HAWK are a band with activism at their heart.
Not ones to shirk away from pressing social issues, their last release dealt with the subject of marriage inequality in Ireland, and their new single ‘Once Told’ addresses the anti-abortion laws in the country. But ultimately, this is a band who love making music.
Originally comprising of Irish lead singer Julie Hawk (vocals and guitar) and Matthew Harris (guitar), the London-based band added Sam Campbell (drums) and Chris Handsley (bass) to their ranks in 2013. This added a darkness and abrasive edge to the more acoustic vibe of the original duo.
What you have today is a band that are difficult to define by genre: there is the delicacy of Daughter but also the grungy snarl of Wolf Alice, with an underlying current of powerfully moving themes.
Their new single ‘Once Told’ sees a shift towards a darker sound and will be released on February 19.
Siobhan Smith caught up with lead singer Julie Hawk to talk Irish politics, women’s rights and going grungy.
For people who haven’t heard of HAWK, can you describe the sound and ethos of the band?
“I have never been good at answering that question… We’re an indie band with some grungy moments, and some delicate moments, and some epic moments.
“The ethos of the band? We are always trying to make sure we are in control of how we work. It ties in with a lot of our lyrical content. Whatever industry you’re in, there is always a lot of noise to cut through when you’re starting off, and how we’ve grown as a band has often come down to taking things into our own hands. For instance, Matt and Chris have started the Veta label, and we run a lot of our own shows through that.”
Your previous release ‘Glass’ focused on the Marriage Equality Referendum in Ireland. Can you tell us more about that?
“The song is about standing up for yourself and not being silenced. It was written as a much more microcosmic piece – one person standing up to another – but it ended up fitting the message we heard when we spoke to campaigners on our Irish Tour in Spring. We talked about releasing the track and when our go-to director and all-around great guy, James Byrne, suggested the pride flag theme for the video, it just kind of came together.
“Personally, we came back from that tour just wanting to contribute – we couldn’t believe what little media coverage the referendum was getting in the UK. I am totally overjoyed with the result. I was home to vote on the 22nd of May and spent the rest of the weekend celebrating. The bill was actually finally put in motion this week too!”
Your new single ‘Once Told’ is out in February, and is darker and more grungy than ‘Glass’. Tell us about the development in your sound on this track.
“We’ve said recently that we feel we’ve finally found the sound we’ve been building towards, and I think ‘Glass’ and ‘Once Told’ are a really good reflection of where we’re at as a band in that there is more space for the detail to sing through and for the tracks to build.
“‘Once Told’ is definitely the grungier side of that, but it’s an angry song; almost the tragic side of angry, whereas ‘Glass’ was defiant and steadfast.”
What is the meaning behind the song?
“At its core ‘Once Told’ is about wanting to scream through an oppressive system. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland except for extremely rare circumstances. I’ve been working up to writing about this for ages now.
“It’s an abhorrent part of our constitution that undermines women’s rights, puts their lives in danger, and forces us to travel abroad for support, face a full term of pregnancy regardless of circumstance, or face up to 14 years in prison for obtaining an abortion illegally.”
What are your thoughts on Ireland’s abortion laws, pregnancy, sexuality and contraception laws? What are your hopes?
“I find them totally inhumane. You can’t possibly know what any individual goes through if they are considering an abortion in the first place. Adding to that the lack of support, and the stigma of shame that surrounds Irish culture around abortion, and you just can’t know the damage that’s being done.
“And the thing I find most oppressive about it is the accepted air of secrecy around the whole thing, as if it’s something to get away with. Just like contraception and sexuality, it’s another thing that women are not encouraged to talk about in a way that’s empowering.
“I don’t know how long it will take, but I hope to I see this taken out of our constitution – we can’t hope to set a level playing field for girls growing up in Ireland with this kind of archaic mind-set still harbouring our right to choose.”
How has working with Dimitri Tikovoi and Catherine Marks influenced your sound on this track?
“It’s been awesome. Matt worked really closely with both of them to achieve the sound we were after, and they got it absolutely spot on. There’s an energy to ‘Once Told’ that we thought we’d only ever hear in the studio, but they’ve managed to bring it out.”
Is it important to you that your message has activism at its heart? Could you ever imagine just writing a song about being in love, for example?
“It’s important that our songs say something genuine, but that won’t always necessarily be political, and that certainly doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be a love song.
“I think the most consistent message in our music is about choice. There are so many cooks in the pot when it comes to how we choose to live our lives, whether that’s influenced by tradition, peer pressure, or how things comes across on social media. Autonomy is a precious thing, whether you’re standing up for equality or choosing to submit to something as simple as love or nature.”
How influential do you think music can be in promoting a political message? Is it important to use creative outlets like music for this purpose?
“Hugely in some cases. Firstly we’re about making music that we hope people will love. But we’d hate to set boundaries which meant that we couldn’t touch on something taboo if we think it’s important.”
What can we expect from the new EP? This track definitely showcases a much rockier sound. Have you left behind your acoustic roots, or would you say it’s more of a development? It’s definitely darker.
“Short answer, yes we’re leaving behind our acoustic roots. Long answer, I’m not sure any of us feel that we’ve really got acoustic roots.
“I started off on the open mic circuit a few years ago in London, and for me it was the perfect platform for song-writing. But before that I had always fallen hardest for bands that make a lot of noise like Sleater Kinney and Death From Above. And the guys had been in indie bands before that too. It was a really good way to get into lyric-writing and develop my vocals, but it grew stale pretty quickly.
“There was a moment a couple of years ago when we all realised with great clarity that we wanted to throw ourselves into the darker side of our sound, and almost start fresh. It was a great moment, but it has meant a fair bit of back-tracking.
“On a personal level, I have found it much more empowering being in a band, where there is more chance to bounce ideas off each other and be less of a character on stage. I have utmost respect for people who stick to their guns as singer-writers, but for me, I felt that people were really quick to make assumptions about me.
“There were a lot of diminutives used even in the most well-intended of compliments, and it really grossed me out sometimes.”
What’s next for HAWK? Any plans to tour?
“We will no-doubt be touring around UK and Ireland when the EP comes out. We’ll fill you in in the New Year.
“The most exciting thing on our immediate agenda is Other Voices in December. Other Voices is one of those things that makes you sound like you’re in a cult when you talk about it, but honestly, you have to go there to understand. A tiny village on the west coast of Ireland becomes home to three days of live music – it’s freezing out and every pub has an open fire and Guinness on tap. You have to go there to understand.”
‘Once Told’ is due for release on February 19 . Watch this space for tour dates.