Hawk Nelson

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This week Daniel from the always popular band Hawk Nelson and I got to chat about their career after former lead singer Jason Dunn’s departure, their highly successful new album Made, and some very interesting stuff… like signing between a fan’s belly buttons. That’s right plural.

Lee: First off, let’s talk about the new record Made. It’s been out for a few months now, so how do you feel it’s been received?

Daniel Biro: It’s kind of interesting. I feel like it’s been received super well. There’s a bunch of new people discovering Hawk Nelson through it. There’s a new single doing really well on the radio called “Words.” It’s kind of like a new start for the band. All in all, it’s kind of great.

Maybe you know, like a lot of us, that this music industry is changing. So, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. In terms of how all records are selling as a whole. We’ve definitely had a lot of support for the single. It’s kind of overwhelming. We’ve never had so much support for a single before, so it’s kind of a whole new start.

Lee: With this album you made the evolution away from Pop-punk. It’s an evolution that fans have talked a lot about. Is this new sound something fans can expect to stay or will you be playing around with some of your “old” sounds on your next effort?

Daniel: Well, we went through a massive change in the last two years, where our former singer Jason moved on. And our guitarist, Jonathan stepped up to the plate. And, with that, you’re just going to get a new style of writing, influence, and… something I love about John is that he’s very intentional about what he wants to accomplish. So, he’s not your typical lead singer with pride or that… “lead singer syndrome” that we kind of associate with that role. He’s hard working. He co-wrote like 50 songs before this album. He knew he wanted to take this album in a poppier way that would appeal to more people and not so much a sub-genre. So, it was very much meant to be the way it sounds.

Moving forward, we’re probably going to take that same intentional approach and I think we’re talking about having a little more energy on the next record. Which is fun to think about.

Lee: Now, a lot of our readers criticize… not necessarily your genre, but a lot of other genres… for becoming stale at some point. What do you think the state of that pop-punk-rock sound is in general as a genre?

Daniel: I think that’s kind of a rut that we fell into ourselves. You know, ourselves growing up in the late nineties with all those bands from Blink 182, Mxpx, Green Day… That was kind of the top punk era, that was awesome. Now, to have these bands come out of that now, from Fallout Boy to Hawk Nelson and stuff like that… but, the last few records Hawk Nelson had done, kind of in the later 2000’s, it did feel a little stale. Maybe we were just holding on… so, with this last record Made, I feel like we hung up the towel on that and had a new start. Which is kind of refreshing.

Lee: Speaking of “refreshing,” how do you keep your songwriting fresh and relevant? I know you touched on this with the vocalist change, but just in general, how do you keep the new wind and new fire coming?

Daniel: I feel like the struggle for a lot of artists is that. I think that the enemy is comfort. When you’re comfortable, you’re just not really that creative. For me, at least, I find…. when life isn’t going perfectly, or there’s inner turmoil, or stuff with the band, or family drama… those are the things that really kind of inspire you to seek God and all of a sudden gives you content for your creative outlet.

For us, losing a singer and trying to figure out if we were even going to be a band, as well as a lot of stuff going on with our families. I think, like with all of the stuff you talked about going on there in Moore, Oklahoma, there’s never a shortage of content provided to us to cling to God. That’s just what we were going through. So, it was just kind of fresh on us this time around. Now, what can I say about the future? I don’t know, but I think there will be more than enough between us and our fans and everything that’s going on around the world to cover us.

Lee: With Jonathan transitioning in, do you think its kind of difficult for him in singing some of the older songs? Does he feel the need to adapt that to the newer style?

Daniel: Actually, that’s an interesting approach. All bands take it a little different, right? Like Flyleaf had a singer change. Three Days Grace has done it. So, with us, we decided to take some of the old, kind of some of the ones that people want to hear, but then let’s transition in some of the new stuff that were even more excited about. I believe that, for a band to really prosper, it’s all about the vision for the future and clinging to that.

It’s interesting, we were playing about half and half in the last year as the transition was going on. But, then, we just put our fall set together. We’re going out with Building 429, The Afters, and Finding Favor, and we realized that there is not a single old song in the set, it’s all off the new record. And, it’s not like we’re running from the past. It’s just like, “that was awesome, but let’s focus on the future.”

Lee: That’s cool. It’s funny that you mention the transition with Flyleaf. One of the conversations that always seems to pop up on sites like ours is about when a band loses a key member (and often especially the lead singer) is whether the band should rebrand, disband, or keep the name… obviously you guys continued on as Hawk Nelson. Was there any conversation as to whether it was time for you guys to rebrand or rename the band, or whether it was the right decision to keep going just as it was?

Daniel: Yeah, that was our entire conversation for like 12 months. It’s never an easy decision either way. There’s never a right or wrong. I think every band is different and unique, and every band has a different perspective. Because sometimes… often times in fact, the lead singer isn’t the chief song writer or vision caster for the band. Sometimes they are. Lots of times key members do leave, but there is a desire in the rest to continue to pursue music, because there is a genuine love there.

It’s really tough, because, there’s an association with the past if you keep the name, but there’s also, I feel like, a value to what a band does… if a band works hard for ten years, or whatever… it’s funny, when we named the band Hawk Nelson, there wasn’t such a thing as Hawk Nelson. If you looked online and Google searched it, there was no person, there was no nothing… and the dot com wasn’t taken. So, it’s just so weird how Hawk Nelson kind of has an identity now. Whether it’s fun or Christian or whatever, I felt like there was a value there to keeping that. But, the rebranding isn’t coming from the name side, but from the songwriting side.

Lee: I always wonder with that, because you know… with bands like the Newsboys. I can’t tell you if there’s even an original member, or at least original as of the Peter Furler era, left. It’s one of those ones where the fans laugh and say are they the Newsboys are they the Tait-boys? But, I think you guys are in a much different situation.

Daniel: No, we had those same conversations about those same bands. We actually did a show with the Newsboys two days ago. And we were like man, I’m confused. They’re the Newsboys because they’re playing Newsboys songs, but then for an encore they did “Jesus Freak” because Michael Tait is the singer. It’s different, because it’s not the past, it’s not fifteen years ago. But, they put on one heck of a show.

I was like, these guys are probably a decade older than me, at least, possibly two, and these guys are kicking my butt. So, I’m not going to judge them. They just do their thing. I think we all maybe think that we have a better approach, but I’m not in their shoes, so…

Lee: We had some people ask about how much responsibility Trevor McNevan (from TFK) had in the formation of the band and your signing to Tooth and Nail?

Daniel: Oh yeah, Trev is just an amazing amazing amazing man. I love him like a brother. His band TFK got signed first to Tooth and Nail records. I think it was like, they were touring in the U. S. they came home (to Canada) for Christmas and we were like “Trev, Trev, Trev, you’ve gotta hear our band.” We gave him the demo and I remember him thinking, “Ok, I’ll work with you guys, but we really need to work on your song writing.” And we were like, “sure.” We really didn’t understand the art and craft of song writing that he had already developed.

He is just a huge influence on us early on. He was definitely the reason we were able to get a good start. And then, over the years he’s been a solid example, a great guy. He’s not so much involved anymore from a band perspective, but, I mean, I’d take a bullet for that guy. And not just because of his involvement with the band. He’s a solid character… He’s awesome.

Lee: Speaking of the Tooth and Nail side of it. A lot of fans were asking what happened with that contract. Did it expire? Did you just want out of it? You know, if you don’t mind talking about that.

Daniel: Yeah. It was one of those things where we had signed a deal with Tooth and it was for five records. We did those five records and that was great. Honestly, we owe a lot of credit to them, as well. Without them nobody would know who or what Hawk Nelson is. They worked their butts off for sure. But, it was time for us to start this new phase for Hawk Nelson, we felt like we wanted to own our own music and just distribute it through someone.

The new label we’re working with called Fair Trade, they allowed us to do that. There’s a lot more freedom in it and though that was a great great chapter, we’re looking to the future.

Lee: Are you going to continue to use them and are you going to do more with the fan funded (Kickstarter) route?

Daniel: We had a really awesome successful Kickstarter for this new record. It was kind of in-between when we were done with our Tooth and Nail contract and before we got this new deal. We weren’t sure if we should go on. We thought it would be a really good gage. We could do this fan funded project and see if we do have the support. A) We could see if we could really raise the money to produce this record, but B) we could use it as a tool to see if people really want to see us go on or not.

When we got the support, we were able to do the record, and that was a huge huge huge answer to prayer. We got the support and felt like God was opening another door. So, let’s do this. Next time around, I don’t know if we’ll want to pass that burden on to the fans again.

I think it was fun. We got to do a lot of unique phone calls and personal letters. Those things are really special. I don’t know if that’s the plan going forward. I think we’d like to just actually work hard and save up and fund the record ourselves to give it to our fans.

Lee: We had a few questions revolving around the guest personalities you had on the album, and I figured there would be plenty of them, but mostly all of the questions centered around “Words.” Questions talking about Bart. “What was your experience working with Bart on ‘Words’ like?”

Daniel: Basically, when our former singer, Jason, quit, we were on a tour with Mercy Me, called the “Rock and Worship Road Show” and everybody knew what was going on and Bart pulled John aside, who was our guitarist at the time and he was like, “I think you need to be the guy. I’ve heard your solo records. I think you need to step up. You can do it. Just man up and try it.”

It was the first time that John had really heard that. It hadn’t crossed our minds. We were talking with other singers and trying to work out what we could do to continue as a band. It never occurred to us that we could continue as a band with the guys we were already in a band with. Bart kind of helped open that idea into our minds.

If anyone knows Bart, he’s just a huge huge encourager with his words. He didn’t actually write the song. We actually wrote it with Matt Hammitt of Sanctus Real, who’s a friend from early touring days, and with Seth our producer. It felt like something special. When we decided we wanted a guest vocal on it, to share the impact, right away John thought of Bart. He said, “Bart, you owe me one, because you set this whole thing in motion.”

Lee: How do you feel that “Words” has been received both on the radio and in the Christian market?

Daniel: “Words” is a great song, not because it’s Hawk Nelson or because it’s Bart singing on it… To me, it’s a great song because it speaks to all of us, including myself. It’s not a Hawk Nelson specific message. It is a specific Biblical God’s truth and it’s straight out of the BIble. How we use our words… to build people up or to tear them down… and “out of the heart the mouth speaks”… So, when I’m driving in traffic and that guy cuts me off, I’m reminded by our own song to take captive my thoughts and my words.

It’s been received super super well. At almost every show we have someone come through the line and say, “thanks for that song it really helped me and I passed it on to my teenage daughter… or my youth group…. or yada yada…” I take no credit whatsoever for that song, it’s its own thing. It’s out of control.

Lee: What’s one of the most touching stories you’ve heard… not just even that song, but what people have said from that song or even the new album in general?

Daniel: There’s a neat story that happened about two years ago now. This is not really due to us or anything, but this girl came through the signing line with some friends and she was… there was something different. She was wearing a bandana over hear head, and she took it off and she asked, “Can you sign my head?” And, she was bald and was going through chemo therapy for cancer. And, it was just so crazy. And, so we signed her head, even though I felt, “Whoa, I’m doing this.”

And, like a year later this girl comes through the line, don’t know who she is and she has a full head of hair… and it’s the same girl and she’s been healed from cancer. And she just wanted to thank us for our part. She said, “You know, I’ve listened to Hawk Nelson through different parts of the treatment.” To me, that was just insane to see the transition. I didn’t feel like I really did anything, but you never know how your music is encouraging people behind the scenes and from day to day. That was just weird to be a part of that. It was an honor.

On a lighter note, people are always asking me, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever signed?” And one time this dude was like, “Hey, can you sign between my belly buttons?” And we were like, “What?” So, he pulled his shirt up and sure enough he’s got two belly buttons about four inches apart, so we signed in-between them.

Lee: Wow, um… that would be really interesting to do.

Daniel: It was super awkward. I’ll never forget it.

Lee: Wow, well if they ever make a movie of your life, that scene is definitely going to be in there, then. So, when are you guys planning on starting work on the follow up record?

Daniel: To me, it’s not about making stuff quick, it’s about making stuff that you’re proud of. So, there’s no rush, but at the same time we have started talking about it. John’s already got a few songs written. He’s doing a lot of co-writing. He’s doing a lot of solo writing as well. I’m starting to like his solo writing better than his co-writing, so that’s a good thing.

Yeah, we’re talking about recording next summer-ish. It’ll probably be out in like late next year 2014, or early 2015. But, like I say, only the first single “Words” has been to radio, so… it’s still early.

Lee: We had a couple people ask, “How come there are so many co-writers attributed all the way back to Letters to the President?”

Daniel: It’s interesting, people will see it differently. I see it as that it’s an awesome honor/privilege to be able to write with all those different artists. I think that “iron sharpens iron,” and it makes a better thing overall. You get better songs. Some people don’t feel that way. They feel like you’re not as true of an artist or aren’t true to yourself. To me, that’s just always been a part of our band and the DNA of who we are. We think that we’re stronger when we sharpen each other and when we lean on each other. For us that’s been a strength to our band and not a weakness. Plus, it’s really fun, getting to work with a lot of the artists that you look up to.

Lee: Are there any of those bands that you’d like to see yourselves touring with in the near future?

Daniel: Yeah, honestly, I would love to tour with pretty much anyone at this point. We took a year off while we were recording the record, so… yeah, Building 429 are taking us out this fall with the Afters. I don’t know, Mercy Me are always super cool and fun guys to tour with every time they take us out on the road. I would love it if they would take us out again.

Um. Coldplay? Should I just shoot for the stars?

Lee: One of the questions was very future-centric along the lines of what do you see for the future of Hawk Nelson and where do you see yourselves in 10 years time?

Daniel: I think that’s kind of… still too hard. I believe in goals and setting expectations, but for us… we weren’t even sure if we were going to… we thought we were going to be dead (as a band) about a year and a half ago. But, now that we’ve decided to go on, it’s great and it’s a brand new start. We’re almost in the baby phase.

Picture a baby from like ten years old and it’s mind boggling. We’re just taking it one day at a time. We know we love doing it and we feel that we’ve got a great platform that this record “Made” relauched the band… I don’t know how to answer that. We’re not going to be presumptuous and say, “we’re going to be the sickest band in the world.”

Lee: There was kind of a flip side to that, “If music wasn’t a part of your career, what would be your dream job if you weren’t doing music anymore?”

Daniel: I would be so sad. That would be so tragic. I know for each of us that would mean different things. For John, he would always be involved in music. Whether it was co-writing with people, producing other records, engineering… he does all that on the side right now anyways.

For Justin, our drummer, he went to school for percussion, so he also plays on worship teams professionally. He’s awesome at just charting out music. Same with our guitarist Micah. For me, I’m probably the least musical. I’d probably be like that guy working in a small coffee shop. The most I’d have to do with music after Hawk Nelson is have like an acoustic stage that I would brings little acts in. That kind of a thing.

Lee: So, I always end the interviews with a silly question, so I’ve just gotta ask, “Who’s better, Batman or Superman?”

Daniel: Oh my gosh… Well, it depends. Just the superheroes in general or specific actors?

Lee: I mean, I kind of leave it opened ended on purpose.

Daniel: I’ve always like Batman to be honest with you. I don’t know, he’s kind of weird and he’s kind of creepy. I mean he’s a bat, but… I kind of like his old assistant Alfred…