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Hawk Nelson

On Tuesday, April 12th, 2005, JfH's Amy and John DiBiase caught up with Canadian pop punk quartet Hawk Nelson to discuss the band's beginnings and experiences on the road. The band is currently preparing for the release of their sophomore album Smile, It's The End Of The World on April 4, 2006.
This interview took place on: 4/12/05.

  • (Amy DiBiase): When did God call each of you into the ever-changing and evolving world of Contemporary Christian Music? And where were each of you at that particular time in your life?
    Jason Dunn: For me, I think ever since I was a kid, I was more into like Michael W. Smith and he was all I listened to when I was six years old. It was one of those dreams that I thought I'd always wanted to do but didn't think it'd actually happen. I played in my first band when I was 12 or 13 and did the worship team thing for awhile in youth group. It wasn't til my last year in high school [when I decided] to turn this up a notch and just go full out. And here we are. So I guess grade 12. Twelfth grade, if you will.
    Matt Paige: I was, I think, in grade 10 or 11 and I was 16 years old and going through, "Well do I start preparing for college or university? What do I do with my life?" I spent a lot of time in prayer and being in the Word and God brought this Scripture verse - 1 Corinthians 4:14, 15 - 'Use the gifts God has given you to be elders and give your whole life.' Kind of around those lines that was just really clear to me that for right now this is where I'm supposed to go.
    Jonathan Stiengard: For me growing up, there was always an interest in music and writing and things like that. Kevin Prosch is a worship leader and songwriter. Do you know "Banqueting Table?" *Guys start singing the song* That's Kevin Prosch. You probably know a bunch of his songs without knowing who he is. Well he came through and played at a church near me. I went and he actually took literally half an hour, and I was about 12 years old, and just talked to me about music. And on another occasion, David Ruis, another worship leader guy, came and actually asked me to play. I was like 12 years old and I sucked. He actually asked me to play on his worship team at a major conference. They didn't mic my amp and put a coat over it so noone could hear it. But things like that where people actually took the time to invest in my life, and for me it was pretty clear that this is what I wanna do.
    Daniel Biro: Into Contemporary Christian Music for me was, I guess, the defining moment was when we signed with Tooth and Nail Records. That was two years ago. We were with Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch. He kind of negotiated the deal between Brandon Ebel, the CEO of T&N and us. And we were in our practice room in the bottom of our church and we practiced there for years. All the time. I'm sick of that room, I'll be honest. But we signed the papers and I guess at the moment we had tried playing the bar scene in Toronto and we were just feeling out different markets and stuff, but obviously that wasn't what we were called to do. (Amy: Were you trying to play Christian music in the bar?) Yeah, we were playing all our own songs.
    Matt: It was hard, because it was 19 and up, the drinking age in Canada. And it was a 19 and up crowd and our stuff is generally geared towards high school age kids.
    Daniel: We started thinking, "Why-why are we doing this?"

  • JFH (Amy): How has the band grown into the current state of members it is now? Where did you all meet??
    Matt: Hawk Nelson started three years ago. Daniel moved from his hometown to start a band with Jason and I. So we started that as we were graduating high school and had been doing that for a long time with our old guitar player, David. A year ago, David got married. He had tried being out on the road but wanted to do the home thing with his wife and that's when Jonathan joined us in October of 2004. It's just been awesome to see the band kind of grow into where it should be. So Jonathan's been with us for seven months.
    Daniel: Jonathan and I were friends for a good couple years before that so it naturally made sense.
    Matt: Before Daniel moved away to join these guys we were pretty good friends. Daniel was in a band with my cousin.
    Matt: Before Daniel moved away to join these guys we were pretty good friends. Daniel was in a band with my cousin.
    Jonathan: I was in a band and played with these guys and Hawk Nelson opened at our CD release party, which I should have been opening for them.
    Matt and Daniel: No, no.
    Jason: Yea, you should have been. *laughter* ...That was a joke.

  • (Amy):It's really neat seeing that you guys haven't forgotten your roots and where you came from - when you thank fans of previous bands you were in. That's so cool.
    Matt: I just never thought of not saying thank you ever since we started.
    Daniel: I think what's cool with this band is it's like I don't ever view myself as a part of it. I can sit back and remove myself and when I hear about Hawk Nelson I think to myself, 'Wow I'm proud of those guys or I'm proud of what they've become.' It's become it's own vision and it's not necessarily about the numbers or what Jason thinks or what Matt thinks or what I think or what Jon thinks. It's just this amazing thing that everyone's working so hard. Like Tooth and Nail and our management and booking and promoters and radio and you guys and everyone. It's amazing how we all wanna get the same message out there and that's why I think if numbers continue to change throughout the years it's cool because Hawk Nelson is this amazing thing that God is using.

  • JFH (Amy): And with "Hawk Nelson," how did you guys get your name?
    Jason: I'm Jason and I'll take this question. Well when I was about 14 years old, there was this video game I played called "Too Extreme" on the Sony Playstation. It was like an extreme sports game - like skateboarding, snowboarding, bike riding and like all those kinds of things. And before you could play you had to create a character name. And that was the name I made random off the top of my head. I'm like 'Hawk Nelson.' I ripped the first name off of Tony Hawk. 'Nelson' I got from a boot, a repair place in our hometown, Nelson Boot Repair. That's where it came from. Little piece of my childhood, don't you know.

  • JFH (Amy): Do any of you feel like you have been met with any unique challenges related to coming from a different country? Like finding a label, finding a significant following and earning popularity as aspiring young artist/musicians in the USA?
    Matt: The one challenge we did have for sure was we had the opportunity to be on a show called American Dreams on NBC. In the summer we were going to tape it, so we flew out to Hollywood. We flew to Hollywood to start taping it, but being from Canada you had to have the proper working papers and visas to actually be on film. The one we had only covered playing concerts. We were allowed to come into the US to play concerts. Anyway, the lawyers of NBC and EMI our label group were going back and forth. We'd fly down there and it was like, "You guys can't do the show. Legally you're not allowed. Nothing can be done about it because your visa's can't be sent through that fast. It takes weeks for it to be approved." So we were there for a couple days and one night it was like, "There's a chance or there's no chance." So we just prayed and prayed and it was a great spiritual battle and we were like, "God if this is something you want us to do orchestrate it because it's out of our hands, we can't get a visa permit that fast." God did some amazing things. We actually flew back from Hollywood without taping because it wasn't working out. We got the call about a week later. We thought it was pretty much over. About a week later we got a call and we had this editorial help that someone just called in to immigration and said let's get these visa's through in one day. God made it all happen. So we flew back to Hollywood and shot the show.
    Jason: That's so awesome to still think about.
    Daniel: The head of the American Federation of Musicians in Canada and Toronto, that's who we belong to, our affiliate, she was like, "I've never seen this happen." She's done it for years. She works with like Nellie Furtado, Celine Dion, everyone. And she's like, "I've never heard of this."
    Matt: We're just a small band and for some reason God had the key people work on it.
    Daniel: Every year we apply for those permits and every year it's like, "Please, we wanna be able to do this." Technically, if God doesn't want to to open the door for us, He could have shut it every year.

  • JFH (Amy): Why can't you have joint citizenship?
    Matt: Because you have to be naturalized. To become an American citizen, you have to go through this long process and basically have to prove you can be an asset to the country, not a drain. Which makes sense, with 9/11 and all. (Amy: But at the same time you're going to bring music to both countries.) You're taking away work from American bands. But basically you have to have some kind of degree - something to offer, or marry an American. We're still getting temporary working permits. Every year we're registering.
    Jason: That's actually why Don (MacLean) wrote that, "Bye, bye Miss American Pie, Drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry." That doesn't make any sense. I don't even know why I said that. (Amy: You wanted to sing.) I was just trying to impress you.

  • JFH (Amy): How difficult is it to create song lyrics and a musical style that may be coined as pop punk? But you guys manage to stand out uniquely with the band's creativity and metaphors in your songs and passionate musical vision. So how do you really keep doing that?
    Jason: It's honestly a miracle. It's all from God. I'm not an amazing writer and I know that, but I just know that certain parts... I thought of that the other day and I was thinking of the line of a song, "How did I think of that? That's not something I would think about off the top of my head." So, honestly, it's just God who worked through me in that. (Amy: I should have schooled myself better in reading the CD insert, but do you write all the songs? I didn't know if it was joint...?)? Lyrically, I wanna sing from my heart and it makes more sense to me coming from my mouth, but we work on it as a team.
    Matt: We had help from our friend Trevor from TFK. He kind of took us under his wing and just taught us a lot and they went through a lot before and we were brand new. He totally taught us so much. And he helped inspire so much on the last record.
    Jonathan: I think there's one big difference from talking to other pop punk bands and all they listen to is pop punk bands, and that's cool if that's what you like. If you were to look at each of our CD libraries or iPod's, it's so diverse. It's like Jay loves Michael W. Smith and Counting Crows and a lot of hardcore. Dan listens to a lot of mellow stuff. Matt listens to all kinds of different stuff. I listen to all kinds of different stuff. I think our influence is a lot more diverse than just pop punk.
    Jason: I think that's God. And I think God used Aaron Sprinkle as an amazing producer to help craft that sound because he added so much. I don't think the credit is us at all. (Amy: It's definitely keeping your sound different. I can't really put my finger on it, but it's very different.)

  • JFH (Amy): What is the most difficult thing about touring?
    Jason: It's tiring. It's obviously the same thing night after night and it's awesome. It's the same thing. The same kids asking the same questions, "Can I have your hat?" It's funny the first few times, but the seventh time someone says it it gets kind of annoying. And when you're signing it's like, "Can I have your hat?" It's like, "No!" *laughter* It gets to that point when you're like "Please stop asking." Trying not to get jaded.
    Matt: We've been blessed to have been on this tour with TobyMac. He's done it so long and he's had so much experience and he's been able to give us examples for certain things on the road - like how the road can get jaded, but you can do things to prevent that. Like being refreshed daily, like getting into the Word and stuff. Those sort of things kind of help make things stay new.
    Daniel: Also personal space. We've always been in the van up until this tour and you just start going crazy. Like I'm with these guys every minute of every day and some bands can deal with that better than others. And we all like our own personal space. Maybe even only an hour a day and the buses help us with that.
    Jonathan: That is so true. I haven't really thought of that. I like you guys a lot more now that we are. *laughter*
    Jason: I love you guys.
    Jonathan: We've been playing sports with other bands and doing things that are new to us because we actually have time to do them being on a bus. It's a whole new thing.

  • JFH (Amy): What has God been teaching each one of you lately in your musical careers or in your life?
    Matt: I think God has been definitely teaching me to turn off my own thoughts or my 'working things out type of mentality' and just sit back and [realize] God's got everything in control and just focus on my spiritual walk and be open to the Holy Spirit. And that's kind of the biggest thing. I've kind of like just shut up.
    Daniel: I think that I've always felt that from day one you have to work hard and that's true, but along with that, it'd be like you can kind of control the way things go. But I can't control what Jay's gonnna do or Jon or Matt. Only myself, and when I plan the day is how I act in my spiritual walk. Kind of like what Matt said. You have to give that up. And when you give that up, it's like totally refreshing and freeing because God's in control, not me. And you never really are.
    Jason: I've been learning to step out of my comfort zone. Sometimes you have that feeling that you should say something to that person and you'll be like, "No they'll think I'm stupid or whatever." And I'm just like, you know the way I see it is right now the thing on my heart is our bus driver Phil and go up there and tell him about Jesus and I'm like, "Let's go tell him right now. I got nothing to lose." But as soon as I do, I get so uncomfortable or something, I don't know. Just kind of teaching myself and training myself to just do it because it's totally worth it. (JFH's John DiBiase: Because if your bus blows up again and he's in it...) never know what you got til it's gone. (Amy: You always say I'm so morbid and I wasn't gonna go there, but now you said it!) You guys are morbid? (Amy: Yeah, well I am a nurse so I deal with stuff all the time... when you do treatments for burn patients... I won't go into it.)
    Jonathan: For me it's been basically starting my day off with God. There's something about getting up in the morning and doing quiet time. I'm not great at it so I have to spread it out sometimes. But actually doing that makes a huge difference throughout the day.

  • JFH (John): You guys are working on a new record right?
    Matt: We record in November and it'll be dropping next spring.

    Hawk Nelson's sophomore album entitled Smile, It's The End Of The World releases April 4, 2006 from Tooth & Nail Records


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