Music for Music: Hawley
Hawley: Music at the Granular
By Dan Ursini ©2020
There are lots of reasons why it can take forever to come up with a good song. Even a simple tune of familiar ideas requires the songwriter to have the inspiration for a fresh reshuffling of the deck. A sustained, cutting-edged musical statement can require an iron will and the kind of attention span needed to stay immersed for, indeed, forever. So it is with a self-titled three-song EP by Hawley, a two-person band comprised of Chase Hawley and Ned Haweeli. It is an early occupant of fresh stylistic territory combining elements of Classical/New Music with jazz. This very well-balanced fusion is an auspicious debut.
Hawley composed, arranged, and produced the songs and serves as vocalist and keyboard player. Haweeli is the drummer. The two spent about a year working and reworking the material, using home production equipment, employing traditional instruments along with synthesizers. Hawley explains, “We had some help with the mastering but aside from that I did it all. From recording and mixing and producing etc. An incredibly humbling experience, that’s for sure.”
The Hawley EP runs about twenty minutes. All of the music is processed. Chase Hawley says, “I often distort, reverse, reverberate, or layer pretty much everything until it does what I need it to.” The meticulously prepared instrumental backgrounds evoke sounds from ordinary life, hard to pinpoint because they are used in blends that constantly blur and float in shifting sonic contexts. A good example is the haunting extended introduction to “Noise Two, Natalia.”
Hawley explains, “I’m pretty much only using midi keyboards and running them into ProTools and programming everything from there.”
“St. Antoni” begins and ends with a wordless melody of unnerving beauty performed by guest vocalist Jess Marlor. This song and the others on the EP are made of several brief sections with great shifts in dynamics, texture, and tempo. Hawley sings in a rough, expressive voice. He says that the lyrics of “St. Antoni” are about the last days of Antoni Gaudi, the visionary Catalan architect whose masterwork is the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona.
This song introduces a high level of emotional intensity that permeates the EP. As compositions, all three songs share a singular strength: the vocal melody, the sonic backgrounds, and percussion are each so interesting, they could be in the foreground. Indeed, they do switch back and forth. This range is due not only to Hawley’s meticulous production, but also to Haweeli’s intriguing drumming style. He says he aims “to play rhythmically complex ideas while maintaining a solid groove.” The EP is galvanized by the interplay between Hawley’s percussive keyboard playing and Haweeli’s own abundantly varied style. It is also empathetic and focused. Haweeli provides an extended percussive commentary alongside Hawley’s vocals, especially on the third track, “The Alway.” That track also includes a haunting performance by singer Clio Wilde.
The St. Antoni EP emerges as a remarkably complete musical statement, down to the smallest detail. When asked about the particular piano sound he uses, Hawley answers, “The Grandeur by Native Instruments,” then adds this aside: “I always have about 3 auxiliary tracks pushing different elements of the piano simultaneously.” It’s no wonder that the project took a year, and that it required a terrific investment of granular level attention. A clue to Hawley’s commitment is revealed in a remark he makes about growing up in Northern California:”It was so quiet where I grew up. The stillness has influenced me more than anything.” He says his music derives from “the bubble of my reverb laden porch and my guitar, coupled with the stillness of the northwest.”
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org