Be — You (April 8, 2016)
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Album release: April 8, 2016
Record Label: New Garden Music & Arts
Genre: Rock, Americana
01. Save the World
02. Golden Cup
03. I Love You
05. If You Try
06. Life Goes On
07. Sweet Moonlight
08. Come Back
09. Lookin’ Up
10. I Get High (On You)
⦿► features Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star, R.E.M).
♠ “Much like a male and slightly psychedelic version of the great Lucinda Williams, or the more taciturn face of R.E.M. sprinkled with the spirit of the Velvet Underground, ‘Be’ is a real treasure.”
By ERIC SCHELKOPF
⦿► Musician David Hawkins would rather be himself than be preoccupied with the sometimes superficial nature of the music business.
⦿► His honesty is once again showing through on “You,” the second album he has released through his musical project, Be. The central Illinois native released the album on April 8.
⦿► Lending his talents to the album is Ken Stringfellow, best known for his work with R.E.M., Big Star and The Posies.
⦿► I had the chance to Hawkins about the new album.
Q — Great talking to you. Be’s second album, “You,” was released on April 8. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
⦿► Thanks for having me, Eric! It’s great talking to you too.
I think my goal is always the same in making albums — to capture and fully realize the songs through recording and then arrange them in a way that best conveys their meaning and that takes me (and the listener) on a journey.
⦿► The process varies each time because the songs are different, and they each have their own process of coming to fruition; they literally have a life of their own.
⦿► The songs usually come on their own at random times and sometimes it feels more like “they write me” than the other way around, so I always try to be open while spending time with the guitar or piano so I can catch the songs when they come. It’s a very mysterious process, and it can’t really be forced.
⦿► Sometimes they’ll arrive whole and finished and my role is almost that of taking dictation (which still astonishes me when it happens...like ‘who is writing this?’), but usually just the core of the song will come, like a guitar part or piano groove and a vocal line, and I’ll capture that (usually by recording it on my phone) and then I’ll start the process of “fleshing it out” and working and reworking it until it’s finished.
⦿► Sometimes songs come at odd times and sometimes they’ll keep me up all night. I have great reverence for the muses and the songs they bring, and I try to be faithful to the original idea; I’ll often refer back to it as the song develops to make sure I’m staying true to the essence.
⦿► I take honor in that. The really good songs demand my attention and those are the ones that stand out when I go to choose the ones to record for an album. I won't release an album unless I think it’s fully realized, so yes, I would say “You” has accomplished those things.
⦿► I’m really happy with it and I’m excited for people to hear it.
⦿► In the case of “You,” most of the songs came in the same general time period, over several months, and seemed to fit together thematically and emotionally, as well as musically. There is a wider emotional range here than in the debut, “Be,” which tended more towards the melancholy.
⦿► This album speaks to the difficult but essential nature of relationships, both with others and with ourselves. The whole album could be read as a conversation with the Goddess on one level, or a conversation with a lover on another.
⦿► It’s a deep and powerful song cycle, and I think the songs speak for themselves. I’m very proud of it.
Q — You recorded most of the album at your barn in rural Michigan. How would you say the setting affected the music on the album?
⦿► It absolutely affected it. Not only in the mood of some of the songs, but also in the overall vibe and expansiveness of the music.
⦿► We built the barn out into a comfy living area with a huge picture window looking out towards the woods, and it’s the perfect hideaway and very secluded. We’ll all meet up there for four or five days at a time and totally immerse ourselves in nature and the solitude of it all.
⦿► The stress and distractions dissolve away on the first day, and then you get into a deep feeling of calm and heightened awareness. You can be there a week and not see another person. We have bonfires in the summer and fires in the wood stove if it’s cold (like last week), and dig on the silence of the woods and take a swim in the lake if the weather is good.
⦿► I love it there. It’s the only way to record. Ken Stringfellow, known for his work with The Posies, appears on the album.
Q — How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the project?
⦿► I’ve been a fan of Ken’s work with the Posies, REM and Big Star for years, and we began talking about working on songs together last Spring. I was planning on going to his house in France to record, but we were able to do it sooner in Seattle, so I flew up there from LA for the first sessions, and since then we have been trading files back and forth between LA and France.
⦿► He’s played on almost 40 of my songs so far, on all three of my bands (Hawk, Be and my upcoming project, Here Be Dragons), and it’s been amazing. We’re on the exact same wavelength musically (I mean, he’s in Big Star, for Christ sakes!) and he seems to read my mind as to what each song needs.
⦿► His talent, interest, and dedication to getting each song just right have been real blessings. He joined the process towards the end of recording “You”, so his influence will be more significant on the upcoming releases, but it’s already being felt on this one.
⦿► Plus, it was through Ken that I met Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello’s drummer) who played drums on the upcoming Hawk album, which in turn led to me working with David Bianco (producer for Dylan, Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams, etc.), so his influence has been huge already and is leading to more good things every day.
Q — Is there a story behind the band’s name?
⦿► It came out of frustration of dealing with the bullshit of the business side of music. The industry often misses the whole point with its emphasis on money, record sales, the fashion and celebrity aspects of it, instead of the MUSIC.
⦿► It’s amazing how wrong they get it sometimes. Well, one day a few years ago I was grudgingly dealing with all of that crap during an album release, and I said “I don’t want to play these games...why can’t I make music and just ‘Be’?”
⦿► A light went off in my head, and when it came time to name this band, I had the perfect name. Plus, I love that the name comes up with the Beatles, Beach Boys, Beck, Beastie Boys, etc. It puts us in good company! (Laughs)
Q — I understand that you are working on your third Be album. What should people expect from the new album?
⦿► I don’t want to get ahead of myself in terms of promo (laughs), but yes, we are already well into recording the next one. Ken Stringfellow has played on most of the songs. It is heavily orchestrated with strings like the Be debut, and has the trademark lush Be sound, and is a little more meditative and internal than “You.”
⦿► If I tell you any more, our publicist will kill me (laughs), so for now I’ll just say to listen very closely to “You” to glean hints as to where the music is headed.
Q — Would you say that writing songs has been a cathartic experience since the untimely death of your girlfriend?
⦿► Definitely. For me, writing songs is like a cross between prayer and therapy, and it’s one of the ways that I work through things and express myself. Her death was one of the biggest things I’ve had to come to terms with in my life.
⦿► It’s been a few years now, but finding her body in our bed was a very intense and shattering experience and still leaves traces, not only in my music, but also in my life.
⦿► Music has always been cathartic for me. Songs can take you to a deep emotional place quickly; I can whip myself into a frenzy in seconds with my guitar, whereas with painting (my other main art form), it takes awhile to get to such a deep place.
⦿► Both are equally therapeutic, but music takes you there much more quickly.
Q — The music of your band Hawk has a harder edge to it. Is that a result of your varied musical influences?
⦿► Yes, it’s a result of my varied influences and also the varied range of emotions that need expressing. Sometimes you need to whisper, sometimes you need to scream. (laughs). (You can hear Hawk at www.hawkmusic.net)
⦿► In a nutshell, Be is sacred and Hawk is profane. That may be oversimplifying it a little, but Hawk is a rock & roll band in the most rebellious and emotive sense of the word; all angst and sexual tension and defiance, all very outward.
⦿► Meanwhile, Be is much more introspective and emotionally vulnerable and honest; each band gives me a different avenue for expression. One writer said Be seems more mature than Hawk; and I can see that.
⦿► There is nothing mature about rock & roll, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s emotional and expressive and wild and it offers no apologies; Hawk is like that.
⦿► Be is much more subtle and the emotions are more complex in their expression and the orchestration enhances that. It is nice to have several different modes of expression.
⦿► It’s usually very clear which project a song belongs to when it comes; Be and Hawk each get at different parts of myself.
Q — Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
⦿► Well, having Ken Stringfellow and Pete Thomas playing on my songs and having producer David Bianco involved are a few that have already come true, but let me think. Well, I reached out to John Paul Jones about joining on some recording, and John Cale would be another dream collaborator, since I’m such a huge fan of the VU.
⦿► While I’m dreaming, I would love to collaborate with Paul McCartney someday, and it would be great to have Brian Eno produce an album of my new project, Here Be Dragons. One of my heroes is Dylan, but he doesn’t collaborate, so I won’t even go there.
⦿► Maybe I could just hang out with him for awhile and talk music? (laughs). And I would love to sing with Michael Stipe someday.
⦿► What a great question; I honestly didn’t realize there were so many! I’m usually kind of a loner musically and have steered clear of the scenes I’ve been surrounded by, but to work with my musical heroes is a real joy.
⦿► It’s been incredible so far; I feel very grateful and look forward to what’s coming next.
⦿► Thanks again for having me, and I’ll look forward to connecting again down the line.
⦿► I hope to see some of you out on the road!
John B. Moore, April 21, 2016 / Score: ****
⦿► Good luck trying to classify the sophomore offering from Be (the brainchild of artist David Hawkins). The album, You, is strangely beautiful, mostly quiet and refreshingly original from start to finish. Recorded in rural Michigan with the help of Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star), You brings to mind some of the mellower aspects of R.E.M.’s earliest records and Big Star (appropriately enough) in their more reflective songs. Tracks like “Life Goes On,” with a haunting cello backing up the acoustic guitars, and the driving “Lookin’ Up” go to show their versatility throughout the record.
⦿► Hawkins is still active with his other bands, Hawk, and a new project, Here Be Dragons, with many of the same musicians and the crew is quickly working on a follow for Be.
⦿► You may not exactly be “Album of the Summer” type material, but it’s a remarkably memorable set of songs that are destined to remain as relevant decades from now as they are today.