by Wout de Natris
Copyright WoNo Magazine 2012
Listen to my personal favourite song by Hackensaw Boys while reading here
As of Friday 24 May the band with its origins in Charlotsville, Virginia is touring The Netherlands and quite some other EU countries for about a month. Maybe their biggest effort to conquer the Old World, as they call it, to date. You can find info on all gigs here. As I am a fan of the band ever since seeing them perform in 2004 I thought it a good thing to give them some extra exposure over the coming weeks on WoNo Magazine's blog. Recently their last two EPs were reviewed, now an interview with singer/guitarist Ward Harrison. Up next will be an interview with returning member of the first hour David Sickmen and a review of one of the shows. But first Ward Harrison.
Last year when you guys were over there was one major difference with the past: a drummer. How did this come about?
It started in the studio. We started embellishing some songs with extra percussion: cymbal hits and brushes on a snare, stuff like that. Well somehow, that morphed into us putting together a small trap kit for a few numbers. When it came to playing live, we started to incorporate the kit into older songs. It was fun to tinker around with it for a bit, but now we've gone back to just the charismo. (See a picture of ex-Hackensaw Boys Jason Neuhardt's charismo on Wikipedia here.)
Can we expect more changes in the future?
We've got a few surprises up our sleeves.
The Hackensaw Boys play traditional music. The way it is played hints at other influences. What is the background of the members musically?
I think we do more than just hint at other styles.
There are four composers in the band. How do you decide who’s songs make it on a record?
Everybody gets an opportunity to have his song on a Hackensaw Boys record. The only incidences I can think where a song was pulled from being released was because the song writer wasn't 100% satisfied, preferring to give the song a little more attention. Wanting to tinker with it.
The Hackensaw Boys is a band that I meet on a regular basis. With hindsight I can pinpoint moments in conversations with members that I can say, that’s when someone had to choose between making music and another career. How hard is it to be a Hackensaw Boy?
It is anything but BUT difficult being a Hackensaw Boy. Look, the fellas in the Hackensaw Boys right now are the ones that have chosen to make the band at least one of their careers. This sort of lifestyle can be easier for some than others, I suppose. Nobody in the original line up planned for it have 12 members, I don't think. It just happened very quickly that way. Some have peeled away, others have come on board. I think I can speak for the others when I say that everyone here now wants to play music as much as possible.
Looking over the years I conclude that the band is bigger than its members. Was it set up from the outset more as a collective of changing musicians than as a band in a traditional sense?
Not exactly, although it certainly seems to have evolved into that.
When someone leaves the band, do you already have a replacement in mind? Or does this go about in a different way?
Well, clearly not all departing members have been replaced. Sometimes we just had to adjust without that instrument, you know? I cannot think of one instance in which there has been a replacement in mind before someone ever left the band. We have just been fortunate to know good people who love the tradition of music that we do.
To go back to the music. The vocals are often multi-layered harmonies. How does the band work on creating them?
By trial and error, by accident, by repair. We try to make joyful noises, yes.
The songs the band plays are very diverse. What are your personal favourites on the repertoire?
I guess I love to play the up-tempo, rave-up numbers the best, though they were a little more enjoyable when I was younger and more spry.
Your songs seem somewhat more reflective that others’. Is this a coincidence or is there a form of division in the band on song writing?
Well, I think we all have places we call home, musically. I like to compare it to The Band. When I was first getting into them it was fun to listen to the songs and try to figure out who was singing what. After a while, you start to recognize the songwriting/singing styles of each member, but it always sounds like The Band, you know? It may be true what you say though, my songs being a touch tender and heart-achey.
You joined the band circa five years ago. What did you do musically before the Hackensaw Boys?
I was playing in a country-ish rock and roll band with a guy named Heath Haynes, but he decided to ply his trade in Nashville, Tennessee, so that left me musically unemployed and ultimately available to join the Hackensaw Boys when asked. Much earlier, though, long before the Hackensaw Boys existed, David Sickmen and I played in a punk rock band called Pieboy in the early 90s in Harrisonburg, VA.
Who influenced you most as a songwriter?
Wow. I'm just going to have to start throwing names out: Paul Westerburg, Townes Van Zant, David Lee Roth, George Jones, Bad Brains, and that guy that wrote Guy On A Buffalo.
What are your favourite artists and albums?
Start with the aforementioned artists and add any and everything from Sun Records, Stax, Chess.... DC punk of the 80s Dischord era, toss that around with some Stones, Beatles, Dylan, don't skimp on the Louvins and the Everlys, finish with a generous dressing of Nuggets era Garage/60s psychedelia and you've prepared one of my favorite salad.
As far as old time/traditional music goes the guitar playing of Ma Carter got me walking around the chord, incorporating a little melody. Doc Watson and Norman Blake have been influential. And certainly lots of Clarence White.
We're still working on that. David and I are both playing guitar, but with very different styles and tone, and we are passing around the mandolin a bit. Ben, our new bass player is also a bad-ass guitar player so that gives me more opportunity to play up-right, which I love. I'm not sure if anyone else does, though.
Are there plans for a new album?
Plans are free, but recording a record costs money. So, yes.
This upcoming European tour is very extensive. A great offensive at conquering Europe?
You got it.
Sent from my Steam-punked '52 Underwood.
You can order Hackensaw Boys albums here:
Keep It Simple