Overnight success is incredibly rare. Much more common are the proverbial flashes in the pan — artists quickly ascending to critical and popular acclaim, only to have that it revoked as a result of mismangement, creative struggles, or succumbing to the tempting, all-too-prevalent excesses by which so many of the mighty hath fallen.
Iglu & Hartly (a project of Simon Katz and Sam Martin) had such a tale. Formed after the duo met at University of Colorado Border, Iglu & Hartly spent seven years forming their sound, “putting blood, sweat and tears” into the project, as Katz puts it. And the work paid off. By 2008, the group’s single “In this City” picked up airplay in the States and abroad, hitting the #5 spot on the UK charts. Basking in the glow of this deserved recognition, “one day it just came to a screeching halt,” Katz recalls. “We had a top 5 hit in the UK and a few months later it was all over. We didn’t know what to do with our lives. We were dead broke, felt lost, afraid, angry, confused. We didn’t know if we had it in us to start another band from scratch. On top of this we were also going through many negative changes in our personal lives. It was a hard time.”
As it turns out, Katz and Martin did have it in them to start a new band, christened Youngblood Hawke, and the pieces neatly fell into place. “We met our drummer Nik [Hughes] when he joined our previous band for a 3-week tour of the UK. Nik then introduced us to our bassist Omar [Ahmed].” To expand this core, the group recruited Alice and Tasso [Smith], who all grew up in the same San Antonio neighborhood.
Katz describes the band’s artistic vision as “constantly evolving. We tend to blend weird stories and imagery with big, gang choruses; songs that engage the crowd and get them singing along. Those types of songs are the most entertaining for us to play live. We’re always keeping our live show in mind when we write. Every story we write is taken directly from our personal lives. We just like telling stories.”
One of the most powerful of those stories comes in “Dannyboy,” perhaps the most personal track from Youngblood Hawke’s new album, Wake Up. As Katz explains, “Danny Mcguire was a close friend of ours from college who was struck by a drunk driver while he was riding his bike home from a friend’s house. He was in a coma for a long period of time before he eventually passed away. He was one of the first people to inspire me to make music. He taught me so much. Before him I was afraid to sing! He was a beautiful, intelligent, gifted musician. A rare soul. A very close friend. We wrote this song for Danny.”
“Dannyboy” is representative of Wake Up as a whole: buoyant, anthemic, melody-driven, and – despite the challenging circumstances that inspired it, positively charged. Indeed, if there is one theme across Wake Up’s twelve tracks, it’s an overwhelming sense of hope, resiliency, and looking forward (“We Come Running,” “Dannyboy,” “Stars,” “Sleepless Streets”). In preparation for this interview, repeated listens to Wake Up provided the backdrop to a week overwhelmed by tragedy out of Boston, MA and West, TX. While that cultural context may have skewed my perception of the album somewhat, the positive energy that it exudes is undeniable.
Even so, this sense of uplift is at times deceptive. Katz points out the contrast in some of Wake Up’s tracks such as the standout “Say Say.” “We like blending darker stories over happier musical beds,” he admits. “‘Say Say’ is a song about standing by the people you love even when it’s difficult to, even when it seems they’re making your life more difficult with their bad decisions and hurting themselves in the process. It’s a pretty personal song and we’d like to leave the details for the listener to figure out.”
Thinking back to the time period that much of the album developed, Katz cites the writing process as “a cathartic experience,” a means of managing the dissolution of Iglu & Hartly as well as the emotional challenges facing band members in their personal lives; forging the band’s sound and creating Wake Up provided an outlet for the members’ emotional energy. “I don’t think we made a conscious decision to make positive, uplifting music,” he notes. “But looking back we were writing these songs to make us feel better. We were pouring out all the pain in an effort to heal ourselves. I think we made the music we needed to hear at that time. Songs that would inspire us and get us out of the hole we were in.”
From a musical standpoint, Youngblood Hawke has emerged from that hole determined, focused, and powerful. 2012 saw the release of their self-titled EP on Universal Republic, a sort of teaser for Wake Up, as all four of the EPs songs ended up on the full length debut. Most notable was “We Come Running,” emblematic of the band’s penchant for driving, singalong anthems.
“We Come Running” and the group’s debut EP made the rounds, generating what the band describes as “an organic buzz” online. With the album and single garnering interest, Youngblood Hawke continued to refine the tracks for their full length debut, digitally released on 4/23, with a physical release the following week. At the time of this writing, the album is firmly in the top ten of the album charts on iTunes, popularity supported by the buzz generated on social media.
The band has also set out on its summer tour in support of Wake Up, which takes them across the continent over the next two months. Says Katz, “We’re looking forward to playing our new tunes for new people, making new fans. We just want to share our music! The songs are translating well live, and people are really reacting positively to the new tracks. We love traveling around, meeting new people, going on weird adventures, exploring places we’ve never been! It’s hard being away from friends and family but that’s part of the gig.”
With the rapid interest generated by Wake Up at this early date, Youngblood Hawke is well poised for continued success as their reputation grows. From a personal standpoint, Wake Up is one of the best albums I’ve heard thus far in 2013, with its singalong embrace, positive tone, and empathetic production. With the album garnering attention via its digital release, Katz articulates what he wants listeners to take away from the album: “I want people to feel good when they listen to our songs. Hopefully they’re inspired by our messages and weird stories! It’s pretty simple, but we just want people to have a good time and enjoy themselves. That’s what music is about for us.”