Hackensaw Boys love what they do – October 2005
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Hackensaw Boys love what they do  Print

By Ken Burke, October 2005

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The guitarist further reveals that the Hackensaws have also developed a familial hierarchy. "We definitely have roles. I was laughing today because I feel that Robert is the dad, and I'm the mom. Kooky Eyed Fox is the eldest brother, and the rest of us are a series of brothers."

Their music is folk-influenced old time country and bluegrass fed with lyrics that addressed contemporary concerns with bits of punkish humor and eastern philosophy.

For their first album with the smaller line-up, Sickmen feels fortunate to be with Nettwerk. "The good news is that we have a great label with us right now, and I think they're truly interested in the music that we're making right now - which is absolutely the most you can hope for - that they're going to care about the art and help you find ways to promote it properly. I do think that Nettwerk will do that for us. They're a diverse company, and that's appealing to me." Nettwerk's roster includes such high profile non-country acts as Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan, and Sum 41 on the company's Canadian side.

Do the Hackensaws feel like odd men out in such company? "No," laughs Sickmen, "there are several other acts in our field. The Be Good Tanyas, who I would say we're similar to in respect...The Old Crow Medicine Show, really good friends of ours, are on Nettwerk, so there's a lot of good stuff on that label."

Asked how their new album "Love What You Do" is different from the group's previous efforts, Sickmen is direct.

"Well really, it's not. We kind of went about it the same way. This album is definitely not as lo-fi as the other albums, which some people will embrace, and some people won't. That's obviously the risk you take. You can't please everybody all the time."

The album - with Peloso performing on several tracks - was recorded over the course of two years in four different studios all over the world, usually as a way to accommodate the band's busy touring schedule.

"Some of the songs, like 'Suns Work Undone' and 'Bordertown,' were recorded in a really nice studio in Charlottesville. Two of the songs, 'Kiss You Down There' and "Cannonball,' were recorded in Richmond, Va.," says Sickmen.

"'Alabama Shamrock' was recorded in San Francisco. We played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival out there. That was with the likes of Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Hazel Dickens. We had a friend who said, 'Hey, do you want to come in the studio tonight and record?' And we did."

"We recorded two in the Netherlands just the same way. We were on tour, and we met this guy who had a really nice studio. So we recorded the songs 'Mecklenburg' and 'Parking Lot' in Amsterdam, and that was a crazy experience because it was in an old building that had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The basement where we played was where - and I hate to really say this - that's where they were bathing - that's the kinder way to say what was really going on.(an apparent reference to atrocities) So it was weird being in that space although it felt positive in the music. It was just knowing that it had actually happened in the building where we were standing."

Recording live when they could and overdubbing when they had to, the Hackensaws collaborated closely on arrangements.

"Normally, there's an outline - a chord progression, a vocal melody, and a chorus - and basically everybody starts contributing in their own way and through a democratic process," says Sickmen of the band's creative method.

"We all decide what works for the song. Sometimes that works out, and it happens quickly, and it's easy for everybody to agree on something. Sometimes it doesn't, and somebody feels passionately about something, and there's a process that has to occur then - and it's a debate. At that point, the best you can hope for is that people are rational."

"But then you're talking about passionate artists being rational - it's like an oxymoron. We have a bunch of really good musicians with strong ideas, so there's always that space where we butt heads. We all have opinions on every aspect of the process. In the end, it will funnel into one person actually carrying the task out."

The result is an album the band is truly proud of that has already picked up some college radio airplay.

In November, they will embark on their fourth European tour in the last year and a half.

Sickmen sincerely hopes that he and the band can keep success in perspective.

"A lot of times it's scary because we start to do things for money instead of necessarily what's good for the soul. So, it's a big concern of mine for sure. I think that we have a magical thing going on there, and I say that from a very humble space. That's why we're all tired. We're trying to keep this gift that we've been given alive. Hopefully it will translate into people's lives being affected positively in these very hectic times."

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