Hackensaw Boys: Not a Traditional Oldtime Band
What: insurgent Americana
Virginia's Hackensaw Boys will cruise in Saturday, February 18 to perform at the Hangar 9 along with Lera Lynn, Lydia Loveless, and local favorite Alex Kirt. While the band's weapons are the traditional instruments of American bluegrass, the Hackensaw Boys use those tools to take tradition to new heights. Like our much-loved locals the Whistle Pigs, the Hackensaw Boys' raw arsenal of rockin' Americana can kick in the teeth of any unsuspecting music fan. The Hackensaw Boys have run in the same circles as the Old Crow Medicine Show and Charlie Louvin, and have even played at the Grand Ole Opry.
Nightlife recently spoke with founding member of the Hackensaw Boys David Sickman about his recent return to the band after quitting more than five years ago, what's changed in both the band and the industry, and how easy it is as an Americana band to set up shop on the street corner and play.
Find out more at <http://www.HackensawBoys.com>.
So what do you do when you're not playing music?
I am primarily a family man and I have a job here in Lynchburg. I do a lot of carpentry and I restore old homes. I am working on a house now that was built in 1820. That was a four-year process. Yeah, I am basically a carpenter and musician.
Do you see any similarity between making music and carpentry?
Building songs and building houses, I guess there's a special parallel there. You want to try and build the best thing possible. You want to take your time and make sure it looks and feels the way you want it to. Quality control is one of the most important elements.
What was 2011 like for the Hackensaw Boys?
To be honest, I was only at the tail end of 2011. I was a founding member of the band in 1999 and was a member for six years until about 2005, at which time I basically suffered a mental-exhaustion breakdown and quit the band. Then sometime last year I was with another member of the band at a mutual friend's funeral. He mentioned that he and a couple other original members of the band talked about stepping out because of other responsibilities and, you know, they've been doing it for years. I was like, “Hey, I don't want the band to die. What if I come back out?” I guess there was a meeting called with the fellows in the band and they agreed to have me back. I joined up in the late summer
What has changed since you last left the band, and what's been constant?
The thing that stayed constant, which I was glad to see, is they're still a group of really good guys, guys I like spending my time with. They were holding true to the original intent of the band, which was to bring oldtime Appalachian country punk rock. I was happy to see that the band retained that vibe and were still pushing that music forward. Anybody can come out on a Friday or Saturday night, or any night of the week, and enjoy themselves.
The things that are different for me were mostly in my head. When I first started the band with the other guys, I had been working as a musician for ten years. It was a little harder to carve out your own thing as a musician. When the band started, it was pre-Facebook, before all this social-media stuff. Pre-Kickstarter, before all those things that are out there to help bands today to get your music out faster. In 2001, when we went on our first tour, some people had internet, but not everybody. I even didn't have a cell phone for a few years in the band.
Is it true that the band started out performing on street corners?
We still do some street performances. There's actually a misnomer on our page on Wikipedia. It says that the original band started after meeting at an Old Crow Medicine Show performance. But the truth of the matter is that some of the guys in the original band were members of Old Crow Medicine Show before they were the Old Crow Medicine Show. But we formed the Hackensaw Boys around the same time that Old Crow was beginning their thing. There's founding members in each band, and I'm really proud of that.
But there was always an element of street performance and bringing it to the people. Instead of bringing people to [the band], we can just take it to [the people]. That's the beauty of this kind of music. Without the need for amplification we can just set up on any street corner and play. And we did that a lot. We still do it. We just did it in Saint Augustine and got kicked around [by] the cops! Ha! We didn't get kicked around. They kicked us out very cordially.
Apart from the easiness of being able to pick up your gear and play right away, what is it you like about performing?
The songs are fun. I'd say our songs are about ninety percent originals. Then we have some old-time songs we play in our own way. There's probably some oldtime-music purists who think we're bastards who bastardize some songs. But I don't think so. We just do our take on some songs.
The banjo has a tonal quality that many human beings find very intriguing, and with the fiddle, the two of them together it has a way of pulling people in. A lot of people don't realize that the banjo is an African instrument brought here by Africans. It's an African stringed instrument.
We've played on the streets of New York City in front of all kinds people of different races, religions, and they'll be in front of us with a smile on their face. That's the beauty of [the music]-- it tends to make people feel good. I feel real honored to be able to make music and make people feel happy.
Do you ever get hounded by traditional bluegrass purists?
The old songs sounds the same in tone. Maybe we'll mix up lyrics. But [our cover songs] stay pretty true to the original tune. But thank goodness there is a group of people out there who are interested in keeping a song as exact as they can to the original. You want to be able to go back and trace where the words come from, their origin. I think there's a lot of people out there who do that. But no, we don't have people coming up to us saying, “You're really tearing that song up.” We've always had a feeling inside that there's people who think that, but I don't think many people would call us a traditional oldtime band.
Does it ever get annoying when someone asks you questions about genre and trying to label the music?
You know, I really don't know at all. But it's a good question. If you don't know what it is, then why not ask? I actually appreciate the question because I would rather label [the style] myself, although I can't. It has an oldtime element, without a doubt. There's definitely a country, an older-country element to it, in some of our ballads. There's also kind of a Cajun thing that we've been leaning towards, too.
Any news of any upcoming CD releases in the near future?
Absolutely. After this tour we're going to have a little time off and we're on a run in April to Texas and back and then in late May we head to Europe for a few weeks. We've played six or seven times over there. And we're thinking in August and September that we'll head into a studio and record something. We'll also probably do some live recording that we're going to make available. We've got new material that we're developing and that's coming to the surface. We've actually rewritten an old song [of ours], which is really cool.
What is the songwriting process with you guys? Aren't three of the six members of the band also songwriters?
Historically, if a fella has a song and if we're at soundcheck or in a hotel or in the van, you know, he'll say, “Hey check this out.” It's cool, because we don't have to say, “Wait, let me set up the drums or set up the bass.” Basically, I'll start playing and then someone breaks out their instrument and we start playing and it starts happening. Sometimes the songs are done and sometimes someone will have a part of a song and we'll do tweaking and help each other out. Usually the song just comes forward and then they're unconsciously vetted and they either stick around or they don't.
You mentioned going to Europe soon. Have you found that the music is received differently in European countries?
Well, the music is just universally human. People usually like it and have a really good time and dance. It's a little different in Europe only because the culture is a little different. But we're always gotten good receptions and have been treated really well over there. We're broadening it with this tour. We're going to places we've never been. We're going to Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Czech Republic.
who: Hackensaw Boys / Lydia Loveless / Alex Kirt / Lera Lynn
what: insurgent Americana
where: Hangar 9
when: Saturday, February 18