The High Hawks

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Vince Herman unites with old friends to launch his latest band with a mission to ‘throw reality into the face of the listener’

Fox Theatre | October 18
Cervantes Other Side | October 19
Aggie Theatre | October 20

 

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By Brian F. Johnson
Artwork by Alan Forbes

This summer when Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman announced his new project with some old friends, it was a safe assumption that with The High Hawks he’d sort of birthed a new incarnation of his previous side project, Great American Taxi. The new group, in fact, included his Taxi co-founder Chad Staehly as well as the Taxi’s rhythm section of Brian Adams and Will Trask. But despite that Taxi lineage and a cast of usual suspects, Herman explained that The High Hawks are its own new and distinct entity for one very direct reason.

“This is an entirely different beast in that the purpose of this band is to throw reality in the face of the listeners in these really, really weird times,” said Herman during a recent interview with The Marquee. “We’re calling it instrumental protest music with words.”

“One of the main motivations in putting this band together,” he continued, “one of the major things, is that we’re looking at this crazy shit going on and people are bouncing round the room.

These are scary freaking times. We are walking down a dangerous road and the arts have always been the barometer for culture and it’s like the arts are not responding — and part of that is because all of our media and all of the avenues for getting our news are controlled by the guys who don’t want the message to get out. But you know, we have our ways and this is one of the ways to get it out there and get it in people’s faces. And we’re going to have a good time doing it, but you know, the plan is that every night we play, people leave there with some things to talk about.”

The genesis of The High Hawks came when Herman and his old friend Adam Greuel of the group Horseshoes & Hand Grenades were hanging out together engaged in “extracurricular time,” a while back. “We’re twin misters from different sisters — Adam and I — and we thought it would be fun to prompt a bit of that kind of collusion,” he said. With Greuel living up in “Wiscompton” as Herman called it, not far from Staehly, the group’s lineup solidified easily, with Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone also joining the revolution. “It all just fell into place,” Herman said, who explained that The High Hawks got their name because “When they go low, we go real high. Higher than a hawk, because you’ve got to have vision from above to see what’s going on. You’ve got to have some clarity these days and rise above the smokescreen that’s being poured out every minute from our screens. You’ve got to rise up to see what’s going on and that sums up our mission,” he said.

Herman was in full “homework time” when he caught up with The Marquee, explaining that he was in the middle of a three-day writing spree for both Leftover Salmon— who are headed into the studio shortly to record some new material — and The High Hawks, with less than a month to go before their debut run of shows. Herman, a devotee of Col. Bruce Hampton who taught him to leap and to trust that he’d eventually find a parachute, laughed about the backwards way The High Hawks were rolled out. “Well you know, we got the posters and we got the logo and some shows and now we just need some stuff to play. At this age dude, I don’t have that kind of time to waste you know,” he said. “It’s really fun to book the dates and get the times together and see what happens to it. I don’t go in with any preconceived perceptions as to how it will work next year, but you go in you play the shows and see if there’s a spark, and if there is you fan it.”

And with fanned flames in mind, the outspoken critic of the president, admitted outright that The High Hawks wouldn’t be performing at any Trump rallies, but also pointed out that part of the vision of the group is to stop the division and figure out what we as a society, and a species even, share in common. “The biggest problem we’re facing is that we can’t control the flow of correct information in our society. There’s just bullshit flying everywhere and there’s no way to get the cat back in the bag. Our elections are manipulated. We’re manipulated with every ad, every screenshot, every feed on our Facebook, you know? We’re being guided and poked and prodded and I don’t know how to get the cat back in the bag to have some sort of legitimate information flow amidst all of the bullshit,” he said.

As an interesting side note, Herman explained that a few years ago when he penned the Leftover Salmon song “House of Cards” for the band’s Something Higher LP, producer Steve Berlin suggested that the song — which features the line, “This is not normal/This has got to end/This is not normal/Love is going to win again” be made a bit more abstract. “‘These people will be gone next week,’ Steve said. ‘Make it more abstract instead of naming names.’ But unfortunately, it’s still too damn relevant,” Herman said

Herman might salute a tie-dyed freak flag as much as he does the Stars and Stripes, but by honoring both, his patriotism is unquestionable, and his outlook for the future remains filtered through love-colored glasses. “We’ve been training for this for a couple hundred years. Our country can survive this, our world can survive this, more importantly. We’ve got to see how we’re being manipulated, cancel out the hate and division, find the humanity and work on saving the planet and ourselves with clarity and vision, unobscured by the shit that they throw out every day. And we can do that because you can trust your innate sense of what is right and what is good even in the darkest of times and I believe in good over evil. That’s how the score works in my book.”

While The High Hawks themes are clear and their musical pedigree makes it fairly certain that their musical style will fall somewhere within the broad spectrum of Americana, Herman said that the music could, in fact, sound like some old country tunes blasting from crackling speakers on the other side of the aisle. “If you’re throwing out political shit to a mixed crowd, you better do a George Jones tune before you lay it on, and then maybe a little Dwight Yoakam after — put some bread on that sandwich and make it a little bit easier to digest that ‘Alright, these guys are politically-ranting hippies, but damn they do a dang good George Jones tune.’ We’re going to reflect some old country styling and have some music costumes and we’re going to have some style,” Herman said. “Instead of rehearsing, we’ll probably just go out and buy some matching suits.”

Fox Theatre | October 18
Cervantes Other Side | October 19
Aggie Theatre | October 20

Go If You Dig:

  • George Jones
  • Great American Taxi
  • Hard Working Americans
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