Guitar-Driven Roots Rock
Following is a short interview with Freddie Haas, the singer and rhythm guitarist for RedHawks. We talked to him about his band’s music and how they hope to succeed in the music industry.
How did your band get started?
I started out writing songs and playing in a duo with acoustic guitar and vocals. Getting people to pay attention was a bit of a challenge, so we turned the volume up, way up.
How long have you been together and how many people have been in the band?
Five years. There haven’t been many personnel changes. Our former bass player now plays guitar and keyboards and our new bass player has been with us for about six months. With the addition of our new bass player, we now have four songwriters collaborating.
What’s it like to be in a band with the same group people for many years?
My band mates are my closest friends. I think it works because we really try to be kind and patient with one another. We’re good at fostering an environment that allows everyone to contribute equally.
Where do you play?
We play a lot at a pizza place called Cranky Pats in Neenah,Wisconsin. It’s the best venue north of Milwaukee and has amazing pizza to boot. Many great touring bands make it a point to play there and we’re very fortunate be a part of the Cranky’s family. We also play a bit in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Madison.
Who is in the band and what do they play?
The drummer is Thomas Bishop, the bass player is Connor La Mue, on keyboard and guitar we have Jessica Voruda, our lead guitarist is Tate Sampson and I (Freddie Haas) sing and play rhythm guitar.
How would you describe your music?
Folk rock by way of Crazy Horse, Wilco, Tom Petty and the JayHawks. There’s a sprinkle of country music too, if you’re listening real close.
Who are some of your major influences?
My influences are Neil Young and Petty of course, the Band, Gillian Welch and Jeff Tweedy. Some influences of the other band members include: Wilco, My Morning Jacket, The Replacements and Big Star.
Are all the musicians in your band about the same age?
We have a big age range. We have players that are in their teens, twenties and thirties. This has worked out well for us because there a lot of different influences reflected in our music.
How do you plan to succeed in the music industry when so music is downloaded for free?
On some level you want your music out there, outside of you being able to receive income for it. If you get a free song into someone’s hands, they may come back to buy a copy or it might just help build your reputation. I have friends who will make an effort to buy physical copies of music by bands they like, but I know there is a side of the industry where people download stuff for free. You need to be your own promoter, the owner of your music. If that means that you sell 2000 instead of 20,000 records, at least you’re keeping all the money. Producers have told me to “own what you’re doing” and don’t look for help from others. Own what you’re doing and keep it true to your vision.
What’s unique about your band?
Our music is truly a representation of who we are. A lot of bands who claim to be original are really more like cover bands—they use the same chord progressions as other bands and only change the lyrics and music around a little bit. Our music and lyrics are unique because they reflect our own experiences. We don’t use any formulas.
Have you made any records?
We have recorded an EP. We have also been doing pre-production for a full-length album for a year now. We are going into the studio with Dan McMahon, the lead guitar player for Miles Nielsen (the son of Rick Nielsen from the band Cheap Trick) and the Rusted Hearts. He’s going to produce and engineer our record. It should be out by early 2014.
Why have you been working so long on pre-production for the album?
We write songs pretty slowly. We’ve been choosy about what we’re doing. Also, I had my second child last year at this time, which affected my songwriting output.
Why is your band called RedHawks?
The name references “The Band” because they used to be called “The Hawks.” Also, we’re fans of The Jayhawks, and we have a lot of red-tailed hawks in this part of the country.
How are your songs created?
We all write together. I’ll bring in a verse and part of a chorus and some rough sketches for lyrics and then the whole band just digs in and rips it apart and puts it back together. It’s a collaborative process. We’ve found that collectively we make a pretty formidable songwriter. The other songwriters have taught me so much. It brings me so much joy to hear the beautiful parts they come up with. Our success has come from our songs having multiple authors.
Is creating songs together a pretty harmonious process?
Sometimes a band member will fall in love with a part and then it will get cut, which is hard on them, but we’ve all become better musicians as a result of stretching ourselves.
What topics do you focus on when songwriting?
I tend to write about things I’ve experienced, although I might add in some fiction here and there to tie a song together. I write about the struggles of everyday life, having and not having love, pain and suffering and social injustice. Some listeners want to hear songs that are pure fun or throwaway pop, like what’s on the radio, but my songs tend to be dark and serious. My band mates make fun of me because I write everything in minor keys. I like our songs to be low and kind of “growly” and the band adds a little brightness to the music. People have told me they respect my work because they know I’m not putting on an act – what you hear is what I am. The songs are like historical accounts. Sometimes a song will start out with my experience and then I take it to a place where I focus on someone else. Other times, I will critique someone’s behavior and then reflect on how I’m just as bad.
How do people react to your lyrics?
I’m frustrated as a songwriter because people generally have to hear our songs many times to understand what we’re all about. I choose words that work together for the rhythm of the music and that also convey a point. My lyrics are somewhere between poetry and prose.
Can we see a sample of your lyrics?
Sure. Below are the lyrics for a song called “Old Friend.”
What are your goals with this band?
Our goal is to be a force in the Midwest music scene and see how far we can take it. We want to keep writing honest songs and not compromise ourselves. We won’t make sacrifices to be popular.
What else do you hope to achieve with this band?
There’s a thirst for “roots rock” music in this part of the country. I hope that guitar-driven music isn’t dying because of dance music. On some level, we’re trying to maintain our perspective on the music of the past and bring something new to it. We’re doing our part to keep guitar-driven music alive.
How can people find out more about your band?