HAWKWIND – Onwards And Upwards
English space rock outfit Hawkwind cut April 2012 studio full-length Onward at the group’s own Earth Studios, its issue handled by Eastworld Recordings. The outing features soundtracks for internet warfare, mantras for self-realization and electrical systems checks. And as well, the album touches upon ancient prophecies, aligning constellations, urban violence, and touchy feely robots, not to mention unfolding harsh primordial soundscapes heralding a new green millennium.
“Onward includes general topics of what’s going on in the world,” elaborates Dave Brock, longtime vocalist, guitarist, synthesist and founder of Hawkwind. “‘Computer Cowards’ is about people who sit behind their computers constantly slagging people off, and even causing some kids to commit suicide. Everyone will tell you who’s involved in any part of the music business, they’re constantly slagged off. Yeah, topics of what’s going in the world. We’re still in touch with what’s happening, you know (laughs). ‘Southern Cross’ I think was inspired by Tim’s trip to Australia. ‘The Prophecy’ is about the Rama. A shaman spoke a prophecy… Oh yeah, that’s an interesting track… It’s about the coming of Christ, all these sorts of different figures that people look up to. There’s quite interesting lyrics on that.
“‘Electric Tears’ is an instrumental, and ‘The Drive By’ is an instrumental about drive-by shootings. ‘Howling Moon’ is a short bit, a connecting passage from one to the other I think. ‘Trans Air Trucking’ is a jam that me and Tim did actually. ‘Deep Vents’ leads into ‘Green Finned Demon’, and all the proceeds from ’Green Finned Demon’ go to a charity we’re involved with (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society). We’re involved in quite a few things; people need to stand up for something or another in this day and age.”
Onward is the 25th Hawkwind album to mainly consist of studio compositions. “You do one album, and the first one is always a great achievement,” the singer muses. “You then do another one, and then another one. Basically it’s like painting pictures, but just doing the same thing with sounds. If you can constantly make things interesting and all that, then yeah. We’re artists, that’s what we are. Artistes (laughs).”
Albeit a milestone, the occasion hasn’t overwhelmed Dave. “It’s another day in the life,” he reckons.
Erstwhile guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton guests on the number ‘The Hills Have Ears’. “We do see each other quite a lot because he doesn’t live far away,” the synthesist explains. He’ll come over and do recordings with us.”
Onward boasts three live cuts in the form of ‘The Flowering Of The Rose’, ‘Aerospace Age’, and ‘The Right To Decide’, all of which feature the late keyboardist Jason Stuart. Jason sadly succumbed to a brain haemorrhage in September 2008. “They’re the last things that Jason did with us,” Dave shares. “The record company said they wanted three bonus tracks, and we thought ‘Well, okay. Let’s use some of the last we did with Jason at a couple of festivals.’ Jason was a great keyboard player, and they show him playing well.”
Artwork duties fell to Martin Krel. “He’s a very good friend of ours, and the same guy who did the artwork for Blood Of The Earth,” the axeman divulges. “It’s one of his great pictures that he does. I think it’s quite naturalistic, actually.”
Unlike many other bands off the road, Hawkwind’s members spend quite a lot of time in one another’s company. “Quite often we spend a lot of time talking and doing nothing, as you know,” Dave notes. “We then just get together and come up with some ideas. Now technology has advanced we’ve all got Mac computers, so we can record instantly our ideas wherever we may be. In fact, I was talking to Tim on Skype just recently. He sent me a load of stuff onto my computer he’s been doing, so I’ll have to have a listen to that and see what it’s like. You can play bits and pieces into computers nowadays anyway, which we do, and then we play them through big speakers and play loud rock music to it.”
Technology has significantly advanced in the 70s. “Back then it was tape machines,” the founder recalls. “We’re still using similar equipment in the sense of audio generators, the guitars are exactly the same, and the synthesisers we use still. We use sequence loops which are quite fun to utilise. That’s the way technology has advanced and lots of bands are doing similar things, utilising all these sounds for what you can do with them.”
Greater gaps separated more recent proper Hawkwind studio offerings, July 2010’s Blood Of The Earth being preceded by September 2005’s Take Me To Your Leader and 2000’s Spacebrock (though Spacebrock is arguably a Dave Brock solo affair, despite sporting the Hawkwind moniker). “A gap…,” Dave begins. “Was there a gap (laughs)? We always seem to be doing recordings, and nothing was released I would say. Last year, I actually finished recording four albums. We did one that the band did, three of us actually. Richard, Niall and me. There was heavy snow. Remember, last year? We all got snowed in, and because we all live close to each other… Tim lives in France, so he couldn’t make it. Basically Niall, Richard and me did another album, which is called Stellar Variations. I did a solo album which is coming out later on – Looking For Love In The Lost Land Of Dreams – and we did a few tracks with Bill Shatner from Star Trek. We’ve done quite a lot since, but they just haven’t been released. Stellar Variations and Looking For Love In The Lost Land Of Dreams will probably come out in the autumn.”
The hitherto unreleased Stellar Variations is musically similar to Onward. “It’s very hard playing heavy space rock music like we do,” the mainman feels. “Some of it is quite unusual, spacey, and has lots of weird chord sequences. It’s an interesting topic. We’re recording one called Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad named after a quote from Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945), which we’re doing now. We’ve recorded four tracks for that so far. We might stick tracks onto Stellar Variations. Who knows?”
Looking For Love In The Lost Land Of Dreams – also unreleased – is “typical Hawkwind sort of music,” Dave chuckles. “Hawkwind is other members of the band as well, but when I do my own thing I can’t help but sound like the band because I’ve been doing Hawkwind for years. When we play together it sounds like what it should sound like (laughs). When I do things by myself, I can’t help but play the things that I’ve been playing this way for years. I can play synthesisers, keyboards, and sing, and luckily enough, with modern technology I have a six-string bass guitar where I can play six-string bass. Then Richard will hear me and say ‘I wouldn’t mind playing a bit of drums on that,’ and then of course Richard plays some drums. I think there are a couple of tracks I recorded with Jason years ago where he’s doing some of his great jazz stuff.”
October 2011 spoken word album Seeking Major Tom by actor William Shatner (Star Trek / T. J. Hooker / Boston Legal) includes an appearance from the guitarist. “He was doing an album of space themed songs like David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ (originally from November 1969′s David Bowie), loads of different bands’ songs,” he remembers. “He wanted to do ‘Silver Machine’, so I got a phone call from a record company in America asking if I’d go over. It’s quite difficult to go over to America for me. I have to go to the American Embassy, and queue up for a visa. It’s a real pain in the arse. He recorded with Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge / Cactus / Beck, Bogert & Appice) and the guy from MC5 (Wayne Kramer), and then we got another call actually asking if we’d be interested in doing some more stuff. We did ‘Sonic Attack’ (from the October 1981 album of the same name) with him, which is totally different. It’s a weird old album he’s gone and done. You’ll have to have a listen; you can hear bits of it on the internet.”
Onward’s material will prominently figure in forthcoming Hawkwind live concerts. “We’re doing five or six new numbers actually, like ‘Seasons’, ‘The Prophecy’, ‘The Hills Have Ears’, and ‘Southern Cross’,” Dave confirms. “That means we have to practice hard to make sure they sound right (laughs). “Rehearse and refresh I think is what you have to do (laughs). It’s one of those things. Someone in the band will say ‘Why don’t we do blah blah?’ and I will say ‘I can’t remember how to play it. I’ll have to go and listen to it.’ That’s what we normally have to do – have a listen – and then it’ll all come back. ‘Ah, yes. I remember how to play it now.’ I have to find the words, and learn the words again (laughs).”
Hawkwind’s forthcoming live performances will inevitably include multi-media. “The dancers and the light show, that’s what we’d normally be doing,” the frontman agrees. “We’re doing some new stuff with the light show and the dancers. We actually have a lot of the stuff worked out on computers by Martin, the guy who did the front cover. He’s done quite a lot of computer technology wizardry which we use in combination with some of the old stuff that we’ve got.
“‘The Awakening’ (from December 1972’s Space Ritual) for example says ‘I would rather the fire storms of atmospheres than this cruel descent from a thousand years,’ so is about being strapped into your tube, undertaking a very long trip into space, and then waking up. On the screen behind us there’ll be the spaceship and inside the tubes and stuff, and the dancers come through from that at the beginning of the show. We have quite a lot of working out actually to make it look good; we have a lot of rehearsals to do to get all this together. It’s quite a task really. We use a lot of black and white stuff as well, a lot of black and white spirals. It’s hard to explain what we’re doing (laughs). You’ll have to see it really.”
Hawkwind’s tale spans over four decades, suggesting a Dave Brock autobiography would be a fascinating opus. The prospect doesn’t particularly enthuse the vocalist, though. “No, but I’ve been asked to quite often. I’ve been offered quite a lot of money to recount the adventures that we’ve had (laughs), but I won’t be doing that. It’s invasive of your privacy in a way, and there’s lots of things we’ve been involved with we don’t want to tell anybody about (laughs). You’ll have to read the history of Hawkwind first to get the gist of everything (laughs). There’s plenty of colourful stories mind. You would have all these wonderful stories of different things that’ve occurred over the years. There are lots of them, lots of ups and downs in life. Is the band on an up at the moment though? Yes, that’s why we called this record Onward. We’re doing quite a few festivals this year. In fact, we did quite a lot last year; we toured Australia and Singapore. After doing this for so many years, you get used to travelling around.
“We did a few in Europe as well last year, didn’t we? We played at a really nice festival in Spain. We did quite a lot last year, and we’ve got quite a few nice things this year. We were about to undertake a tour of Japan when the earthquake occurred. In fact, our manager (Kris Tait) was on the phone to the manager of the place where we were playing and the phone got cut off. Funnily enough, I was watching Japanese MTV and then all of a sudden they said ‘There’s been this terrible earthquake.’ I watched it all live. They had all their cameras going to various places around the country. Of course, we got told we had to cancel going there because of the earthquake, the tsunami and all that. We might be going there this year instead. Mind you, there was an earthquake recently. I think if people live on fault lines though, this is what you come to expect really.”
Onward was released on April 30th, 2012 through Eastworld Recordings.
Interview published in April 2012.
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