A 9-5 gig isn’t an option for these guys. Despite an unfortunate string of bad luck, Youngblood Hawke never put their dreams of music stardom aside. They are (admittedly) a little insane, but their talent and passion for each other on and off the stage is undeniable. They are the family that you wish you could be born into. Now, Youngblood Hawke’s debut album Wake Up has achieved what some might call overnight success (though you know better).
The band is cautiously optimistic, but you’d be mistaken to mark them off as a one-hit wonder. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that Youngblood Hawke is more than just California sunshine and “road trip music.” They have what it takes to go the distance, which is each other.
The entire band sat down with me after their Sunday performance on the Sasquatch! Main Stage to talk about swimming with sharks, recording in a sweaty studio apartment, and the only medicine they need: music.
Wake Up was recorded over a long period of time (even though it was only released last month), so what was the recording process like? Why did you guys really take your time with this record?
Simon (Katz): Well, we recorded the whole record in my second bedroom in L.A.
Sam (Martin): It’s like this tiny little room with no air conditioning.
Simon: We recorded it over about two years, and it was our way of getting out all the stuff that we were going through at the time. We were going though divorces, being broke, and all sorts of really dark stuff. We took that and put everything we had into our lyrics and our verses. We tied everything together to be a positive, hopeful message because that’s who we were at the time and that’s who we are now.
It seems like a pretty upbeat album. Did you guys set out to do that?
Simon: No, that’s just what happened. If you’re in a really dark place and write a really dark album, you’re just going to stay in that place. It was almost like our pill, our way of getting everything out. Our therapy. And it’s been perceived as this really upbeat record, but if you read the lyrics, it’s not that at all. It’s dark. We have a positive spin on things because were a hopeful group of people. And we knew if we kept working on things, and really dug deep, we would make some progression.
So that brings me to the song “Dreams” — what’s the story behind that? Because it seems upbeat, but it also talks about having to “hold on.”
Simon: Yeah, that’s actually a really dark story.
Sam: That’s actually about a family friend who had a really tortured life and made some really terrible decisions because that’s just how his brain was trained since childhood. He ended up having to flee the country and I bumped into him.
Simon: He actually stopped by in L.A. just before he was fleeing the country.
Sam: And he showed up and both of his hands were completely broken. He was a family friend who had the biggest heart and was just tortured by child abuse and saw the world in a really negative way. I got to hang out with him a couple hours before he left and “Dreams” is about our reaction to seeing that.
Last time I checked, the “We Come Running” video had over 1.8 million hits on YouTube. What was the concept behind that? Were you all game to jump into a tank with sharks?
Simon: (Laughs) It actually wasn’t a tank! It was in the ocean. Well, the song was written when we were going through a lot. We didn’t intend for it to be an anthem for ourselves but that’s just what it ended up being. The song is really about pushing through any fears or boundaries. And we were all kind of in a weird place at the time.
Sam: It’s very daunting to start a band from scratch.
Simon: Sam and I had been in a band before that had success, and we lost it.
Sam: You know, there are moments when you look around and are like “Are we fucking crazy to do this again?” Because the last band took like eight years to get off the boat and then it crashed in like a year.
The success has been really fast for you guys.
Simon: Kind of. It seems that way. But for us it feels really natural because we’ve all been paying our dues. And we’ve all been doing this for a long time and also just working on this record for two years. It’s something that we finally put out to the world and it’s been received in a lot of ways that we had hoped for. It definitely feels like the right timing for us.
So why swim with sharks then?
Simon: Since the song is about pushing through your fears we wanted to take it into a literal sense. What’s a literal fear that we have? Let’s push through something crazy togther.
I could not do that.
Simon: Yeah, so we decided to go swimming with tiger sharks in the Bahamas, which is the second most deadly shark in the world after the great white. And we’re also tied to conservation efforts that are very important to us, such as Sea Shepherd.
So we went out to this protected area of the Bahamas called Tiger Beach. You know, we’re from L.A. where there’s like Hollywood “shark attacks” all the time, but that’s just the way they’re perceived. We went in the water and we’re basically down there for about an hour and a half while the sharks were circling us. It was absolutely one of the scariest, craziest, most life-changing things we’d ever done.
Sam: It was borderline stupid. (Laughs) But we wanted to show the public that they are not bloodthirsty animals.
Simon: They came right up to us, right up to our face.
Sam: And they are really intelligent. Once they realize that you’re not food or predators, they just hang out.
(Side note: Simon also showed me a picture on his iPhone of a 14-foot tiger shark in front of the band in the Bahamas. For real. This wasn’t any CGI shit.)
Sam — you were really good at singing underwater. I was really impressed. Did you practice that?
Sam: (Laughs) We shot that in a pool, but basically, they shot it from under the water and you try to do as much as you can.
What’s next for you guys? I saw you’re going on tour in the UK soon.
Simon: We never stop recording. We’re still writing songs and after this we’re playing a bunch of festivals throughout the summer. And we’ll be in the UK in July and then Australia in August for something really special that we can’t announce yet…. We also have a new video coming out for “Say Say” soon.
I read in an interview that Sam said, “the most important part of being in a band is the relationships.” What makes your guys’ relationship so special?
Simon: Well, the last band dissolved and basically failed due to relationships. When we decided, “Okay, we’re actually going to try and start a new band again” we thought, Who are our favorite people in the world? Who are those most talented people we know that are like family to us?
Sam: Who could we be around for long periods of time?
Simon: So we sent the demos out to all the other members of the band and they luckily said yes and quit whatever they were doing at the time. They dropped everything to join this crazy idea. I mean, we hang out with each other even when we’re not on tour. We’re all really good friends and we’re really close. We’ve all known each other for a really long time and played with each other in various projects.
You know, it’s like a rollercoaster ride, being in a band. During the low times, you really have to have people that you can depend on. And that’s what we have here.