sound like, so I’m sticking to it. If that image doesn’t do it for you, think lots of pedal steel and twang and 70’s era country rock sounds.

Shoulda Been Gold is the fifth Hawks album. The title is a reference to it being an album of their greatest hits, which, if you subscribe to the Nashville or Variety way of counting, they don’t have. Gotta love the sarcasm. If you’re a long time fan, or just new to the Hawks, though, this is a good sample of some of their best work, with some new tunes thrown in for good measure.

Take for example I See Hawks In L.A., the eponymous track about being a free spirit in a town built on beauty and a perceived ideal. Similarly The Salesman explores selling hope in the guise of con men and televangelism.

As you can imagine, the Hawks can be master story-tellers, accomplishing political commentary with a tale about a place or time and how it affects someone. One of my favorites is Humboldt, the northern California county where “I’d be glad to plant corn in the ground, but corn don’t go for three-thousand a pound.” They also included Raised By Hippies, which is about exactly what you think it’s about.

Depending on how you count, there are 5-6 new songs on this greatest hits collection. Sexy Vacation is the one I’d tag as being the closest to a classic ISHILA tune. But the one I like better is the live version of Mystery of Life. It’s an a cappella, old-timey version where the boys harmonize it’s “each man’s destiny to face the mystery of life…alone.” And so it is.

Link to article here

OC Weekly Q&A: Rob Waller of I See Hawks in L.A. on New Album and Dealing with Meth Heads in Wyoming

By Wade Tatangelo in Q&AsWed., Jan. 20 2010 @ 3:00PM

I See Hawks in L.A. have spent the past decade making stirring alt-country with a 1960s-era California sensibility marked by influences like the Byrds, Merle Haggard​ and Buck Owens. The LA-based band enjoys a loyal following on both sides of the Atlantic and have garnered rave reviews in publications ranging from the Americana bible (alas, now online-only) No Depression to our sister paper LA Weekly, which profiled ISHILA in 2008.

On Jan. 26, the band witnesses the releases of their first retrospective, the fittingly titled Shoulda Been Gold. The album is advertised as a “17-song greatest non-hits collection including five previously unheard songs.” Unlike most such records, the new stuff, especially the title track and a cover of “Bossier City,” are as good as the “hits.”

To celebrate the album’s release, ISHILA are playing a bunch of Southern California dates including a stop Friday, 9 p.m., Puka Bar, Long Beach, $7. I called lead singer Rob Waller recently at his home in LA’s Highland Park. We discussed the new album, how to do deal with meth-head oil workers in Wyoming and that hilarious picture.

OC Weekly (Wade Tatangelo): So, how does it feel to have your first best-of released?

Rob Waller: It feels pretty good. It is sort of an odd marking of time. We started at the beginning of the decade. It’s hard to believe we’ve made four records over the past 10 years. We’re happy with the songs and it’s kind of nice to pick what you think is our best and put together on a record. But it kind of makes you feel a little bit old, too. It’s like, “Oh, shit, a decade.”

How have your relationships within the band grown or changed over the years?
We don’t really fight anymore. It’s like in a relationship. In the beginning, you’re staking out territory. That rivalry happens for three or four years and those lines are drawn and those boundaries become solid and everything is stabilized. Paul [Lacques] and I are kind of the main songwriters. We used to struggle more but then we kind of found this third person in the room with us when we’re writing songs. It’s an odd thing. We write our blog together, it’s about from traveling around to touring across the country, and when I read it I don’t know where he was writing and I was writing.

Unlike, say, Austin, Tex., LA isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for alt-country acts. What first drew you to the genre?

I grew up in Minnesota. The rest of the band is from Anaheim and Burbank and Pacific Palisades. Being from Minnesota, I didn’t listen to country. It was classic rock. Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. Then I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s. My wife’s dad has this insane record collection and would make us all these different CDs and mix tapes. That’s when I started getting into Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, those classic California artists. I just really liked and was pulled in.

I see among the previously unreleased tracks on the new disc there’s a cover of David Allan Coe’s “Bossier City,” which the outlaw country singer recorded for his 1974 album the Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy. What drew you to that song?

That was one of the songs on mix tape that my wife’s dad made me a long time ago.

Editor’s note: This where we got into a lengthy conversation about the classic cult documentary Heartworn Highways, which, it turns out, Waller and I both love. Eventually, we got back to talking about “Bossier City.”

We were on the road one time driving through Louisiana and stopped in Bossier City. I remember there was this elementary called Waller Elementary School. The sign said “Where children come first” [laughs]. That solidified my memory.

After a decade of touring locally, nationally and internationally, what’s the craziest situation you’ve been in?

There’s a lot. One that comes to mind was we’ve driven from California to Vermont on this epic tour playing 38 states in nine weeks, six nights a week-plus. And we’re playing this little bar Lander, Wyoming.

Wow, no man’s land.

Right? So, we’re playing to some a serious oil worker crowd. Dudes who do meth and drink and work 20-hour shifts for two weeks and then get off and go crazy. But they’re kinda into it. We dig up some covers to please the crowd,keep on ’em on our side, y’know? We’re doing four sets. In between one of them, we step outside and hear somebody just beating on the drums. We go rushing back inside. This dude is just wasted, a methed-out oil worker beating the shit out of the drums. Being the guys that we are, we didn’t want to start a fight.

Probably a smart decision considering you were highly outnumbered in a room full of meth-head oil workers.

Exactly. Our drummer goes to the guy, “You’re being rude.” That’s it. Oddly, it worked. The guy was like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” When we went rushing in I’m thinking we’re gonan fight. Instead our drummer berated him like a misbehaving schoolboy. I still can’t believe it worked and we didn’t end up against a roomful of drunk oil workers.

Tags: Buck Owens, David Allan Coe, I See Hawks in L.A., Merle Haggard, Rob Waller, the Byrds

OC Weekly Pick

Never mind their clear-as-country-water name. Formed by Rob Waller and brothers Paul and Anthony Lacques, I See Hawks in L.A. was established on an Echo Park front porch in 2000. Now, four albums into their music making career and garnering attention from publications such as SPIN, USA Today, and Village Voice. The band is on tour, spreading their sound, filled to max capacity with lyrical longing and the comfort of Southern soul, in promotion of their upcoming album, “Shoulda Been Gold.”