BY MARK WEBER
On the heels of a brand new release Spit Sputter and Sparkle, singer/songwriter Ron Hawkins performs at The Hideout in Red Deer on April 3rd.
Tapping into the richness of what Hawkins consistently brings to his recordings, the disc features 11 new originals, and was primarily recorded at Hawkins’ 55 Below home studio with him taking care of all vocals and instrumentation. Things kick off with the immediately compelling Beautiful Girl and flow right into the equally engaging Sliver.
Things slow down nicely with Chrome complete with the upfront acoustic guitar and simple melody which grows. The tune also showcases and emphasizes Hawkins’ vocal dexterity, as does the equally listenable Sunflowers. Things kick back into high, straightforward, edgy gear with cuts like Strum and Drag and Sweet Simple Life. And there couldn’t be a more fitting tune to wrap up the CD with than the gently expressive Constellations.
“My little home studio is only nine feet by nine feet but it’s packed with toys and musical goodies. It’s a bit like going down the rabbit hole,” he said. “I spent the better part of a year down that rabbit hole and when I came out the other side Spit Sputter and Sparkle was born.”
Hawkins wasn’t raised in an overly musical home on all counts, although his father did play classical piano.
“I was born in Toronto and grew up listening to the Beatles and lot of melodic 60s writers and stuff like that,” he explains during a pre-tour chat from his home in Toronto. “I think my strongest point musically is that I have a very good ear – that’s from finding it myself, finding out out how sounds work and getting a sense of just how they go together.
The gift for songwriting began surfacing through his teen years as well.
“I was about 13 or 14 – I had an acoustic guitar and the piano was always there,” he said. He laughs recalling his early tunes as being rather obvious about where his inspirations were coming from. “I wore them heavily on my sleeve.”
Through his teens, he also grew into, “Quite a political guy,” he added, so as his musical identity was forming, his political opinions were as well. And they were influencing his artistry to a degree.
“I discovered bands like The Clash and groups like them, and I think that was the time that my political interests and my desire to make some kind of impact on the world dovetailed with the idea of music.
“I realized that I didn’t have to choose one or the other. And that sort of set a path for the next 10 years of writing that was a little awkward, and a little big ‘P’ political and perhaps not based in my own experiences,” he explained. “The big ‘P’ politics became kind of the smaller ‘P’ politics of having those values and injecting them into my own experiences.”
Many influences have left their mark over the years – particularly folks like John Lennon and Joe Strummer.
“John Lennon for his cocky attitude and playfulness with words. And Joe Strummer because he had all of that but also because later in his life he had a real commitment to social justice. That art can also be an empowering tool – it doesn’t have to be a decadent cultural thing.”
As the 90s dawned, he was coming more into his own and writing more from his own experience – and the results were quickly noted.
“That’s where it really started to resonate with other people. And Lowest of the Low was born out of that. That’s where the mature part of my career started.”
These days, the songwriting process holds pretty much the same amount of mystery that it did back in the early days, he said.
“I think it’s always been a matter of kicking in the darkness. I often compare it to sculpting – you start out with a really amorphous blob. I’m often just sort of struggling away on the acoustic guitar and saying gibberish,” he chuckles. “It’s sort of like that. And then every now and then, I think on a really deeply subconscious level, a phrase might come out.
“That starts to lead you in a direction a little bit, and as the ‘sculpting comes’ you start to see what fits with what you’ve already got and you’re building on that.
“I think that’s what has kept me doing it for so long and what is so fun about it – it’s still almost as much of a mystery to me at 51 as it was when I was 14. All I know is that if I sit down and apply myself it will happen, but I don’t really know what is happening. I just know that it’s this playfulness and this kind of discovery.
“You are sort of given something, or something comes out of somewhere deep inside of you. And once you get that little piece, you start to build a puzzle around it.”
Hawkins was the lead singer/multi-instrumentalist of the legendary band Lowest of the Low – Chart Magazine honoured the group’s 1991 debut album, Shakespeare My Butt, with spots in the top 10 of the Top 100 Canadian Albums of All Time.
In 2008, Lowest of the Low was inducted into the Canadian Indie Rock Hall of Fame and awarded gold records for Shakespeare My Butt.