- May 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE
After two years of touring with their band Iglu and Hartly, vocalist Sam Martin and multi-instrumentalist Simon Katz looked for a more straightforward artistic outlet without commercial pressures. Late nights filled with creative musings ensued and Youngblood Hawke was officially born. In just three short years, Martin and Katz have formed a dream group, released their first full-length album Wake Up, played with bands like Passion Pit, Keane and The Killers, and are currently headlining a tour across the United States and Canada, with plans to travel internationally in the near future.
A Beer with the Band was lucky enough to interview the L.A.-based band before their show with The Colourist at Lincoln Hall on May 7, 2013. We had some drinks with Sam, Simon, Tasso, Nik and Alice at Lincoln Station, where we talked about swimming with the sharks for their video “We Come Running,” the risks that come with artistic endeavors and why success isn’t necessarily just a happy accident.
The Show: Youngblood Hawke with The Colourist at Lincoln Hall
Drinks of Choice: Bloody Mary (Tasso), Dirty Martini with Extra Olives (Alice), Bay Breeze (Sam), Jameson & Ginger (Simon and Nik)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Where does the Youngblood Hawke story begin?
Sam Martin: Simon and I were in a previous band together [Iglu and Hartly] that had some success in Europe, and about two years ago we kind of realized the band was on its way out. The group was deteriorating, we didn’t really have a voice and the music wasn’t close to heart. That ended around 2010 and we just started writing songs for no reason. We didn’t think we were going to start another band; we just wanted to write songs and get everything off our chests. We had a couple of demos together and we realized it was going to work. Things were clicking, and we decided the most important part of being in a band would be the relationships. We thought, If we could pick anyone, who would our ideal band mates be? We sent the demos around to these people [Nik, Alice, Omar, Tasso]. And thank god they said “Yes”…It was all sort of bound to happen.
Simon Katz: We were always running parallel, running closer and closer, and then we finally all collided.
Kristen: Since forming, you've been on the road with bands like Keane and Passion Pit. What would you say is one thing you walked away from those tours with?
Simon: We absorbed a lot... Their setup, how they work together as a band…It’s inspiring to see bands that are so good live, that are consistent, that really have it locked down. That’s something we’re trying to become.
Sam: And they both had really amazing fan bases. They made us feel really, really welcome. No one even knew us and we’d walk on-stage and people would start screaming. They were really energetic the whole set.
Simon: Usually, when you’re on tour with a band, you’ll watch them for the first few nights and then you’re like, “I’ve seen this.” But every single night, they were so good. And such good dudes, too.
Kristen: Let’s talk inspiration. Where would you say your music stems from?
Simon: What makes our sound special is that collectively, we have very similar tastes in the center, but we all had totally different inspirations growing up. I was inspired by everything from At the Drive-In to The Beatles to Rage Against the Machine, which was the first record I ever had…
Sam: Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones…
Alice: Fleetwood Mac was a big one.
Sam: And Tasso was a lot of Blues.
Tasso Smith: I have a fairly eclectic background. My parents were my influence as far as what I listened to. I think once of my first records was a B.B. King record. But then I was also into Nirvana, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Traveling Wilburys…
Nik Hughes: And for me, it was all sorts of stuff. Growing up, my grandmother sang jazz so everything from John Coltrane to Miles Davis. And then I wanted to be in Guns N Roses, which is why I started drumming, and then I got into Foo Fighters. I also like a lot of Afro-Cuban stuff, a lot of reggae.
Kristen: You really are all across the board. Your debut album Wake Up recently came out. I’ve been jamming to it all week.
Sam: Yeah, the album came out April 30 and we have tons and tons of touring ahead. We’ll be going to the UK and Australia, a bunch of different places. Lots of festivals.
Simon: We released an EP in August and then also a remix EP. Tiesto did a remix for us, which was so good.
Tasso: We also have a music video out there for our single “We Come Running.”
Kristen: I saw that the video was featured on rollingstone.com. It must have been crazy to see your name on that site.
Alice: I don’t think it really registered.
Simon: It was like a childhood dream. We went swimming with tiger sharks in the Bahamas for the music video. We’re really passionate about conservation efforts—we’re all environmentalists. We live in L.A. where there are shark attacks every few months, and you sort of develop this Hollywood mentality about sharks. We really wanted to go show that the second deadliest shark in the world isn’t going to just attack you for no reason. I read a statistic yesterday that around a million sharks are killed per-year for shark fin soup. They take the fin and they throw it back.
Tasso: It’s supposedly holistic in ancient cultures.
Simon: And there’s no truth to that. It’s completely destroying the ecosystem and there’s this massive resurgence of jellyfish because sharks are the top predator. So, we went to a part of the Bahamas called Tiger Beach that’s protected. There were a lot of sharks there. It was insane.
Kristen: Was that intimidating?
Sam: It was extremely terrifying. We were under the water for about an hour-and-a-half with them.
Simon: The first 15 minutes were terrifying but after that, you kind of realize they’re not going to attack us. They’re 14-foot sharks and they’re swimming around you, swimming at you. You’d duck and they’d swim right over you.
Kristen: Who was the director?
Simon: Mark Klasfeld. He’s done everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jay-Z.
Alice: He’s never done anything under water, that’s for sure.
Sam: You know who was really, really good was the cinematographer, Aaron. He was fearless. Mark found this guy and he had never gone swimming with sharks before. In fact, we all learned how to scuba dive the day before in a pool, and then we went on a 50-foot dive right after that, and then swam with sharks the next day. He’s just this amazing director…He did everything from Fun.’s “We are Young” video to Red Hot Chili Peppers to “Country Grammar” by Nelly. He’s got such a good eye for stuff and makes it realistic.
Sam: We also worked with Stuart Cove down there. They were our dive team and they were awesome to make us feel so comfortable.
Alice: They ride sharks.
Simon: They’re insane. One was like an ex-Olympic, South African female swimmer who was basically just the shark keeper.
Alice: She was incredible.
Kristen: You guys are making me want to go do this.
Simon: You should. It’s life-changing. We’re all going to go get certified to do it. We’re absolutely going to go back.
Kristen: Music-wise, what else is in the works?
Simon: We’re always recording. We’re constantly, constantly writing. It’s one of those things that we’re compulsive about. We can’t stop. I think a lot of times what happens is bands go on the road for two years and they stop recording. Then they get back into the studio and they’re like Okay, we have three months to make another record.
Kristen: It’s like any other creative pursuit. If you get out of the habit of it, it can be really hard to dive back in.
Simon: Yeah, it’s so funny because we wrote this record and we didn’t intend for all the songs to be optimistic or bright or happy; it just sort of happened because of the state of mind we were in at the time. We wanted to dig ourselves out of the hole that we were in. Whatever comes next is just going to be an evolution of our lives. We write very much from experience, and every lyric is part of a story that we’ve felt before.
Kristen: What was it like recording your debut album?
Simon: We were very particular about the songs. We took a really long time to make sure they were exactly what we wanted them to be.
Kristen: It really surprised me that this was your debut album because of how cohesive it is. I thought to myself, There is no way this is the first record they’ve put out.
Simon: It took a lot of time. We probably wrote over 100 songs like experimenting. It was new for all of us to work together, but we just kind of found our style, and one day it just clicked. I did the production for the record, but there are some co-productions as well…I spent weeks trying to tweak every little bit until it really felt like each song was a part of our whole catalogue of expression.
Kristen: Did you ever feel any pressure to get it out?
Simon: Not at all. The first record is the only record you get to spend as much time as you want getting out. Every other record has pressure, expectations [from fans], so we took the time to really hone in on what we wanted to sound like and what we wanted to be. And it was so funny because when we were recording the record, Fun. wasn’t out, Imagine Dragons wasn’t out, none of these other bands were out, but we all kind of came up with the same mentality. I think it’s a product of our generation and what we’re going through right now.
Kristen: I agree. What’s your band’s philosophy?
Simon: Our overall philosophy is hope and optimism and trying to find the lighter side of things. There’s so much darkness in the world and we’re really trying to latch onto something that gives us a feeling of the future. I don’t know how to describe it other than that…As a band, we all really have that mentality of looking forward.
Tasso: We’re all pretty optimistic people. We like to see the good in everything.
Kristen: I’m sure that helps when you’re on tour.
Alice: It’s a fight to be optimistic. It’s not easy. You see horrible things on the news, lots of tragedies and loss and you have to fight and have hope. We like to hold onto that.
Kristen: I think that’s a common misconception that people who are happy are just naturally like that, all the time. Sometimes you have to try.
Sam: I think you always have to try.
Alice: You have to actively work at it.
Kristen: What’s the most un-rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Alice: We’re all big readers.
Simon: Alice is reading Brothers Karamazov right now.
Kristen: I just interviewed Ivan & Alyosha, whose band is named after the characters in that book. It’s next on my list to read. What do you think so far?
Alice: It’s my favorite. I’m a little over halfway through, and it’s by far the best book I’ve ever read in my entire life. And I underline stuff every other sentence practically. Everybody should read it.
Sam: I hate to be that guy, but Youngblood Hawke.
Kristen: Obviously that’s where the band name came from.
Simon: I like the character’s outlook and his path in life. He basically died for his heart and what he loved. I can relate to a lot of the scenarios he was faced with. I liked his wild-eyed, optimistic view of the world. He wasn’t going to let anybody get in his way. He was going to become a writer.
Tasso: What I like about it is that there were portrayals of his insecurities as well. It’s what makes you realize he’s human. In reality, the guy’s a literary monster. He could write the best books in the world—and he did—but after he did it, he was like, What if nobody likes it? He really fought with that throughout the book, which I thought was really cool. He was one of the most talented guys of his generation.
Simon: He was really honest, and that’s what sort of made it comical, too.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Simon: I’ve learned that success is in perseverance. You’re going to go through so much, no matter what you’re trying to do. It’s never going to be an easy road and you have to persevere…We’ve really brought that mentality to this project. We were down low, we were broke, we were in-debt and we persevered through it and were able to build it up again. I try to live by that.
Kristen: I agree with that for sure.
Tasso: It’s important to have something for yourself. It doesn’t have to be your profession, but it has to be something for yourself, something that you do for yourself, to occupy your mind, your body and your soul. Whether it’s music or exercise or surfing. There are a lot of people out there that haven’t found that.
Kristen: It makes you feel lucky to have something that you’re automatically passionate about. I have some friends that haven’t found it yet. I think they will, but they haven’t yet.
Tasso: I’ve had friends who didn’t have it, and I’ve seen them find it, and their whole life changes. Their whole perspective changes. They become better, healthier people for it. I think that’s the most important thing.
Nik: In college I was in some bands, and this one kid, this random guy who I only played one show with, said, “I don’t get mad about the shows we don’t get anymore. I’m just happy about the shows we do get.” It’s a good metaphor for life, too. Just being happy with what you have, especially when art is your profession. It can be viewed as a competitive endeavor, but if that’s the case, then you lose the whole purpose and the beautiful part of what it really is.
Alice: I love it. The things that we’re saying…it all makes sense that we would all find each other and do this together. For me, the most life-changing thing someone ever shared with me was the idea that happiness is an activity and it’s not a feeling that just comes and goes, and you’re lucky if you feel it and you’re unlucky if you don’t. It’s something that you have to consciously work for. Like I was saying earlier, you have to choose to do things every day to find happiness and it’s not just by chance or by luck, it’s by working for it.
Kristen: I love these interviews because I always feel so enlightened when I leave.
Simon: This is actually one of the best interviews we’ve ever done.
Kristen: Really? That’s awesome.
Sam: I’m getting pumped up. Ready to go rock.
Kristen: I’m wondering if it’s the alcohol or my questions. What’s the boldest thing you’ve done in the past year? Other than swimming with sharks.
Simon: When we play shows every night in front of hundreds or thousands of people, it takes a lot to feel comfortable doing that. You’re stepping up in front of people that have never seen you before saying, “Here’s my art. Take it or leave it.”
Kristen: It makes you really vulnerable.
Simon: And putting a record out, too. You’ve been working on it for two years and it’s been our heart and soul, and then it’s like, “Hey, what does everyone think about this?”
Sam: And then they take one listen and they tell you.
Kristen: It’s the same with writing. You do something so personal and put it out there and it’s open for feedback.
Sam: A lot of time people will say, “Oh, it’s just happy music” and it’s like, obviously they didn’t read the lyrics or really dive into the story. Or listen. Or look behind the curtain. It came from a place where we weren’t necessarily happy. Even when we were writing the songs we didn’t feel that way. We played the songs and it made us feel good, and we were hoping that feeling would translate to other people. People need that right now. They’re sick of being sad and depressed.
Tasso: Any artist who is creating automatically exposes himself or herself. Whether it be the art of writing or making or making music, you’re exposing yourself to ridicule and scrutiny, good or bad.
Sam: It takes a certain kind of person to do that.
Kristen: What’s your biggest fear?
Kristen: I don’t think you’re heading down that path.
Simon: It’s something that pushes us farther though. We don’t want to fail. We’ll do anything we can to make it work. A great piece of advice is something that Tasso’s mom told me right about when we were going into college. Tasso’s mom is an incredible painter; really, really talented. We were going off to college and she said to me, “Simon. Being an artist, you have to give everything. You have to be working harder than the next person because there’s going to be other people that come up right behind you, and if you aren’t working the hardest and you’re not the most dedicated and the most passionate and the most real about what you’re doing, somebody is going to be behind you. You have to have that commitment.” That always stuck with me. You have to do everything you can do, be 100% open and real because otherwise someone else will.
Kristen: It goes back to what you were saying before about being consistent with your writing and the creative process on the road.
Simon: I’m crazy. I don’t stop. I don’t know if it’s the best way to live, but I have a few hours to catch up every now and then.