Modern psychedelia would not be what it is without Hawkwind. In fact, it’s debatable whether it would be at all. The UK outfit, now in its 41st year of interstellar sonic exploration, so much embody the genre of space rock that their name is practically interchangeable with it. You do not have space rock without Hawkwind. It is that simple. Everyone who’s come since has been influenced by them, and they all know it.
Blood of the Earth (on Plastic Head; review here) is the first Hawkwind studio release in half a decade. Kind of a big deal. The band, centered around lone original member Dave Brock on vocals, guitar and keyboards, consists of drummer Richard Chadwick, bassist/vocalist Mr. Dibs, guitarist/bassist Nial Hone and keyboardist Tim Blake replacing Jason Stuart, who died of a sudden brain hemorrhage in 2008. On Blood of the Earth, their will to push deeper into rock and roll’s uncharted galaxies remains strong, and it was a thrill and an honor to be able to discuss the band, the album and how Hawkwind has changed over the years with Dave Brock.
After the jump, please find the ensuing Brock Q&A. Special thanks to Jon Freeman for making this happen, and, you know, to Hawkwind for kicking ass lo these many years.
Amidst barking dogs, shoddy international lines and a newly rebuilt home studio, we find Brock in jovial spirits, eager to share a laugh…
It’s been 41 years. What keeps you going?
If it’s fun to do it. There’s ups and downs playing music, of course, but if we enjoy doing what we’re doing, we like to do our shows, and we’ve got an interesting set of musicians, some good dancers, a good lightshow. If it’s fun like that, I’ll keep going, I think. I do have my days where I’m fed up with it all (laughs).
Do you hear bands now and say to yourself, “Oh yeah, I remember when we did that, 35 years ago?” Are you aware of the massive influence Hawkwind has had?
Yeah, I do. We’ve got a festival coming up called the Hawkfest, and we get about 500 CDs from lots of different bands, young bands, and we listen to them all. I wish we’d pick about 40 or 50. There’s some really interesting bands around. Yeah, of course you get these influences, but there’s a lot of interesting music around, it’s very diverse now.
I wanted to ask about Hawkfest. What goes into the process of choosing the bands?
We narrow it down. Say we’ve got 400, then we get to 200, then 100. We’ve got three boxes, “Yes,” or “No” or “Maybe,” and we sort through them. You’ve got to give everybody a chance, so what we do is try three tracks on a CD. You can tell. Sometimes people are awful, but other times there’s fantastic stuff. You’ve got to give everybody a chance. It’s an interesting task. Some of these bands, you listen to the whole CD because they’re really good. I think “fucking hell.” Here’s this little local band and around their town they’re not really well known, but they go in the studio and write a fantastically interesting CD. You listen to it and think, it must be really frustrating that people have got a lot of really good ideas musically, and it is hard to actually plug away. That’s what you have to, really, is just keep plugging away. Like we do (laughs).
You’ve worked with so many different players over the years. Have you found that incarnation of Hawkwind has a dynamic that’s its own?
Yeah, well with different people in and out of the band, there’s usually different influences. It makes it interesting. Yeah, we’ve got Dibs, and we’ve also got Nial, who plays bass as well. Nial is quite a lead bass player, and it makes it interesting, because Dibs plays bottom-end, holding a regular [line], while Nial will play all over the place, and I’m playing guitar in the middle of it all. It does make it quite interesting. At the moment you’ve got another interesting cycle that we’re going through. With the death of Jason, our keyboard player, a couple years ago, there was a real big gap. We really missed him, actually. He was in the band for five years, and you get used to different guys playing. Jason’s keyboard stuff, he used to do some really good stuff that we used to rely on, and all of a sudden he dies. We really miss him, musically, as well as our friend. We did a thing last week, we dedicated this pagoda in the local pub where we drink, and we dedicated this nice space to Jason.
Are you creatively reinvigorated by new players, or is it a pain finding people?
As I speak, we were just recording some stuff, and I haven’t been in there to see what’s going on (laughs) for the past two hours, so I don’t know what we’ll be doing. Hopefully I’ll feel invigorated by their wonderful musicianship (laughs). You can always hope. Sometimes it happens, other times it doesn’t. It’s a strange little business, an odd life, being a musician.
What are you working on?
We’re just mucking around, really. We just unplugged everything in the studio and it was all re-plugged in differently, and today’s the first day after about four days of unplugging and plugging back in that we’ve got a different setup, so we just turned it on, and hopefully it’ll be easy to operate and fun. Tim’s just gone back to France today as well, so he’s off to France to his house.
The new songs on Blood of the Earth. Do you guys write as a band, or is it you?
We’ll do some. Everybody’s written bits and pieces, actually. You do your ideas sometimes, and the band is telling me, “Why don’t we just play that?” When you’ve got a studio, you can just record everything yourself nowadays. On the computer, you just play in. I can play keyboards and bass and guitar with drum loops and off you go (laughs). You do these things sometimes and then the band come along and do it exactly how it is, or you change things. Other times we jam around things. We’ll cut sections up as we play sometimes and make it into something. All hands on deck, quite often. But being the captain of the ship, I try to keep an eye on them (laughs).
Do you prefer to write on your own, or do you like that jamming process?
Now everyone had his own studio, so everybody goes off and does their thing and comes back and downloads it into the computer and we play along. Now you can play along with these things, so it’s quite fun. You can just play along with fantastic loops and often I play my synthesizer and add lots of noises. It’s quite fun.
So are you always writing, then?
Not always. After this album, we have to rehearse, because we’ve got quite a few festivals that we’re playing at this year, so we have to rehearse the next two weeks because we’ve got a festival in Germany, then another one in Britain, then another one in France. You’ve got to rehearse at least a couple of weeks before you do these things. And we went to London, where we got the Mojo award, which was quite an interesting experience. We’ve got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing going, so it’s quite interesting at the moment. We’ve got that. We live way out in the country, we’re quiet characters, so you go up to London and do the red carpet. It was like the Oscars (laughs). It was really quite fun. We very much like to spend a lot of time together.
Does it feel strange to you to do that kind of thing, to be honored like that?
Well, it doesn’t happen very often, you see (laughs). We had a real good time. We enjoyed it. It was fun. We were all there. Everybody who was in the band got up on the same stage, not just me. It was quite fun. You’ve got loads of photographers yelling at you, “Over here!” “To the left!” (Laughs) Alright for a while.
With Blood of the Earth being your 20-somethingth studio album, do you have records you’ve made that you don’t remember?
You remember all of them. It’s like doing a graph. Some you like and other ones you don’t think the band were playing that well, didn’t sound that good, whatever. You’ve got B-numbers instead of A-numbers. It’s like paintings, doing albums. In a way, they’re like pictures with sounds, really. You’re trying to paint a picture for somebody to listen to, somebody take them off and words they can relate to and make life a bit interesting, or think about what’s happening. It’s a gift, really.
Do you do the actual recording of the albums in your home studios, separate?
Yeah, we do. Well, here we’ve got quite a big place and we’ve all got our spots and off we go, happily recording to see what happens. Just like that, we’re all together playing. We’re actually there (laughs), playing happily away. It’s like a workshop, really. You’ve got everything going on, and people are coming and you’re all wearing headphones and you can switch your headphones to each individual thing people are doing, so you can hear what’s going on, but you walk into the room, total silence (laughs). It’s quite off-putting, people are going “What’s going on in here?” and we’re sitting and playing guitar with headphones on, and someone else’ll be twiddling away on the keyboards and you can’t hear them.
What do you think of the synth technology now?
It’s really quite interesting, because most people can write their own music if they want to. You have to master computer technology, and get different musical discs that let you call up any keyboard and play these things in, and make up your own songs and tunes. It’s given a lot of people usage. You can be creative. Like giving paints and brushes to people that can do their own paintings, letting them create sound. On your computer, you can make up your own sounds and make up your own lightshow. It’s more fun doing a concert where there’s a lot of people united in what’s going on, it makes it more fun, but you can do the same thing and it’s quite fun to do it yourself.
There are a couple tracks on Blood of the Earth that revisit older material. What’s it like for you to go back and reinterpret songs?
Oh, it’s no problem, really. Normally, with “You’d Better Believe It,” it just so happens Dibs sings that one, but he wasn’t here, so I said, “Well, I better sing it,” and it was okay, so we just kept it like that. When we play live, Dibs sings it and I just do the harmonies. These odd things (laughs). We try and make them a bit different, go off on a tangent in the middle. There’s loads of different bands that do cover versions. Just recently, there was the Triad album that came out. Hawkwind Triad, with three different bands recording different versions. But their versions were very similar to the ones recorded in the ‘70s. I love albums that other people have done, loads of different bands doing cover versions. Some of the cover versions are fantastic, because they’re different. Familiar, but they went off on tangents, which is really what you should be doing. It’s an art form. It’s like being a jazz musician. You elaborate around a theme. It’s the same, I would assume, that copies one of our old tracks. Do it totally different. Similar, but they’re way, which is creative. It’s alright, but we did one of Syd Barrett’s songs – there was a CD and they asked us if we’d do one of Syd’s songs – so we did it totally different from the original one. We listened to the original and did it differently. That’s what I think other bands should do. Ad lib your way through these things and make it interesting.
Are there any plans to tour the US at all? Any chance of dates?
Yeah. There’s a great possibility actually that we might be doing some dates over there. I do believe in November or the end of February next year, somewhere around there. It takes a long time to get visas, apparently, so probably early Spring, I would say. We’re doing Europe in November, Britain in December, US would be the beginning of Spring, end of February, somewhere around there, I would think. Just getting visas together is a real titan of a task. We’re being inducted into the Hall of Fame (laughs). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Next year we should be (laughs). We’ll see. That’s if we can get to America, you see.
Any other releases coming out this year?
Actually yes, there is. I’ve got a solo thing coming out, a book of poems, and I thought, well, what I’ll do is put a solo-ish CD, which has got Richard and some of the band playing on it, I’ll stick a CD in there. It’s called Looking for Love in the Lost Land of Dreams (laughs). It’s really different poems and stuff. Late in the year I believe that’s coming out. Hopefully November, December maybe, with a bit of luck. I’ve got to assemble all my pieces of paper, get some of my artwork together, make it look really profound, when the album’s all finished. There’s a huge back catalog came out over on Cherry Red Records, which are going right from 1976-1997. There’s a lot of things going on right now for us, actually. Cherry Red just bought all my solo stuff. For old chaps, we’re quite happy sometimes. It’s a nice thing. It’s a bit like when the old blues musicians used to come over to Britain, you’d get Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee or Muddy Waters over, get these tours together, and you’d go see them, and think, “Fucking hell, they’re fantastic.” That’s how it is when we play sometimes, a similar thing for older bands.Gods, Hawkwind, Plastic Head, UK