This interview is from a long ol’ time back, roundabouts the time ‘Fingers Become Bridges’ came out. Lawks.
Interview by Alex Deller.
Collective: Generic introduction: herein you will give a brief, insightful run-down of the band that is Tiny Hawks – roles, reasons and rationale.
Gus: I’m Gus. I play the drum kit, and electric bass. Recordings have some upright bass on them. Art and I befriended about four years ago when I moved to Providence. Our interests in life, politics, and music brought us to the idea of playing together. At that point, it had been quite some time since I had played music with people, and it worked so well with just the two of us. Our differing personalities really bring us together. I think we compliment each other in our approaches to songwriting. I mean, we are both generally happy people, Art is a bit more outgoing than I am, which is most apparent at shows. We both have a genuine love of the music we make and the friendship therein. I appreciate the opportunity to do Tiny Hawks and hope it brings real inspiration to those who listen. It must be said, we are just a band. But music is the great motivator, and if it keeps motivating you, why stop?
Collective: Tiny Hawks have a pretty original sound, especially in a day and age where you’re pretty much guaranteed to come across a clutch of bands tilling the same soil. What would you say has helped shape the band’s sound? How has what you’ve done in the past shaped what you’re doing now? Did you set out to achieve any specific goals with this band?
Gus: Thanks! I think it’s kind of a bummer how marketed genres have become. Even in DIY/punk/hardcore, whatever you want to call it. There is an obvious divide. I mean, people like what they like., but when you start to feel uncomfortable and judged at a show or walking down the street because you don’t have a certain sound or aesthetic it’s a bit unsettling. I think back to stories I’ve heard from late 70s early 80s when punk had no real guidelines – it gave people the freedom to really voice what they were about, for better or worse. I think at first, we just wanted to rock out? Now, having so many influences and a couple of years behind us, it’s morphed what we are. We just write, musically, what feels satisfying to us and evokes what we are trying to get across. We are not trying to mimic a sound or appeal to any certain person. I wouldn’t say we have a clear direction as to where we are going as a band and I really enjoy that.
Art: In thinking about shaping sound, I think we bring similar inspirations and motivations from bands and music we’ve both loved and I think we try to play what comes naturally rather than try to mold songs into some formula or pattern. I haven’t really played in a formal band before this aside from a band in high school (albeit meaningful!), and I have been playing guitar alone for a long time, some songs that ended up being some of these songs. I think we pay attention to feel rather than approach, assessing what viscerally feels right rather than what sounds “good”.
Collective: Am I right in thinking one/some of you were in Spirit Assembly? What would you say have been the major changes in the emo/hardcore landscape since then? Which have been for the better, and which for the worse?
Gus: Yes, I used to play bass in that band and it still blows me away when it gets mentioned. It was an exciting time then, 93-95ish. A true movement that I was completely enamoured with. It shaped so much of who I am, but, I took what I experienced/learned from that and moved on. It’s real unhealthy to live in the past, to idealize those days as being better than what you have now. You have to push for growth and change. If you don’t, things get stagnant.
Collective: A lot of the folks who would’ve been your contemporaries in the 90s emo scene have either upped and left music entirely or moved onto less traditionally punk pastures – (e.g. country, indie, electronica…). What has made you stick with punk rock – what’s the lasting appeal? Could you see yourselves ever just jacking it all in and forgetting this particular piece of your past?
Art: Punk rock. The lasting appeal continues to be in how people stretch it, what we do with it when the song is over, and what those songs did to bring us to where we are. The connections and people I have met over the years through punk circles (zines, music, politics, fests etc.) continue to inspire and enrich my life and I feel very lucky to be a part of it all. Punk has made and ruined and confused a whole lot of people it seems. It’s a positive signifier as much as a way to alienate. I don’t really see myself losing the drive to be participating in or playing music that would be considered punk. There is a lot of hope left in it, a lot of fearlessness, and a lot of room for it to keep changing and keep it challenging.
Gus: Punk has an energy. That word alone has so much weight behind what it has stood for… and still does for a lot of us. We both listen to such a vast collection of styles of music, and all have had their little part in what we are. But the statement punk has made (of course, I’m not talking about big money “punk”) will have a lasting effect on my life’s decisions and philosophies.
Collective: Are you still as pissed off about things as you were when you first started making music, or have your focuses changed?
Art: Are we still pissed off? I think anger can be a pretty amazing force if used the right way. We’re pretty much overwhelmed with enough things in the world today to level us on a minute by minute schedule – so how to deal with it all, how to use the anger there or frustration to make something or be something more than that, to turn that adrenalin into something positive? Phil Ochs said, “you must protest, you must protest, it if your diamond duty, ah, but in such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty.” Sure, anger is there, but I think anger implies negative reactions. Remaining critical and open and responsive and resolute and with a certain amount of courage seem to be stronger impulses.
Gus: As you get older – I will be 30 this year – I think you find ways of bringing your ideals into everyday life, how you live it. Simple things like how I treat other people, knowing your neighbours, trying to stay informed on what the hell is going on. Yes. I am pissed off about the US occupation of Iraq, I am pissed off about South Dakota deeming abortion illegal! There are so many incredibly frightening actions by government and power figures… most of which are against what the people want. It’s all so overwhelming sometimes, you start to wonder if we can bring change. It’s an anger with hope that we need more of, and I say that as much for myself as much as I do others.
Collective: Tell us about your relationship with Moganono – how did it come about? It seems to be one of those reliable, understated labels standing out like a beacon in a sea of shit. Does the label guy cherrypick all these great bands (Anton Bordman, Kolya, Ettil Vrye…) or is he just lucky enough to have found himself sitting amongst a slew of neat acts with broadly similar ideas and ethics? What is the hardcore scene like where you hail from and what kind of bands do you generally play with?
Art: My personal relationship with Moganono goes back a long time to me being 14 and living in the Merrimack Valley and going to shows featuring bands whose members would later be in Moganono bands, and whose brother team were very open and friendly to me. I grew a lot through knowing Peter and Mike, through their examples in how they made genuine efforts in punk circles and their own lives. They used to book a fest every year as a breast cancer research benefit called “tin can full of dreams”, whose overarching value and richness was not wasted on me. It was a family thing, the Zetlans representing behind the refreshment table, the brothers making things work, and bands and people growing ever tighter over the years, finding each other at these events, and building relationships that would last. I am inspired by the memory and the people, and as a label, am always impressed. Peter keeps putting effort and love into bands of friends and releases that are timeless and hand done with care, and I feel so honoured to be a part of that history. He is a great person, and his friends and the music they create can speak to that fact. I don’t think I could generalize about the music scene here in Providence, there are many bands I love, who continue to push boundaries and experiment, and there is an earnest dedication to creating something personal and unique and honest that is awesome to see/hear. We’ve been lucky enough to play all different kinds of shows with bands playing all different kinds of music, so it’s nice to be a part of a community of music/art makers that continue to challenge us in that way – to not settle.
Gus: Pete is a wonderful, wonderful person. I met him through Art, when we started playing shows. He always struck me as genuine. He’s extremely dedicated and cares about what he is doing. It’s kind of like he’s the keystone in creating this little family of New England bands with similar views, for no other reason than a genuine interest. There is so much music going on in Providence. It’s a very diverse scene that has been through many hardships the past couple of years. Losing warehouse spaces (living and otherwise) and increasing rents are forcing people to keep things on the DL. There are now a handful of show/art spaces and only two or three are DIY. I think there is an underlying fear of those spaces being taken away.
Collective: Your lyrics are often kind of oblique, though can be picked apart for a sense of meaning. Is there anything in particular you’re looking to impart or are your songs more an opportunity to vent or try to understand particular situations for yourselves? Would you mind going into any detail as to what “Four Days After Ariel Was Shot” is about?
Gus: Not to discredit myself but Art is much better versed than I. He writes most of the lyrics where I write more straight forward words like “Daniel Striped Tiger”. I guess for me it’s a venting of sorts, trying to tell a story or put across and idea. That song, in particular, was at root a motivational. As is my part in “Whenzy”.
Art: The songs lyrics aren’t oblique on purpose, I think in the lyrics I write I just end up being a little indirect. Less venting, more trying to understand particular situations, think around things, pay attention. “Four Days…” was about living in Lawrence, Massachusetts after a killing had occurred in my neighbourhood and walking home from work through the park one night when a cop pulled up to me, not to arrest me, but to offer me a ride home because it wasn’t safe for me there. I think it was a critical moment in me thinking about privilege and whiteness, and the power of those things, their hidden meaning and weight. I loved my neighbourhood, met many of my neighbours and worked in a local charter school with kids living down the street from me, and was part of a small dysfunctional collective there. I felt part of a community and was not blind to certain aspects of it that made it “dangerous”, but tried to accept them as things that exist in a society that sets them up to be there in such a way. Killing or mugging or stealing were not exclusive events, like in most cities, and how you interpret or deal with those things ends up marking how you live within them. Are they constants or negotiable? Can you stop them? When does a neighbourhood start turning into a gated community? Many easy answers are found when someone can throw out “gang related” after a killing rather than looking at the root of these kinds of conflicts or issues. And I am no better prepared at handling those issues than anyone else, and so, the song is about that, being hit by all of it kind of profoundly and still coming up with not many answers. And no, I did not take the ride home.
Collective: What does the term “Fingers Become Bridges” mean to you? Why choose it for the name of your record?
Gus: I’ll let Art carry the torch on that one.
Art: “Fingers become bridges”. I like the thought of bridging things, finding connections and meaning and relatedness between disparate ideas and worlds, and personalizing it, seeing yourself as integrated, part of a web, connected and capable of building bridges, seems pretty empowering to me. You make what you want to see.
Collective: What are your plans for the band, both immediate and long-term? Is there much on the horizon by way of gigs, releases or grand schemes?
Gus: just want to play music and feel good about what we are doing. My hope for the band is that we keep progressing and stay true to ourselves… maybe inspire people outside of music too. We are planning a US tour in May/June to the West and back. Our new record “People Without End” will be out in May on Corleone records. We may be heading to Europe in the fall if all goes well and we can pull ourselves away from personal obligations to work we love.
Art: Plans include getting the new record out, going on an almost month long tour out to the west coast, hopefully going to Europe within the year, playing more guitar and bass songs, feeling less stressed out and more in control, recording a split with Fiya, figuring out how to use the fourtrack, having an updated and cohesive website, being better about lyric sheets, keeping it punctual when talking between songs, learning new ways to play music, trying trying trying.
Collective: Any last words or snappy closing comments? Use this space…
Art: Thank you very much for your thoughtful questions! I hope these weren’t too long winded for answers! Please write if you’d like: po box 1652/Providence/RI.02901. Thank you!
Gus: thanks so much for the opportunity and intelligent questions!
By Alex Deller