There’s gold in the hills around San Francisco. Namely: gold USB drives which contain the treasures of a career in dance music from a cornerstone of the American electronic music scene. Love In Stars is the 5th studio album from Gavin Hardkiss under his “Hawke” alias. We spoke about the previous four, the evolution of the Hawke sound, the place of an independent producer in the corporate music food chain and his strange treasure hunt underway.
I know you as “Gavin Hardkiss,” but you’ve had the “Hawke” alias for as long as I’ve known about a Gavin Hardkiss. I always assumed you created it to differentiate yourself from music made and released under the name “Hardkiss” collectively. What distinguishes a Hawke project from the rest?
I’m confused by all these names too. Hardkiss is the project that I do with Robbie and Scott. Gavin Hardkiss is this DJ name that connects me to the Hardkiss collective that we started in the early ’90s. My name Gavin means White Hawk. When I made my first record, before I started DJing, I used the name Hawke. Over time, I realized that the Hawke project had become a series of collaborations with other musicians and producers – sound clashes and songwriting experiments – a way of telling stories through albums.
The new album is called Love In Stars. What does the title refer to?
I love love and will use the word ad nauseam. We have this one simple word to describe a whole set of complex experiences and feelings, and we really need a dozen words to describe the range of loves that we feel. It’s an unfair limitation of the English language.
The title came from the artist who did the painting for the album art, Eyan Higgins Jones. He titled the image file that he sent to me “Love In Stars.” And I loved it. It has a better ring to it than “Somewhere Out of Gaia” which is a lot of people’s favorite track on the album.
Electronic music outside of the club context probably has a larger audience now than at any time in history. A lot of this music like Tycho or Com Truise feels like it’s music made for music’s sake first, music for the people second and music for DJs third. Where do you think Hawke & Love In Stars fits in this context?
I’m not sure where it fits! It’s on the periphery of a few different styles – House, Funk, Afro, Chill, Indie and Pop. I think Tycho is screengazing music. Like when you need a soundtrack to work to, without distractions. It’s a singular frequency.
Love In Stars is more adventurous and feelings may come up as you penetrate the album. The lyrics are poetic, and the album is made for listening from start to finish. It takes you somewhere. The tempo hovers around 120 and I find myself mixing the tracks together when I DJ at cocktail lounges and early in the night. It’s not typical club music, though there are a few remixes that we’ve released on Hardkiss Music that are more targeted to DJs. Like Lee Reynolds remix of “WarPeace” and the yet to be released Onionz remix which is sensational in a Laurent Garnier kind of way.
You’ve released five albums now as Hawke, two as Hardkiss. Do you have a favorite among these? or one you feel is undiscovered/unheralded? (though it might be because of looking back on who you were or what you learned rather than the music itself)…
This is the fifth Hawke album, each written under different circumstances, in different cities in California – San Francisco, Calistoga, San Diego and San Rafael. My least favorite is Heatstroke. It’s disjointed and came about when I sent some demos to Six Degrees Records, a label that was created for World Music from the people who brought you Windham Hill. They said they would take it as is, so it didn’t go through a thorough process of fine tuning and mixing.
I love all the other albums equally. In December, I spent time getting into the stems of previous albums. I refined Love Won Another and Plus Plus Plus and the PledgeMusic campaign will help pay for getting them re-mastered. Sound processing has come a long way and there’s so many more ways to manipulate sound now. When the digital music revolution was in transition, the digital tools were weak and we relied on mastering for a boost to the overall sound. Now I can get so much depth and width on a laptop before it goes to mastering.
You can hear me learning and how to make music on Namaquadisco. I made it sharing a studio with Scott Hardkiss. Songs were also written in Wade Randolph Hampton’s bedroom when he first moved to SF, before Mark Farina moved into that room.
You can hear me learning how to write songs on Love Won Another which was made in a farmhouse in Calistoga after my daughter was born. Friends and musicians would spend a weekend at the house and we’d write and record.
You can hear me experimenting further with different styles and using my voice on Plus Plus Plus. By the time you get to Love In Stars its much more cohesive and I’m more confident with singing.
A common thread is a South African and Californian sunny, funky vibe, but there are also a lot of tender moments, and some wrestling with uncomfortable topics like death and loss. Like life’s journey, it’s not always a celebration. Some songs were prescient, like the song “The Hardest Kiss” on the album Love Won Another. I was thinking of Scott when I wrote it and it’s almost too much to listen to now. “The kiss of life. The kiss of death. The hardest kiss is the kiss goodbye. Unanswered questions. Frozen moments. Truth and lies. You’ll know.”
Hawke songs are less for DJs and more for listening. String the songs together and you have an abstract story with various song chapters. Or make your own story.
A lot of your peers stopped making music when the industry fell apart in the early ’00s. Or what’s more common I think is they enter into “studio paralysis”: they’re always “working on something” but it never actually turns into anything people can listen to. Do you find it difficult to find the motivation & momentum to carry these projects through to the end when you’re working in isolation?
My motivation is to start and finish ambitious projects. I don’t like leaving things unfinished. I have always been into writing songs and putting together albums more than making beats or tracks. As a generalization, Hawke songs are less for DJs and more for listening. String the songs together and you have an abstract story with various song chapters. Or make your own story.
On that note, one of your collaborators was your 10 year old son. What was his contribution to the album, and will this be his first appearance in print?
Lucien has a natural music ear and he’s got the funk. He can hear things that don’t work and he knows what sounds right and can express it. He’ll hear the way I try to sing and suggest “Try this.” I think the repetitiveness of writing music and wringing it out into its final form is super boring for him, but during the songwriting phase and the composition phase, he has a clear vision and great feedback.
He co-produced “Like A River” and “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” and also sings on “Like A River,” and both songs have a father-son tenderness that’s unique.
This is not his first contribution. He already has a song out on Hardkiss Music called “Waiting Right Here 4 U” where he performed vocals.
You mentioned collaborations, so who were the other collaborators you worked with?
Jawnee and Tiki from the LA band Piel did the vocals on the opening track “Divine Secret.” Trent Berry and Conn Cianci-McGraw were involved with “Mesmorize.” Robin Applewood and Robbie Hardkiss on “Sunshine People.” Daniel Lippencott and Robbie Hardkiss on “Burning Up.” And Will Sumsuch as well.
Chicago’s Mike Kandel helped me with the vocals on “This Love’s Appetite.” God bless him! I miss him so much, and wish we could have done more music together. When he died, he was making his way to California and we had talked at length about him moving and us working together in the future.
I’d rather sell my music to 100 adoring fans than get a million streams. That model works for public companies and their stock price. It does not work for independent artists regardless of what anyone said.
You’ve used Pledge Music for the Hardkiss Music projects and now this. What are the advantages vs. releasing a record in the more traditional way?
Pledge is great. It puts the commerce back into the release of albums, and provides a framework for monetizing a release. You’ve got to get paid, or at least pay for the release. Spotify, Pandora, Beatport and iTunes are not monetizing jack for independent artists. I’d rather sell my music to 100 adoring fans than get a million streams. That model works for public companies and their stock price. It does not work for independent artists regardless of what anyone said. Remember Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” argument? I call bullshit.
You’ve been singlehandedly regenerating the art of album promotion. Tell me about these USBs scattered around San Francisco? What is on them, and were they all claimed via the treasure hunt?
The Treasure Hunt for encrypted Gold USBs is ongoing. We just got started and we have no winners yet. I’ve got some messages of people finding rags and broken glass but no gold.
I’ve triangulated the Bay Area with gold USBs with the Hawke catalog hidden in trees, under the ground and in the crevices between rocks. All of these spots have majestic views, and a bird of prey like a hawk could fly from one to the other.
There are cryptic video clues online to find the gold USBs, but you must get the first clue in gold envelopes inside rare Hardkiss vinyl at select record stores. Buy the vinyl and you get the clue. The gold envelopes are also available from my favorite bartenders at my favorite cocktail bars. A secret question will be awarded with the gold envelope. Check the map for the Bay Area locations here: https://goo.gl/89Q1hO
I like the idea of my digital music being found in nature. I like the excitement of the hunt – going out into the real world to get the clue, then online to find the location, then into the real world to find the gold, then again online to decrypt the drive. I feel like I’m putting some value in the digital files, and making the experience memorable.
What do you hope for when you finally cut the moorings and shove a new record off into the world?
The next project.
If people want to get it, when & where will it be? And anything you hope they glean from it?
The new album and the Hawke catalog is available now through PledgeMusic. I’ve still got half way to go to reach my goal to fund vinyl, CDs, t-shirts and hats. $10 gets you an instant download of Love In Stars.
I simply want to inspire people. I want people to find something beautiful in the music and in themselves. I want people to enter a moment that transcends time and place. I want to hide gold USBs and DJ in your city.
It’s Time: originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 147 featuring Kevin Yost, Jenifa Mayanja and Sound Warrior, Gavin Hardkiss, why music got cheap and gear got expensive (and it’s mostly your fault) and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music for only $2 per month!