Beauty seems most attractive when it’s unattainable. The unknowable and unachievable are always alluring.
Hawksley Workman has experienced his fair share of longing. After more than a decade in music, he still feels in between things, he says.
“The title suggests I’ve realized I’m never going to be satisfied with anything,” says Workman, calling from his home outside Huntsville, Ontario. “I’m never going to feel settled. I’m always going to be critical of myself and what I do. I’m always going to be thinking about the next thing as soon as I finish what I’ve been working on.”
Workman released a small pressing of Before We Were Security Guards (1998), followed it by For Him and the Girls (1999) and then garnered critical support with the 2001 album (And last night we were) The Delicious Wolves. That same year, Almost A Full Moon and Puppy (A Boy’s Truly Rough) bolstered his discography and grew anticipation for the next release.
In 2003, the artist took a tougher rock stance with Lover/Fighter. The record fell short of the industry’s yardstick of commercial success and left Workman, he says, pondering his potential. The pensiveness resulted in a stripped-down, acoustic release in Treeful of Starling in 2006. Almost lullaby-like, this hopeful yet sober collection contrasts with the bold, boisterous performer who once seemed fuelled by alcohol and existentialism.
He questions vanity on “Prettier Face,” interrogates religion on “What Would You Say To Me, Lord?” and romanticizes a tree farm (“All the Trees Are Hers”).
With Between the Beautifuls, Workman moves further away from his past musical tumbles and carnival-esque moods. Produced by Andre Wahl, the 12-track album is slicker-sounding than previous outings, which may catch some listeners unawares. The overall sound could be the result of Workman producing other artists, including Tegan and Sara, Sarah Slean and Serena Ryder, and seeing first-hand what can be done.
The artist recently went all the way east to produce Newfoundland’s Great Big Sea and rising pop-orchestral group---and Newfoundland natives---Hey Rosetta! Both bands had requested the rural-Ontarian’s musical expertise for their forthcoming albums.
“Oh, Newfoundland is brilliant,” Workman says. “I was so inspired by it, I mean, in my opinion, there are two truly great cultural forces in Canada. One is Quebec and the other is Newfoundland,” he says. “The rest of English Canada is less defined. There is such a distinct voice that is Newfoundland and there is such a distinct voice that is Quebec and that distinction isn’t as clear anywhere else.”
The way music insinuates itself into life in St. John’s caught his attention: “I feel that music is just a part of people’s existence there. Like on a Tuesday night you can walk down Water Street and hear guys playing traditional music in pubs, not just one pub. Every pub. It’s unbelievable.”
Workman swore off liquor throughout his stay in St. John’s. Working on someone else’s art, he says, is something he approaches with great seriousness.
“You can fuck around with your own record and at the end of the day you only have to please yourself. But with somebody else’s record you are being paid to do a job and it’s very high pressure. It’s a job where if something is going wrong, it’s your fault. I learned a lot from Great Big Sea, I learned a lot from Hey Rosetta! They taught me a lot about spirit, a lot about intention---just all sorts of things about life, music, and about perspective.”
Currently Workman is touring throughout Canada and Europe with Halifax musical arranger and member of Heavy Blinkers, David Christensen, violinist Jessie Zubot; and his long time collaborator, the mysterious Mr. Lonely.
“He and I don’t go anywhere without each other, we’re essentially married now, which is lovely. I am touring with a band, but not a conventional rock n’ roll band. I’m touring with an unconventional...I’m not even sure what to call it yet. They are all living at my house right now. We’re diligently rehearsing every day.”