“HONEY I’M DOING AN INTERVIEW RIGHT NOW! I’LL BE THERE IN A SEC, OKAY?”
If you were harbouring any doubts that Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins had sincerely substituted his former hedonistic wildman lifestyle for one of mature domestic stability, just try interviewing him over the phone. Caught in the middle of some intensive parenting duties, our discussion is occasionally interrupted by the background cacophony of excitable infants with Hawkins breaking off to yell (fondly, I should point out) phrases like “ANNABELLE, COME ON BABY” and “just walk with me okay ‘cos I'm talking on the phone right now, okay guys?”
But if Hawkins’ private life has settled down since the days of partying so hard it nearly killed him, his professional, musical hyperactivity is showing no sign of mellowing. Recorded remarkably quickly in a window of Foos downtime, Hawkins’ latest project is a delightfully uninhibited hard-prog venture complete with bonkers time signatures, Van Halen guitar solos, and feverish attention-deficit drumming.
Having run out of time to record with his usual Coattail Riders group, Hawkins opted to use his Chevy Metal covers band (Hawkins, Wiley Hodgden and Mick Murphy) for this latest self-confessed “personal little self-indulgent record”. Thus, The Birds of Satan were
born hatched. Here’s what Hawkins (vocals, drums, guitar, piano, keyboards...) and his bandmate Wiley Hodgden (bass, backing vocals) had to say for themselves...
So you would describe The Birds of Satan as a self-indulgent record then?
Taylor: Absolutely! 100%! Absolutely indulging myself in every way, shape and form.
I’ve been listening to the record for a few days now and a lot of it is still sinking in. It’s mad, proggy and technical but at the same time really accessible and fun. How do you achieve that balance?
Wiley: Taylor likes, as I do, just good pop-rock songs like The Beatles or The Cars or Cheap Trick but Taylor’s really into prog too. I mean, any song by King Crimson or Genesis or Yes, he’s able to tap out the little drum licks on his dashboard as he’s driving. He knows all that shit. And so his music blends the two.
Taylor: I really just like pop music. I love The Bee Gees and I love Abba and The Eagles and stuff like that but I also love fancy rhythms and stuff and I grew up with the prog-rock of the early 70s, so it’s definitely a mix. Just simple pop melodies and silly self-indulgent rhythms and strange arrangements. That first song is really long and it’s got all these different transitions and crazy parts that fly around everywhere and that was just about having fun, seeing how many ideas we can fit into that song. I’m definitely ripping off all my great loves, ha! I’m glad you like it though. I'm glad it’s had airplay. It must be difficult when someone hands you a record and says “you need to go listen to this for a couple of days and then talk to the person about it”, and then what do you do when you really just don’t like it?
Well, luckily, I did like this one. ‘The Ballad Of The Birds Of Satan’ is probably one of the boldest opening tracks I’ve heard in a while. There’s no holding back on this record is there?
Taylor: It’s really just going bananas. It’s really having fun with my friends and seeing how hard and silly it can be because there’s times when Mick [Murphy] the guitar player would do a guitar solo and I’d be like “well that’s just ridiculous, I would never have asked you to... I would never have let you do that. But it’s kinda awesome too because it’s so ridiculous so, fuck it, let’s just keep it.” I would never have thought to do that crazy Ozzy Osbourne stuff.
Do you think The Birds of Satan are offering something that other bands right now are not offering?
Taylor: I don’t know because to be honest I sort of have my head in a rock or in the clouds. I’m not super-duper familiar with the newest stuff on the radio. I don’t know if there really is anything like that. If anything, we’re offering an honest sound of being in a band. Except for the vocals and a couple of guitar solos there are minimal overdubs and it’s all live, for the most part. I think there are people doing that, obviously, like Jack White. He’s been really strong in bringing that back to music, which I think is great. At the time when it was needed, Jack White was the guy saying you don’t need to have everything perfected. You can keep it raw. And real.
I would never say I’m offering stuff that other people were not offering, I’m not that bold. We are what I can do but at the same time it’s an honest approach to rock ‘n’ roll and although the influences are definitely there they’re hopefully mixed up enough not to shine through too much.
Wiley: It’s funny, I don’t really pay attention to the pop culture anymore. And there’s still really good bands out there. I’m not saying that all the bands suck or anything, I just don’t pay attention to it. I’ll get into a random band that I’ll listen to and be like “oh they're cool” or I’ll check out a band at a festival and buy their album. There’s still bands out there that do the prog thing. But then again, a lot of bands are just prog or they’re just a fall-on-the-floor old fashioned rock band, so I dunno... maybe we’re ‘prunk’.
It says here that the album was recorded in less than a week. How on Earth did you manage that?
Taylor: One of the ways was by recording live. By not sitting there and labouring over every single guitar track and every single bass track and every single drum track. A lot of these songs are first takes, like ‘Raspberries’ and ‘Wait Til Tomorrow’, those were only ever played once. They were written right there in the studio. We ran through them a couple of times and then said, “okay, let’s record” and that was it.
If you think about it, some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time were done that way. Van Halen 1 was done in a week. The first Black Sabbath record, that was made in two days. TWO DAYS! I mean, that’s amazing. THAT’S AMAZING! That’s just capturing lightning in a bottle.
Wiley: Yeah, I was a little intimidated at first. Like, “we’re gonna go in there and fuckin’ nail this shit out” but really I just went in there and as soon as we started recording it was fucking rad. It happened really fucking fast. And it was a lot of fun. I wanna do it again!
Well if it only takes a week...
Wiley: Yeah I know, we can just pop one out. Pop four out a month.
Is that the way you prefer to work?
Taylor: Absolutely. I don’t like to spend a lot of time. I don’t want to be hanging around. I just want to get it done. The quicker, the better. I would go in to do a vocal take and I would be done in an hour. And that’s pretty quick for a vocal. I know some guys who spend their whole day recording vocals and then they come back the next day and they do another couple of takes and then decide “well maybe this could be like this, or maybe...” Well fuck all that. We obviously take a little more care in the Foo Fighters where there’s a lot more on the line. This is just a laugh. But I like making music this way. And I’ll tell you, nowadays in the Foo Fighters we’re actually working a lot quicker. A lot more off the cuff. And I like that.
You should persuade Dave to do the next Foo Fighters album in a week.
Taylor: Well he did the first album in a week. He made that first Foo Fighters record all by himself in one week! That’s probably my favourite Foo Fighters record of all time. Probably because I had nothing to do with it and was sort of just a fan at that point but also because it does have that excitement, shitting up here and there, a couple of off-key vocals here and there, drums speed up and slow down a little bit here and there, y’know, I like that, I really do.
At the same time, I can really enjoy a good studio album. Queen’s A Night at the Opera is a masterpiece and that took six months. The longest they’d ever taken, the most expensive record ever made at that point, spending weeks just on the vocals of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. And you know what? It’s great. Queen 1 was made here and there whenever they could fit into the studio and I love that record just as much. I suppose it takes all sorts, but right now I’m really enjoying this certain approach.
Did you take a similar approach to the lyrics?
Taylor: In this case I really did, because I only had a certain amount of time. I don’t rate myself a lyricist. I don’t know if I'm any good. I look back at some of them, already on this record, and I think, “oh God I could do that better. I could’ve thought more about it. I should’ve tried harder.” I don’t think I’m a great lyricist. I mean whatever’s in there is truthful, you know, or whatever. I do the best I can. It’s a job that has to be done so I get it done. It’s my least favourite part of the job but it has to be done. It’s a means to an end.
Do you have any lyricist heroes who you’d like to emulate?
Taylor: Absolutely. Well, not emulate exactly because I’d never even try to but I think that my favourite lyricists are Perry Farrell, the lyrics on the first couple of Jane’s Addiction records I absolutely adore. They’re weird and kinda psychedelic and silly and a little pretentious and all of those great things. John Lennon, for my money, he’s the best there ever was. I think Sting actually writes good lyrics. A lot of people would disagree with me but I actually think Sting’s lyrics on the early Police stuff, like ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ is sort of making fun of himself, they have the humorous side but they can be dark too and I like that. But I wouldn’t say I emulate any of these folks. You can emulate someone musically much easier, at least for me, than you can lyrically. It would be hard to emulate someone lyrically, I think. I’m literally just getting the job done to the best of my ability. Ha!
Could you tell us a little bit about the album cover art and that trailer that we’ve seen online? What’s the concept there?
Wiley: That’s Drew Hester, our good friend who plays with the Foos as a percussionist. He’s Joe Walsh's drummer too. He’s a really good drummer. Basically, that’s representative of a guy whose life is just fucked up and the opening track sings about this character. He’s just partied too much and can’t get his shit together and that’s the screenshot from the promo and he gets up and looks out the window and sees us, The Birds of Satan, which is a reference to that, not so much anything to do with Satanism, as some people might think.
Who came up with name The Birds of Satan?
Wiley: Taylor came up with the name. I was, like, “rad, cool”. We’ll get calls though, like some lady going, “how am I gonna bring my kids to your concert with a name like Birds of Satan? That’s horrible, I can’t bring my kids to your concert!”
You might get those crazy fundamentalists picketing your gigs because of your Satanic beliefs.
Wiley: I fucking hope so. I would love to have someone picket my concert. I would be so stoked. I saw that movie about The Sex Pistols, The Filth and the Fury, and they had a church picketing their concert and I thought that was awesome. I would LOVE to be in a band that got picketed by them. But, erm, you know, we’re not Satanists.
Is the character with the fucked-up life somebody the guys in the band identify with or is it just an artistic mini-movie?
Wiley: It’s a bit of both. It’s kinda mean to take the piss out of something like that. But Taylor’s had a little dance on the dark side, before. I think we all have. Of course he’s all healthy-mountain-bike-riding lifestyle now. I mountain bike too. It’s really just taking the piss. But I think people can identify with that. We hope people get their shit together. We really do. We're not condoning people fucking their lives up. Or Satanism!
Can we expect The Birds of Satan to tour?
Taylor: I hope we’ll do some shows, I really do. If I have the flexibility and the band is decent enough to get out there and not embarrass ourselves then I think we should. We’ll see. I especially want to come to the UK. Last time I came with The Coattail Riders we played a club called the Scala in London. It holds, like, a thousand people and we sold it out! And I was totally blown away by that. I could never do that anywhere in America with a project like this. There’s something about the UK and the Foo Fighters that has always connected. I don’t know why, it just always has. Before anybody else was there, the UK was there. So, that’s our second home as a band and I feel that’s where I could go more, so I’ll try.
Wiley: We’re trying to put together a little tour. The Foos are going to put out an album and tour so... this is usually the opposite of how a Foo Fighters solo project would be put out. Usually it’s when the Foos are on hiatus. With this one we’ve been touring for the last two years with Chevy Metal and going all over the place and that’s a lot of fun and this just happened really fast, the whole thing. There wasn’t much planning involved, it was just like “fuck it, let’s just fucking do this and put it out”. There’s no plan. We’re gonna play a record release party but currently I don’t even know where that’s gonna be, but I know we’re gonna do one. And then we’re gonna play Jimmy Kimmel in May and we’re talking about getting out and doing a little mini Euro tour at some point but I think we’re just going to do it when they get real breaks and stuff. And then hopefully when they get their next break we’ll just go in the studio for a week, make another album... and then really tour the shit out of it!
The Birds of Satan’s debut album is out now on Shanabelle Records.