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.
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.
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