A Fantastic Metaphor
By Tamara Vallejos
Which cities come to mind when you think of breeding grounds for country music? Certainly Nashville, maybe Austin, but what about Los Angeles?
According to Rob Waller, front man for the descriptively-titled band I See Hawks in L.A., all you’ve got to do is look carefully and you’ll find a dedicated scene influenced and inspired by a psychedelic country rock past that spawned bands like the Byrds in the ’60s and the Eagles in the ’70s.
“We connect back to something a bit older but that does have a pretty strong tradition in this area. Byrds, Eagles, and Hawks,” says Waller, tying together a trio of avian-influenced names. And speaking of the band’s name: it might seem a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but it turns out to be a fantastic metaphor.
“We live in this big concrete metropolis, yet there’s still wildlife here. Some people say to us, ‘There are no hawks in Los Angeles,’ and we say, ‘yes, there are,’” Waller explains. “But you’ve got to look up and be aware of it. Just like people don’t often think of country rock bands coming from here—but we’re here. You’ve just got to look up in the sky to see us flying around.”
Or, if you’re in the band’s stomping grounds, you could venture to venue The Echo, which hosts the Grand Ole Echo, a series of folk and country gigs from April through September. I See Hawks has made regular appearances there, and elsewhere in the city, but when the group wants to leave urban sprawl behind, they pack up their gear and head to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. It’s a favorite spot to play, and they return to there for a free show on Saturday.
“We love playing there,” says Waller. “We feel like the desert is our spiritual home, particularly Joshua Tree. That’s where Gram Parsons died, and there’s all this mystique and voodoo about the desert and this kind of music. For us, to ‘go to the country,’ we go to the desert. And Pappy and Harriet’s is the place.”
In fact, the roots of the band were formed over a decade ago, when a trip to Vegas featured a stop along the way for a hike in the Mojave. Waller was with bassist Paul Lacques when someone randomly suggested they start a country band and name it I See Hawks in L.A. Inspired, Lacques penned a song by the same name and he and Waller ran with it. More songs were written, and their first full-length record was released before they’d even played their first gig. But don’t confuse their tunes with what you might hear on FM radio.
“If I say ‘Nashville country,’ we all know what that sounds like. And I See Hawks is not that at all,” Waller says, noting that L.A. has its own distinct flavor within the genre, with its psychedelic leanings and vocal harmonies.
The band’s most recent record, however, takes a special turn. While past albums have featured upbeat, rocking moments, New Kind of Lonely is all acoustic and laden with melancholy. Instead of featuring commentary on the world, like on 2008’s environmentally-conscious Hallowed Ground, New Kind of Lonely looks internally, and grapples with personal topics like death and loss. So the band will have a lot of moods to showcase at its upcoming concert, though all of them will be at home within Pappy and Harriet’s walls.
“I think we’re connected to a regional tradition, and we like to be a part of that.”
I See Hawks in L.A. at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Sat, Dec. 15. 8pm. Free.