Can-Con hero Hawksley Workman is never satisfied

By Safiya Hopfe
With new creative vigor, Hawksley Workman has gone back to the studio to write another record.

With new creative vigor, Hawksley Workman has gone back to the studio to write another record.

VANCOUVER — Hawksley Workman is writing a new record, “Which kind of happened by accident,” he says, “but it always does, you know?” Since releasing his first album in 1999, this beacon of idiosyncrasy in Canadian music perseveres — and explains his reasoning for doing so as a “feeling of constant dissatisfaction.”

Though he credits recent project Mounties with awakening special creative vigour in him, Workman is happy to be revisiting old habits since the studio-driven tendencies of Old Cheetah. “They [Mounties] re-wrote a lot of the rules in my mind,” he explains, “’cause so much of Mounties is improvised. So I became obsessed with improvising songs, which is to say my last record Old Cheetah has a lot of, like, improvised lyrics, and the whole thing was very guttural.” Now he returns to “old formulas”— embracing the almost lustful pen-to-paper process that produced the first couple of records he ever made. “It feels childlike. It reminds me of who I was 20 years ago.”

This isn’t to say experimenting with possibilities in production no longer feels important to Workman— working hands-on in the studio with Mounties marked a turning point in a hard time. “Mounties saved my fucking life. I was at a point where, at an age where anyone is asking themselves whether the prolonged humiliation of being in the music business is really still worth it. Then I get into a studio with these guys in East Vancouver, and we’re staying up ‘til the goddamn middle of the night jamming and having a fucking blast. I think with Mounties I was reminded about the childlike love you can have for music when things are feeling absolutely perfect, you know? And I’m so, so blessed that that happened.”

The love affair of sorts isn’t anywhere near over – Workman, Steve Bays, and Ryan Dahle have their eyes on a second Mounties record, though they’re not entirely sure what to expect yet, even from themselves. In Workman’s words: “There’s all those feelings that come with a second record. No one was expecting ‘Headphones’ and ‘Tokyo Summer’ to be hit songs, we were just goofs having fun and all of a sudden we were goofs having fun with hit songs. Then all of a sudden there’s just a new kind of pressure that comes with that. But you know, it’s an interesting thing, I think as you get older, for me at least, creativity is a grumpy old cat that you really have to pet certain ways. And I think I’m only just starting to understand that. My creative energy … it doesn’t belong to me, it’s something I get to slow-dance with from time to time but we definitely don’t go home together!”

Both in and out of the studio, and with and without Mounties, becoming grounded has grown to be a common theme. In being brought back down to earth, Workman has learned that patience isn’t his strong suit. Working with wood helps, he says, but most importantly, that strangeness is a virtue. His online biography deems him unafraid “to be strange,” which for him seems simply to mean honouring himself as an artist. “I would say that if you’re not obsessed with conforming to culture’s current regime of rules … that’s pretty strange. I think it’s a time when going your own way seems like a massive risk to people. So, I think if there’s any meaning in that at all, it’s that I’ve tried to play this silly game by my own rules, even when I keep getting put in the penalty box for it.”

Hawksley Workman performs at the West End Cultural Centre (Winnipeg) on December 5, at  St. James Hall (Vancouver) on December 7 and at Citadel Centre (Edmonton) December 8-11.

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