Hawksley Workman Biography
Last updated: 09/28/2011 11:00:00 AM
Amid the pines and the poplars, the elms and the birches, lies a house. The neighbours stare and wonder. Differently-attired people and their improbable sedans come and go at all hours. In violation of local codes, the snow piles over the mailbox and there are grapefruit rinds on the lawn. In the house, activity goes on unabated.
Hawksley Workman is in his self-assembled studio, where writing and recording are underway. This century-old, one-room schoolhouse has the task of keeping it all together for one turbulent season -the nastiest on record for some years- in which the lover and the fighter within will periodically compete and collaborate. The basement will flood, the walls will first sweat then freeze and tuning the piano will become a never-ending task. Workman has elected to spend the winter in isolation, keeping it simple and secluded in the countryside. For company, the occasional conspirator drops by, a first for Hawksley and, as he puts it, "a refreshing experience. It was new to be joined in the process of creation. It was both scary and exhilarating to share such an intimate exercise." Of course, Hawksley continues to draw inspiration from his unseen muse, Isadora.
As the title implies, lover/fighter examines differing motivations: ones that alternately work at odds or in harmony. In its origins, the album began by examining the lyrical themes of "Anger as Beauty" and "The Future Language of Slaves", the literal underpinning of the album title, before growing in scope. lover/fighter is true to the qualities established by Workman's previous outings and also moves into foreign territories. Certainly, he has gone to the cellar for some vintage Workman; themes of lovers courted and promises betrayed are explored. There is whiskey, loyalty, duty, prayer, cigarettes, lust and ache. The intangible qualities of love, the ideals of beauty, the changing of the seasons, longing and spiritual renewal are also motifs to be navigated.
The thrust of the album is most overtly evidenced in the opening minutes: "we will still need a song to carry our hearts away." This is a record that recognises our thirst for inspiration and its potential to transform. All vistas are explored. Whether by a plaintive piano or fiercely defiant drumbeat, an impassioned growl or whispered aside, lover/fighter seeks a salve for the spirit and charges the task of finding resolution within.
Beyond a poet and record producer, Hawksley Workman is a true multi-instrumentalist, having played virtually every part on his records. This proficiency affords a foundation on which to pin his lyrical proposals and the assurance to improvise and depart from the page when performing live. His vocabulary is such that he can seize upon a train of thought to be expanded. This definitely means taking some risks. You can't use a script or your performance can become safe or flavourless. Improvisation is critical to creating something special. Artists must have faith in their abilities if they are going ask the audience to contribute equally with their imagination. Hawksley lays everything on the line for the chance to enthrall.
This same improvisation is warranted in recording. When there is spontaneity, a moment can be captured. You can't attempt to recapture a pure, energetic, truthful performance because it depends on being in that moment. It can't be bottled in order to be apportioned out at the proper occasions. As Hawksley notes, "much of the entertainment we're accustomed to has a false quality, as though it never actually happened." lover/fighter rails against this sterile landscape.
For an artist so fully realised in presentation, Workman is nonetheless faced with misconception. Much has been said about the creation myth of his early self-penned biographies; from those who were unable to distinguish fancy from fact to those who felt his persona one of artifice and disguise. As he describes the frustration of these misinterpretations, "What I do comes from a place of sincerity. I don't feel that I'm putting anything on -I'm being myself. Because I'm earnest about it, it can be misconstrued by the listener but I don't contrive my nature."
The period since 2001's breakthrough, (last night we were) the delicious wolves, has been one of furious activity. It was in that fall that Workman relocated to Paris for nearly a year. With his albums being released in Europe, he took the step of immersing himself in another culture to bring forth still more facets of his art. And he was embraced in turn. The European press was not shy about singing his praises as he toured with such luminaries as David Bowie, Patti Smith, New Order, The Cure, Marianne Faithfull and Noir Désir. He collaborated with French superstar Johnny Hallyday, writing a song for his disc, A la vie, à la mort. Hawksley also wrote with Techno artist Tommy Hools and French indie rock sensations Aston Villa. Somehow, he found the time to release a mini-album, almost a full moon, which celebrated family, winter and community.
In the spring of 2002, he was honoured at home when the Junos awarded him Best New Solo Artist and touted "Jealous of Your Cigarette" as Best Video. During the World Cup, Workman's rendition of The Beatles' "Revolution" provided the soundtrack for a commercial featuring French soccer star, Zinedine Zidane. Hawksley returned to Canada briefly to contribute to the film and soundtrack for Stormy Weather: The Music of Harold Arlen, providing his take on "I've Got the World On a String". He further collaborated on an as-yet-unreleased film with Mary Margaret O'Hara, in which he portrays an apparition. In an A&R capacity at his own imprint, Isadora Records, Hawksley has also signed his first artist, Serena Ryder.
lover/fighter calls for a nobly-intentioned uprising. Workman asserts, "It's about a revolution for truth and beauty, honesty and integrity. It's a call to action for fighting for all that makes us wonderful and elevates us." It is stark opposition to contemporary distorted preoccupations. lover/fighter is a record of rebellion and Hawksley Workman invites you to communicate as each and both.