Hawkins talks rock

Hard-drinkin’, book-lovin’ artist hits Clark

54•40 or fight! Guitarist Phil Comparelli revs up an enthusiastic AJ’s crowd that took in the first stop of the latest tour by Canadian rockers 54•40 on Wednesday night.
Image supplied by: Hendrik McDermott
54•40 or fight! Guitarist Phil Comparelli revs up an enthusiastic AJ’s crowd that took in the first stop of the latest tour by Canadian rockers 54•40 on Wednesday night.

“And you can leave me thinking, drinking all night… ‘cause that’s the sharpest nail…”

Ron Hawkins knows his booze. Since his days as frontman for Canadian favourites The Lowest of the Low in the early 1990s, Hawkins has been serving out his ‘beer, graffiti songs’ like a sympathetic bartender at your local watering hole, spinning literate and engaging tales of drink, heartbreak, communism, and the Spanish Civil War, among other things. How appropriate, then, that Hawkins and his band, the Rusty Nails, have been recruited to perform at this year’s annual Golden Words Beer Brewing competition tonight at Clark Hall Pub.

“I actually used to work at Upper Canada Breweries,” said Hawkins, in an interview with The Journal. “My job was to kill rats. There were all these cases of beer stacked around, and we had to chase [the rats] out and catch them. It was pretty low budget in the beginning. They gave us shovels, and not much else.”

Ron Hawkins has come a long way since his days as a rat shoveler. After an initial spate of media attention surrounding the Low, and the few difficult years that followed, he is once again asserting himself as a musical force to be reckoned with, touring around Ontario to promote the release of his new album, Crackstatic.

“At the peak of the Low, it was really good,” Hawkins explains, “and its starting to get really good again, but for a couple of years there it was pretty hand-to-mouth.

Crackstatic is the second Rusty Nails release, following 1998’s Greasing the Star Machine. All of the Hawkins’ trademarks–clever, driving rock songs, sinuous wordplay, subtle political jibes–are as evident as ever on the disc; however, many of the songs run at a decidedly faster pace than past Hawkins’ efforts. Hawkins credits the new sound to former Change of Heart member and similarly iconic Toronto musician Ian Burton, who produced the album.

“It was great working with Ian Blurton–a match made in heaven,” says Hawkins. “He was instrumental in getting the band to sound as it does. He took the approach that ‘you don’t need to dress it up, just lay it down as it is.’ [The sound] is much more indicative of what we do live.”

Crackstatic’s 14 tracks, while incorporating the jazz and swing influences present on Star Machine, mostly just rock fast, smart and hard. The much-lauded saxophone duo of Christopher Plock and Jason Walters tromp emphatically over punk-worshipping guitar lines and the tight rhythmic fistfight provided by ex-Dig Circus drummer Mark Hansen and recently departed bassist Blitz. And, as always, the lyrics often read like stories of the best, most honest kind.

“I’m a very booky guy,” says Hawkins of the literary influences that thread through most of his work. “I’ve read a lot all my life.” Asked if writing is something Hawkins sees himself doing full time in the future, he explained that he has started writing a novel, but that “records are such a now thing, a youth thing. Fiction seems more like if it matters now, it’ll matter in six years.”

In addition to literature, politics have always been frankly present in Hawkins’ lyrics. The new album, while still exhibiting a stronger political bias than most, spends an equal amount of time treading more personal ground.

“I used to write much more dogmatically,” says Hawkins, describing one early punk venture as “pretty Marxist/Leftist.” “With this record, and even with the Low, it’s been more “let the politics come out of the poetry.”

Be it communist couplets or beer-soaked burlesques, tonight Ron Hawkins’ incomparable style will be on full display. And as the new single, “Bite Down Hard” challenges, “you can frown and kick it over, or you can down a twenty-sixer.” This reporter–and, one is inclined to think, Mr. Hawkins himself–strongly endorses the latter…

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