Definitely trail-blazers, Hawkwind embody a whole realm of the rock sphere that stands out from the pack: space rock. Droning sounds coupled with marathon jams and interesting left turns all come together to create a career that has lasted since 1969. It was a pleasure to speak with founder Dave Brock recently to discuss the band's newest release Blood of the Earth.
antiMusic: It's a really interesting record and I wish you all the best with it. I guess first off, not quite as long a break as between In Your Area and Take Me To Your Leader, but still long enough was the space between Take Me to Your Future and this record, in terms of studio records, I know there was a problem with your keyboard player a few years back, but was there another main reason behind the delay or did it just take that long for the songs to come together.
Dave: No, I mean, we did a gig in London and we gave away a free CD, which is the stuff that we did with Jason and then Jason died and we decided to actually, for all the passport holders, to actually gave them when they come to the indoor festival that we did over two days, we decided to give everybody a free cd, which would have been part of (laughs) of the studio album. So in actual fact they all got a free copy of the studio album we were doing at the time. And then we had to start all over again really. So that's the reason for the delay. (laughs)
antiMusic: I've been told that most Hawkwind records are based on a theme even if they're not full-fledged concept records. Is there any particular theme to Blood of the Earth and if so, how does it relate to the title track?
Dave: Well there is. I mean, Blood of the Earth being the lava that comes out of the earth of course. And also, you know being weathered by the wind and water and turning to soil, so it's re-generation in a way. Constant re-generation. Some people will listen too and think about what they're doing on this planet and of course, we've got our escape-ism, science fiction and so on. There's a double sort of little story there. Listen, in a way what we're doing is painting pictures with sound and people can make their own minds up. (laughs) Paint their own story.
antiMusic: Right. You've got two older tracks on here, "You'd Better Believe It" (from Hall of the Mountain Grill) and "Sweet Obsession" (from Brock solo Earthed to the Ground). Why did you come back and revisit these two?
Dave: Well, "You Better Believe It", we'd been playing that one live for quite a while now and it's never been actually recorded in a studio because the other version had been recorded live, oh I don't know, some time in the '70s. (laughs). And Sweet Obsession was a track that I recorded on my solo album and Tim had written this number called "Inner Visions" which was about he'd fallen in love with this woman on a (coughs) long story, laughs, but if you read the words you'll get the gist of it. And I thought to myself well, okay, let's put "Sweet Obsession" after "Inner Visions" because they complement each other, you know? (laughs)
antiMusic: Most Hawkwind songs go on a journey of sorts. Even though you have a lot of long jams, you rarely take a linear approach to get to the finish line. For example, "Seahawks" is riding that riff until near the end, it abruptly stops and you go into that tranquil passage that bleeds into the title track. When you're constructing a song, what inside you says that it's time for a departure or even in other cases that an extended solo, flute, guitar, keyboard, whatever is required for that part?
Dave: Well, I suppose really it's just, have I really got time to do these things, you know? It's tinkering, when we record these tracks, quite often, if you've got time, you can cut them up a bit. We're in a day and age now we're using computers and we record all our stuff on the computer now, and we can fiddle around with it. I'll listen to these things and two months later you listen to it again and you think, "Ah, no it's not really good. We'll change that little bit here." It's pretty much like what happens to the football team over here. Actually our English team didn't do very well at the World Cup. (laughs) It's like when you're a manager with a team that always needs some tinkering, that's what we do to music.
antiMusic: What's the most personally satisfying track on Blood of the Earth for you?
Dave: For me? I'm on to something else now. I haven't listened to it since we've done it. We finished it. I haven't listened to it for a few months. I'm off doing other things. (laughs) Probably I'd have to say the title track. I think that's probably it. I would imagine it's quite ferocious, you know, and unusual. It's not the sort of thing most people would put probably put on an album to start with. But if you want to do things to get away from the usual conformity…
antiMusic: Three tracks on the record are written by the other guys collectively and most of the other ones are written solely by you. You've collaborated with other people a lot in the past but at the moment, do you feel you work better by yourself?
Dave: Well, no I do bits with the other members of the band but I don't take publishing credits always. (laughs) I'm an old boy you know? They're young boys. I do my bits and pieces and just keep it within the family. The other ones, for me, I actually keep for my solo projects, where you've got ideas and things and you get on with doing it. but we all do our bits and pieces in lots of these numbers so it's all works out. I've got loads of songs because I've been doing it for years, so quite often I relinquish any rights. So that's the way to do it. (laughs)
antiMusic: Saves internal squabbles down the road.
Dave: Yeah, for me, it doesn't matter any more.
antiMusic: I know you said it's up for interpretation but if Blood of the Earth is represented by lava coming up from the earth, what is the story behind the cover with a ship on water?
Dave: Oh the ship. That's part of our show. We've got a wonderful visual show. and we have 2 dancers that have been working with us. They're really good girls actually, and they're really, really good together. We play a song called "Tide of the Century", one of Tim's songs and the two girls are actually like giant lobsters. They've got these huge great big costumes. And in the song, the longboat comes up through the water and I mean it looks quite spectacular when you watch it on stage. So that's the story behind that picture. It's part of our stage show.
antiMusic: Hawkwind has had sort of a revolving door with members coming and going over the years. From your perspective, has this been a detriment to the progression of the band or is it actually a necessary thing to always have fresh blood and keep stagnation from setting in?
Dave: Well, sometimes you prop people up in this band and other times you get other musicians that are really good and give lots of ideas. It's a constant thing really. And then again, Richard our drummer has been in the band for 22 years…back into the 70s. It's constantly changing because people come and go, doing their bits and get a bit pissed off and bored if we're not working. Which probably happens to loads of bands. I mean any band that goes on for a long period of time…we struggle on, I think is the word. (laughs)
antiMusic: Are you still an avid science fiction reader and are there authors out there that you particularly enjoy?
Dave: Ah, what am I reading at the moment? I'm reading about a book about train journeys around the world actually. (laughs) And what's my other book I'm reading? A book by David Niven I've just started reading; The Moon is A Balloon, I think which is a bit of a piss take on all these goings-on in Hollywood. I do read a lot of science fiction but I haven't found anything lately so that's what I'm stuck with train journeys and reminiscences of Hollywood, so I mean, who knows? What will come out of that? A song maybe? (laughs)
antiMusic: I can only imagine. (laughs). For a guy who started out listening to R&B and Muddy Waters-type blues, how did you get first get interested in the electronic part of the sound that is such a big part of Hawkwind?
Dave: Once I got an electric guitar I suppose. I mean I got myself an electric guitar and echo unit, and then I got a sound that really echoed. You could do a lot of weird things with loops. I mean I used to work in a cartoon studio for a while and we used to make loops, these big long tape loops that would go around door knobs and toilet rolls. And we used to sort of cut things up. Quite interesting. Abstract bits of music really. I used to do that and plunk away on my guitar at the same time. Then from there on I got Hawkwind together and there you are. (laughs)
antiMusic: When you first started working with the oscillators and related equipment, were you more interested in the sound or more so the effect that it had on people?
Dave: A bit of both really. I mean Dik Mik was the man who got the generators together, and he used to have a little card table that we used to play them on. It was quite interesting because high frequency sounds, and low frequency too do make you feel quite peculiar, and we realized that, as we went on like barbarians experimenting, we realized that we could put bottom end rambles that would vibrate things. And we spent a lot of time practicing with headphones on which is quite a horrible thing to happen. If you're listening to the synthesizers and oscillators, and then you take your headphones off and you're in another world, you know. Quite dangerous as well.
antiMusic: Some bands have a three or five-year plan. How does your band work? Do you have long-range plans set out or do you just look at one album at a time?
Dave: No we don't have long range plans. I mean we are actually right now in some respects. We're booking for next year where we never used to that for quite a few years. Now we look at booking things a year ahead and we find out we're going off to Australia or somewhere else. I mean you've got to book all these things well in advance. The same as going to the States. If we come out with a record in America we have to have these dates at least six months prior.
antiMusic: It's been said by many fans on Hawkwind websites that the only true way to experience the band, particularly live is if one is tripping. Would you agree with that statement and what are your thoughts towards mind expansion and in fact drugs in general in 2010?
Dave: Oh not necessarily, now. With the sound frequencies and stuff, I mean yeah. On our first album that's what we said, basically. You can get spaced on sound frequencies, and noises and light show, going through tunnels, black and white tunnels sometimes via a light show. I mean it's all quite a visual sort of experience and you don't necessarily have to take drugs to experience these things. Some do and get wildly excited and some don't and get widely excited as well. I think it's up to the individual. (laughs)
antiMusic: Like the Grateful Dead, Hawkwind has enjoyed a long relationship with their fans, as can be seen with the creation of Hawkfest. Was it your intention all along to foster such a world-wide family of like-minded individuals or since most rock fans are kind of fickle, did you just begin put out the records and not think really think about the wants or needs of a particular audience?
Dave: Well, you do create your own thing, isn't it really. Music is supposed to be an artistic sort of creation. I meant that's what we've done. I mean, it's like a lot of fans say why don't you play such and such a number, why don't you do this, but then it's up to us, you know? It's up to the artist, the creator. Sometimes you don't set out to do things it just happens. It's the same as when we play, some times we're good, some times we're bad. It's life really. You have good and bad days. As long as you try to put on a good show and it's a good experience for people to come to. Then that's what we're trying to do really. I mean it's still fun or else I wouldn't do it. I still enjoy doing these things.
However whenever it's festival time, it's just a nightmare. Whenever we go to do Hawkfest, you have to build a bloody road for this because over in England now they've got a big thing on health and safety. It's because a mummy state. It's really crazy what goes on there. You're not allowed to put your car next to a tent. Ah man, it's a nightmare. With so many laws and regulations put down for a small festival. It really is a nightmare and while you're putting it together you go "Oh God, I wish we didn't have to do this." Then after you've done it, if you've created something fantastic and everybody's happy, you get a lovely glow for doing it. But people don't realize how many months it takes to organize it really.
I mean that's what we do. Last weekend we played in Germany. We played a festival in Germany with Jeff Beck. And all kinds of lovely bands. And it was a great festival. And then we had to fly back to do another festival in England. And then on Monday I opened an academy of music which was quite interesting (laughs) with the local mayor. That was an interesting experience doing that. And this past week I was involved in trying to organize our festival which was constantly this and that and you think I have still have to cut the lawn and do the weeding in the garden, going shopping, doing the usual chores that everybody does. Ah it's quite strange.
Morley and antiMusic thank Dave for doing this interview,