Hawksley Workman: Releasing His First Album, 10 CDs Later Singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman was 23 when he made his debut record, For Him and the Girls. It made him a star — in his native Canada. Ten years later, he's finally releasing it in the U.S., along with his 11th album.
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Releasing His First Album, 10 CDs Later

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Releasing His First Album, 10 CDs Later

Releasing His First Album, 10 CDs Later

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GUY RAZ, host:

In 1999, Hawksley Workman released his debut album called "For Him and the Girls," and it made him an instant star.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: But only in Canada.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Now, it's taken more than a decade for that album to be released here in the U.S. And as America is being introduced to that first record, Workman has just released his 11th back home in Canada. That one is called "Meat."

Hawksley Workman joins me from the CBC in Toronto. Welcome to the program.

Mr. HAWKSLEY WORKMAN (Musician): Thank you for having me.

RAZ: How strange this must be for you to have to sort of relive your first record from 10 years ago as an introduction to the American audience? What took so long?

Mr. WORKMAN: I don't really know. The record got released in Canada, and I became a darling, in a way, for a minute here. And then shortly thereafter, the French seemed to take to me, and so I spent a lot of time in Europe.

And then 10 years went by, and lo and behold, I didn't really tour or spend the kind of time necessary to make my name known in the U.S., and so we're trying to change all of that now.

RAZ: When you hear that album now, does it - did you sound like a different person? I mean, does it sound like who you are now?

Mr. WORKMAN: No. Guy, it's crazy. You can look photographs of yourself as you age, and all these things that are sure indications of your growth and change, but there's something about listening to your music that it's more revealing, and it's somehow a more intimate lookback at who I was.

(Soundbite of song, "Dont Be Crushed")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) But wave and blow me one more kiss. Youre a dead eye, baby you never miss. There's not much else as sweet as this. I waved so hard I broke my wrist. But don't act broken even when you're broken.

Mr. WORKMAN: I made that record when I was 23. I'd never traveled anywhere outside of Canada. And if I have to relive any record, I reckon that's the one to relive because when you're young and putting out your first record - and I produced a lot of albums, as well, and worked with a lot of young bands on their first records, and it's exciting because you never make your first record every again.

The naivete that you have on your first record looks a lot like courage to the listener. And it's almost when you become aware of yourself, after you make that release, and you start to tour, and expectations come from yourself and the people around you, that naivete sort of drifts away.

You only are who you are when you make a record, and I was a very ambitious kid when I made that record.

RAZ: And you can look at the album cover from that record and the album cover for your latest release "Meat," and it's almost like two different people. You almost sort of look like a young professor, you know, on the first album, with this beautiful sort of vintage suit. And then on the new album, you sort of look like a club deejay about to sort of, you know I mean, just completely different.

I want to ask you about the new album called "Meat." A lot of it is very loud, sort of fuzzed-out rock, but it opens with this delicate ballad. It's called "Song for Sarah Jane," and I want to hear a little bit of that.

(Soundbite of song, "Song for Sarah Jane")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) I believe it is a shame. I believe it is a shame. Stopped the wind before it hit me. A stone died in the sea. You used to catch me lightly, falling like a leaf.

RAZ: This song is so beautiful. Hawksley, this is a heartbreaking song, and it kind of sets up a theme that you hear in other parts of the record, I think, of love lost maybe.

Mr. WORKMAN: Mm-hmm. A relationship had ended. I was in Australia, and the person that ended the relationship was back in Canada. And so I arrived home to a very different life, an empty house, and I knew that I'm inclined to be destructive, I guess. And I figured, well, I'm getting a little older, and I'm sure I could deal with the situation more intelligently.

So I hired my engineer to come up to my house in the woods, where I live, and we camped out for a couple of weeks. And he probably doesn't realize it, but he really took care of me, and I had to make a record that kind of it was about these painful things.

And I'm not so sure that I've ever been quite this honest on a record. And I think that as I get older, I find it harder to edit myself and to hold my tongue if I'm talking about politics or music or wine, or anything like that. I really hear it on this record.

(Soundbite of song, "Song for Sarah Jane")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) But I believe something remains. Yes, I believe something remains.

RAZ: And there are sounds in this song, these sort of natural sounds, creaking, a chair, maybe a door closing. What's the story behind the recording of this song?

Mr. WORKMAN: This brilliant singer named Sarah Jane Morris, a British woman, I had met playing a festival in Vancouver. I was preparing to play a show at Union Chapel in London, England, and I had invited her to come sing with me, but me being me, I hadn't prepared anything. So I thought, well, instead of having her try to learn one of my songs, I would just write a song for us to sing that night.

I recorded it onto a tiny digital recorder backstage, on an out-of-tune piano, while the roadies brought the equipment in. And I just thought the recording was so charming that I would never have been able to capture that. It's really longing, and its - there's a lot of hurt in there.

(Soundbite of song, "Song for Sarah Jane")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) Well, I believe it is a shame. Yeah, I believe it is a shame. This is a song for Sarah Jane.

RAZ: I've read that you really like to spend as little time as possible working on records. You don't like to spend two or three years on a record, and you think that that actually contributes to worst music making.

Mr. WORKMAN: I think that the worst music making thing was something I bribed myself with, feeling that wouldn't I just love to be a Leonard Cohen, who could labor over a stanza for a few years. I think I've grown more comfortable with myself and realized that I don't have the attention span to deal with editing or a whole lot of thinking. So I like what comes out of my body naturally, and I really trust it.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Canadian singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman. His new record is called "Meat."

Hawksley Workman, I want to ask about one of the more lyrically involved songs on this record. It's called "We'll Make Time," and you barely get to take a breath here. Let's listen for a minute.

(Soundbite of song, "We'll Make Time")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) You gotta keep the fire burning every night and every day. I know call me old fashioned. That forever's really true when we say that you're for me. Baby, baby I'm for you. And that the grass is always greener, but you still have to cut it. And the scars you get together are the scars you really covet. And tonight when we are lovers, when we're mucking up the covers. When it's all about our eyes, when we've forgotten all the others. When we're laying there in silence...

RAZ: You really have to read the lyric sheet when you listen to this song, I think, at least for the first time. There's some great, great lines in there. And there's one that really jumped out at me: The scars you get together are the scars you really covet.

Mr. WORKMAN: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: This is a song, I guess, about staying together through tough times.

Mr. WORKMAN: Absolutely. You know, I think that we are led to believe that love its fleeting, but I reckon when you get a little older, and your boat gets battered around a bit, you realize that love is really more a decision, and it's an opportunity to exist with somebody at their best and at their worst. And in doing so, the reflections that you get in one another become the scars that you covet because those are those simple secrets that are yours alone.

And those things are not celebrated in movie love. That's the real stuff that we all fear, that I think is very easy to walk away from. But I guess I'm lucky.

My folks aren't together, but I know people that are together and that are old and together, and their journeys come with their bumps and bruises. And I think that if you are of a mind that you will ultimately celebrate those bumps and bruises, even though they might be years in the making, they will be the things that you celebrate and that you cherish and that will be the character of your relationship.

RAZ: There's another ballad on this record, and I think you may be the first to take on this subject matter in quite such a delicate way. It's called "Baby Mosquito."

(Soundbite of song, "Baby Mosquito")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) Baby mosquito, flash back to past lives. When you were frozen in the amber so deep, there was peace. Its (unintelligible).

RAZ: For a moment, you forget that some of what you're singing about is mosquito larva.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WORKMAN: But just a moment. I have a 50-acre parcel of property in the middle of nowhere, and my rain barrels, you know, I listen to the CBC, and they're telling me that I should be closing them so that I don't get West Nile, but...

RAZ: They actually tell you to close your rain barrels on the CBC?

Mr. WORKMAN: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WORKMAN: There's no end to the public service. But you know, I watch these little creatures, and I was raised to watch the bugs on the leaves and to see the winter birds come and go, and then the summer birds replace them, and then when a moose is in your yard, how exciting that is.

And for me, to celebrate a baby mosquito, I mean, we're all life forms struggling for a moment, you know, of grace in all of this, and there's loveliness in the world, and there's poetry in every moment. And I sort of think that what needs celebrating is the stuff in the middle of the big events, you know?

This is exceptional. This is what makes life so mysterious and exciting.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby Mosquito")

Mr. WORKMAN: (Singing) After you're gone, there'll be blood to be drawn from the sea. And the firefly nights and the bats without light will believe. Oh. And malarial nightmares that keep you from sleep next to me got me down on my knees.

RAZ: That's Hawksley Workman. His first album, from 10 years ago, has just been released in America. It's called "For Him and the Girls." And his latest album in Canada is his 11th. That one's called "Meat."

Hawksley Workman, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. WORKMAN: I don't get to do clever chats like this very much. I so appreciate it. Thank you very much.

RAZ: And you can hear full tracks from that new album at our Web site, nprmusic.org.

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