Hawksley Workman has gone through a series of changes recently, all of which seem to have recharged his creative batteries with fans being the benefactors. Talking to him in late November the singer, now based in Montreal, is chomping at the bit to see his forthcoming studio album Median Age Wasteland released.
“Oh man I’m so crazy, I wish it was out six months ago,” he says. “I don’t like having stuff sitting around. For me having things finished and sitting around just feels like stagnant water. I know why things take the time they do in the business. But for a restless creative type person, this waiting around is real bullshit.”
Yet prior to the new album Workman has some Christmas-themed gigs coming up as part of his Almost A Full Moon mini-tour. The trek, which sees two shows (matinee and evening) at Toronto’s The Great Hall Dec. 16 and another show there the following night, is something Workman looks forward to each year. His 2002 Christmas album Almost A Full Moon is performed in its entirety with other seasonal favourites.
“This was an accident and a record that I wrote to celebrate my grandma while she was still alive,” Workman says. “And to celebrate the things that she loved about Christmas which was family and food and singing and friends and community. I wanted to make a record to celebrate those things in a way that she would understand while she was still alive. So fast forward all these years and those songs are still out there. It’s quite, quite, quite a beautiful experience. It should be wonderful.”
As for Median Age Wasteland, which with any luck will be out sometime in the spring of 2019, came following Workman literally pulling up stakes and heading for Montreal two years ago. He left a 50-acre farm and “this funny early retirement set up” for “some kind of new energy that would play to our creative sides.”
“Montreal is really not on the map in the same kind of way as the Anglo-Canadian music business,” he says. “That pressure of starting a music career in Toronto where you’re surrounded by the industry, it doesn’t really feel like that exists here which is really refreshing.”
Workman approached the writing and recording process using “gentleman banker’s hours” he says, often getting up quite early so to finish each day early. The singer also was a quasi-superintendent for the studio, often shovelling the walkway and opening up the studio in the winter but leaving as other musicians arrived to start their day.
Of all the “super-talented people” Workman connected within Montreal, all Dears singer Murray Lightburn was vital to the album’s style and sound.
“I didn’t want there to be any way to mistake what it was that was the goal this time around which was going to be putting words and music together and having a great vocal,” Workman says. “And Murray Lightburn who produced the record was very keen to kind of keep our rules about the record in focus. He really kept them on the track.”
The duo at times didn’t quite see eye-to-eye but those brief disagreements paid off in the end.
“Murray and I are both used to being the kings of our castle,” he says. “I think when you’ve been the head of your own organization like he has and like I have for 20-plus years, when you have another very confident, very self-assured successful person saying that the way you think in the situation isn’t right and the way they think if you’re like, ‘Well hold on a second, I got 20 years of past experience suggesting otherwise.’ But it’s all just old men being old men.”
Median Age Wasteland is highlighted by the thoughtful and stellar “Battlefords,” a reflective song about the singer “growing up in rural Ontario in the 1980s.”
“I keep a stack of opening lines and titles and ideas and images, I’ve kept an ever-evolving list since I was a kid. I’d had Battlefords in my list for such a long time and every time I was going through the list looking for sort of starter idea I would see the ‘Battlefords’ and think, man it’s such a beautiful word in and of itself. I knew I was going to write a piece of nostalgia and then another summer wasted in the Battlefords just kind of came together.”
Median Age Wasteland should see Workman touring behind the album. He already worked off a little bit of any touring rust with of European and Australian treks a few months ago.
“They were both amazing for different reasons,” he says. “Admittedly I had been avoiding going back to Europe because of my ego not wanting to go and not be a famous person. So this return was like, ‘I think I’m over the whole ego thing. I think I’m over a lot of things. I’m a 43-year-old person who feels I’ve had a very fascinating 20 plus years in this business.’ I went back and played to rooms in Europe, not to thousand or two-thousand that I was doing but a few hundred people in every town singing every word to every song. It was like, ‘Okay.’
“Australia conversely was where I kind of went and relearned my craft after being a pop star. I started to break Australia because I wanted to work in an English speaking market as a songwriter who could chit-chat on stage in a pub environment and be the singer-songwriter guy instead of the big pop star guy that I was in Europe.”
Workman’s stay in Montreal should give him plenty of creative ideas. It’s a city he’s known and loved for some time.
“It’s a 376-year-old city now and there’s a lot of ghosts here,” he says. “It’s a city that for political reasons and otherwise it hasn’t had the population and condominium explosion that Toronto and Vancouver and other major Canadian cities have. So there’s something about this city that is still firmly anchored in the past and I think that’s the thing that I love the most about it.”